Thursday, September 29, 2005


I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).

Mugwumps. According to the encyclopedia, the term is originally from an American Indian language. It became famous—or at least common—during the presidential campaign of 1884. A newspaper editor picked it up, and soon everybody was using it. But Teddy Roosevelt gave it a definition that is perhaps most easily remembered: “a mugwump”, he said, “is a bird that sits on a fence with its mug on one side and it’s wump on the other.” It is a person who can’t make up his mind.

God is angered when Christians act like mugwumps. And it is so easy to do. We are afraid that once we make a decision, all other options will be closed to us; if it turns out later that we made the wrong choice, what will we do then? So people procrastinate; they run through the pros and cons of each option over and over, but when the best choice is not obvious they avoid making a commitment and dither some more. When we do this, when we are afraid to be either hot or cold, to jump off the fence and make a commitment, our caution ends up wasting precious time and energy.

When a pastor was struggling with a tough decision, Martin Luther gave him this advice: “sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin…It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb…”

The point that Luther makes is that we are all sinners through and through, and no matter what decision we make, sin will inevitably taint the outcome. If we are constantly afraid of acting we will never get anything done! It is best to evaluate our options, pray for guidance, and get off the fence. We must remember that whatever mistakes we make can be forgiven by God through Jesus; therefore we ought to make a decision and put to use the time and energy that our Lord has given us, rather than waste it in constantly second-guessing ourselves.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Where is God in your life?

Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 8:11).

A rabbi once summoned the villagers to meet in the town square for an important announcement. The merchants resented having to leave their businesses. The housewives were annoyed at being interrupted in getting their chores done. But obedient to the summons of their spiritual leader, the townspeople gathered to hear the announcement that their teacher wanted to make. When all were present, the rabbi said, “I wish to announce that there is a God in the world.” That was all he said, but the people understood. While they observed their religious rituals and recited their prayers, their actions did not comply with the commandments of God. They earned and ate their daily bread with little thought and reverence for the Lord.

This parable remains timely for our day. We live in a society that tries to compartmentalize our lives. We are taught to keep what goes on at work separate from what goes on at home, and we try to leave both behind when we go on vacation. We act one way when we are helping a customer, a different way when we are on a date, and a third way when we are at a ball game with friends.

The problem is, we tend to treat God this way as well. We can go to church and receive Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins, but the next day we can be shamelessly selling products that are overpriced. We can join together in praying to God to join us for dinner, but the family can be arguing before the meal is over. We set aside time for God, but as soon as that time is over we act as if God isn’t with us anymore.

God wants us to always be aware of Him as we go through our day. In Deuteronomy He says fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds…Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 11:18-19). In First Thessalonians 5:17, Paul instructs us to pray continually.

How do we do this? Imagine that you have a best friend who always tags along wherever you go. You might not be talking all the time, but you are comforted by the knowledge that your friend is always there, ready to listen whenever you want to talk about your joys or sorrows. God is like that. Although you cannot see Him, He has promised never will I leave you (Hebrews 13:5). Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t forget that the Lord is there with you. There is never a moment when you are out if His sight.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Division--a good thing?

"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (Luke 12:49-53)

What is the worst sin you can think of? Is it murder? Is it adultery? Or is the worst sin of all idolatry? I’ll tell you what the worst sin is, according to most people. For most teachers, politicians, entertainers and sports figures, for most farmers, mechanics, carpenters, and grocery store clerks, the worst sin of all is the sin of division.

Division is the root of all this world’s problems. What is the cause of war? Countries divided over who owns the land. Why is there gridlock in Washington? The two parties are divided over policy. Why is there crime? There is a division between the ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have-Nots’. What is the cause of divorce? Couples divided over their priorities in life.

No one wants to be hurt. Conflict inevitably results in hurt, so our society tries to eliminate conflict. One way to reduce conflict is to reduce the divisions between people, giving them less to fight about. We don’t want blacks and whites and hispanics fighting with each other, so our schools try to teach that people are not different because of skin color, and that no one culture is ‘better’ than another. We don’t want people to get beaten up because of their personal beliefs, so our politicians pass laws making ‘hate’ crimes illegal. We don’t want convicts to live their entire lives in custody, so our prisons offer rehabilitation and training to inmates.

Reducing divisions between people can be a good thing, but in recent years it has been taken to extremes. Nowadays, any disagreement is considered a bad thing. You must be accepting of homosexuality, or you are guilty of discrimination. You must not protest against abortion, otherwise you are not respecting a woman’s rights. You cannot disapprove of divorce or people living together, because what happens between two people is no one else’s business. You should teach that there are many names for God and just as many ways to Heaven.

In the eyes of most Americans, intolerance is the Great Evil. When we try to tell others that homosexual behavior is detested by God, we are sneered at. People will say “I thought your God is a God of love? If He really loved me, He’d accept me just the way I am.” When we try to tell a friend that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, we are accused of trying to push our beliefs on others. Friends will tell us “What makes you think you’re the only one who knows how to get into Heaven? How dare you think that I’m going to Hell!” In today’s world, most everyone has a very thin skin when someone suggests that we are wrong.

In actuality, the problems of our world are not divisions, but the sin that causes divisions. It is this sin that Jesus was born to destroy. The one truly horrible division is the division between man and God. God is holy, and nothing imperfect can stand before Him without being destroyed by the power of His holiness. Since every man, woman and child is imperfect from birth, none of us could face God at our death without being completely consumed by His infinite glory. But God has always loved us and wanted us to enter His throne room in safety. So our heavenly Father sent His divine Son to live a human life, with us and for us. During that life, on our behalf, Jesus fulfilled every obligation we had to God. When Jesus was executed on the cross, He was executed by His own Father; Jesus died for our crimes so that we could live. When Jesus’ blood dripped down his body on the cross, He was undergoing a baptism—a baptism in blood that washed away all the sins of every one of us. When He died, our sins died with Him. And when Jesus returned to life on Sunday morning, He rose from death purified of our sin. That is why Saint Paul tells us don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3-4). Jesus died and rose so that, through baptism, we may die to sin and rise purified, fit to stand before our Maker.

The trouble is, not everyone wants to be purified. Jesus did the hard part for us, but going through death to life by baptism is still a painful thing. Being reborn means that we have to reevaluate our past lives and be willing to change our ways when necessary. God does not approve of drunkenness. God does not approve of divorce. God does not approve of sex outside of marriage, of abortion, of homosexuality. To be reborn in Christ is to look at these behaviors and say “Lord, I’m sorry. That was wrong. Please help me to never do that again.” But some people enjoy their sins too much to try and give them up. Such people do not want to be criticized for doing wrong. How can it be wrong when it feels so right? So they tell us to leave them alone, mind our own business. But, since we love them, we don’t want to see our relatives, our neighbors, our friends go to Hell when they die; so we work on them patiently, trying to get them to see that the life they are living is making them unhappy now, and will doom them in the end. Since no sinner wants to admit he’s wrong, there is retaliation against our love. We are called ‘busy-bodies’, ‘goodie-two-shoes.’ Sin cannot stand God’s light, and will fight against it.

Eventually, the conflict will test our loyalties. For the sake of family unity, do I ignore my sister’s sin? Or for the sake of her soul, do I confront her and risk alienating her? The world would have us believe that love would ignore her sin and treasure her as a sister. But God tells us that true love is being willing to sacrifice anything—maybe even her friendship—to help her to see her sin and desire Christ’s forgiveness. Some people call this ‘tough love.’

Jesus said that He would bring division among men. Jesus wasn’t making a threat, He was stating the inevitable outcome of His war with Satan. Make no mistake, we are in a war. Jesus has broken Satan’s back, but Satan is a poor loser. Until the day of final Judgment, the Devil continues to stir up selfishness in everyone he can. And so we live in a world of divisions, where people who love God and are dedicated to His wisdom are constantly at odds with those who ignorantly follow Satan--people who love the life of sin they lead, and will do anything to safeguard their ‘right’ to sin. Jesus wants everyone to look to Him in faith and be saved from their corruption; it is this divine love, seeking to save the unwilling through our lips and hands and feet, that continues to stir up trouble for us. Conventional wisdom advises to let a sleeping dog lie. We are blessed that Jesus didn’t let us sleep in our sins; but not every woken dog will be as grateful as we.

Saint Paul writes: has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20). The society of our world says that divisions are bad, but God shows us that some divisions are good. All mankind was doomed to an eternity of torment in Hell until Jesus came to seek us and save us. Now Earth is divided, the righteous from the unrighteous. And this is a good thing. First of all, being divided benefits us here in this life. Scripture warns us repeatedly not to be mixed in with the ungodly. Paul writes mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them
(2 Timothy 3:1-5)
. Being divided from such people is a blessing for us; who would want to be close friends with such people? Now, Paul isn’t telling us to let them continue to Hell without a loving word of warning; God wants everyone to be saved. But Paul warns us not to be a part of a social group with people like this; constant exposure to their godless ways will only tempt us to compromise our faith for the sake of their approval. God had set the nation of Israel apart, not so that the Israelites could a kind of ‘holy club,’ but so that they would remain pure as they acted as God's ambassadors to a wretchedly evil world. In the same way, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, so that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Being set aside for God’s service, being divided from the ungodly, is a privilege, a high honor.

But the best part of being divided from the ungodly will come on the Last Day. Jesus tells us what will happen: All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world…Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25:32-34, 41, 46). What a wonderful blessing we have received! If Jesus had not baptized us with His blood shed on the cross, if Jesus had not carried our sins into death and left them there, there would be no division. Everyone would stand on Jesus’ left; everyone would be cursed by God for the evil beings that we are. But Jesus did make full payment for our sins. Jesus came to us in His Word, in His baptism, in His Supper. Jesus divided us from our sinful heritage by calling us to repent and blessing us with forgiveness. On the Last Day we will be on Jesus’ right hand; we will receive the inheritance of life in Heaven with God. Because of Jesus’ love that sought us out and separated us from the kingdom of Satan, Jesus will declare us blessed by His heavenly Father.

The world hates Christians because we dare to say out loud that God is angered by sinful behavior. The world hates Christians because we dare to say out loud that the only way back to God is through faith in Christ and the change of heart that He works in His believers. The world hates being told that it is wrong, and the world hates people who won’t ‘go with the flow.’ But we have seen what this world has to offer, and we aren’t interested. God has set us apart, not to be members of the world, but to be citizens of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace—but the peace that Jesus gives isn’t a worldly peace, it is peace between God and us. As members of His Kingdom, we no longer fear God’s anger; instead we live lives trusting in His love. We continually invite others to come to Jesus and also enter His Kingdom, but if they don’t want to leave their sinful ways behind, they have chosen to be divided from God--and that is the worst division of all. And as we look at those who live divided from God, each of us can truly say "there, but for the Grace of God, go I."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

God cares

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

A Frenchman, imprisoned in a dungeon, seemed to have been forgotten by everyone. In loneliness and despair, he took a stone and scratched these words on the wall of his cell: “Nobody cares.”

One day, a green shoot came through the cracks in the stone floor and began to reach up towards the light coming in through the tiny single window near the ceiling. It continued growing until at last it became a plant with a beautiful blue flower. The prisoner, moved by this gift, scratched out his previous words and above them wrote, “God cares.”

When our days are filled with deadlines and problems, it can be easy to conclude that God has lost interest in us. Where is God, we wonder, when we really need His help? But in a country where movies are filled with flashy special effects, we often fail to see God working quietly in our lives, almost unnoticed. Isn’t it a miracle that you can take a small white pill and your headache goes away? Isn’t it a blessing to have light in your room to study by with only the flip of a switch? Isn’t it a gift from God that you can have fresh flowers to bring fragrance and color into a room that sometimes feels like a prison?

God does not promise to end all your troubles. What He does promise is to strengthen you, to help you, and to give you His support. And God does this in all sorts of ways—through an unexpected phone call from a loved one, the laughter of a child, or a beautiful sunrise. God constantly shows you that He cares in uncountable small ways. But the most important evidence of His love is the fact that He gave up His own beloved Son to suffer and die the death that your sins had deserved. Please join me in praying:

Heavenly Father, we are sorry that so often we turn a blind eye to Your love. You care for us every day, and yet it seems as if all we do is grumble that You haven’t done enough. We thank You that You sent Your Son Jesus to be our Savior, so that our blind ungratefulness can be forgiven. Amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Living in delusion

The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector (Luke 18:11).

Can you identify the speaker of the following quotation: “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them to have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”

Who was this man—some public figure from the world of politics, business, sports or the media? No—it was Al Capone. At one time wanted as Public Enemy Number One, Capone actually regarded himself as a public benefactor, one who was unappreciated and misunderstood.

Warden Lewis Lawes once stated: “Few criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them try by fallacious or illogical reasoning to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves, consequently stoutly maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all.”

The hardest thing about being a sinner is admitting it to yourself. The sin living in us doesn’t like it when someone tries to put limits on what gives us pleasure. So sin tries to convince us that we know what is best for us, that we should define for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. And if we live our lives according to our own definitions of right and wrong, we won’t feel that we’ve done wrong very often.

But defining good and evil is God’s prerogative. When we decide for ourselves what is good and evil, we are assuming the role of God. This is the oldest sin of all—in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted our first parents with the words you will be like God (Genesis 3:5). This is the sin against the very first Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

Thankfully, Jesus took our punishment for trying to stand in the place of God. Through the Bible, Jesus shows us God’s definition of right and wrong, so we can see where we have come up short and ask for forgiveness. Admitting that we’re in the wrong is hard—but because of Jesus’ love for us, being forgiven is easy—just ask Him, and the gift is yours.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Looking towards home

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16).

Suppose you woke up suddenly at about two in the morning. The last thing you remember is a voice telling you to quit your job, sell your house, and load all your things into a moving van. When everything is packed, you are to get onto the highway out of town and head away from civilization. You don’t know where you are going or how long it will take to get there, but you’ll know when you’ve arrived. You’ve never had a dream like this before; it seemed real. You wonder if God spoke to you in your sleep. The question before you is: will you make the trip?

This is basically what happened to Abraham. He was told to pack up his wife and possessions and start walking into unknown territory. He left behind the land of his birth and all his relatives, and walked to a place where no one spoke his language, no one worshipped his God. Abraham did this because he believed that God had told him what to do, and he was confident that God would take care of him. Abraham trusted that God’s plans for him would result in a better future for his family. Abraham had faith in God.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews defines faith this way: faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Faith is about belief in the invisible; it’s about living your life as if unseen things are real. Lots of people claim that they don’t live by faith, but it simply isn't so—everyone lives their life with faith in something.

Most people have faith in their senses; they believe in what they can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. The tree in my front yard is real because I can see it and touch it. If I didn’t believe my senses, I would withdraw into a coma because the world would become nothing more real to me than a dream.

Most people have faith in their memories. I know from experience that if I drop a ball, it will always fall to the ground. My remembered experiences help me to predict the future in a limited way; I know that if I go and stand under the tree in front of my house on a hot sunny day, I will feel a bit cooler. Memories can also protect me from danger, because I can remember that a red oven burner is too hot to safely touch.

Most people have faith in recorded media. If I see a videotape of a man robbing a bank, I’ll believe that he should be put on trial. If I recognize the handwriting in a letter, I’ll believe it was written by the person who signed it.

Most people believe in eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony is almost always needed to assure a conviction in court. The more eyewitnesses to an event, the more likely I am to believe that the event really happened, no matter how extraordinary.

As you can see, we live our lives based on faith every day. You decide what time to set your alarm for, based on your faith in your car starting up. You shop for food, based on your faith in your freezer continuing to work. You decide to have children, based on your faith in your ability to care for them. You take pills, based on your faith that the doctor has prescribed the right pill, the pharmacist has given you the right pill, and the manufacturer has made the pill correctly.

But how is living by faith possible? Eyewitnesses sometimes get together and agree to lie in their testimony. The special effects used to make TV shows and movies can also be used to create falsified news footage. A person’s memories can play tricks on him with age, or be changed through hypnosis. People who drink or take drugs can’t even trust their own senses.

We live by faith because we must. To try and live without faith in anything or anyone results in a life of constant uncertainty and fear. Yet again and again, our faith is betrayed. For some of you, your parents didn’t keep their promise to be married to each other for their entire lives. For others of you, a trusted friend betrayed you by telling a lie about you or revealing a secret you entrusted to them. All of you, at one time or another, have given in to temptation and have disappointed yourselves with your own weakness. We live our lives trying to have faith in ourselves and in the world around us, and we are repeatedly disappointed.

When the world that we can see, hear, and touch disappoints us at every turn, how is it possible to have faith in God, who we can’t see or touch? It’s easy for us to be envious of Thomas the disciple; after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas got to see Jesus, talk with Him, touch Him! But Jesus told Thomas blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29). Jesus and the writer to the Hebrews both praise people who, without personal proof, believe that God exists, that God loves, that God saves. How can we, living in a world that thrives on betrayal of trust, have the kind of faith that Abraham did?

First of all, we don’t have to have a heroic faith like Abraham. Abraham is held up to us as an example, but many of us will never have faith like his. But we don’t have to. Faith in Christ saves, regardless whether it is great or small. A person with the smallest flicker of faith has exactly the same promise of joy in Heaven as Abraham or Noah or John the Baptist. Yes, we want to have a strong faith, a faith that can stand up to Satan’s sinful promises and hateful threats, but all we need is the faith of a new born child, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, and heaven is ours!

More importantly, making true faith a part of our lives isn’t our job. Our faith in God is a free gift from God. When we read or hear God’s Word, the Holy Spirit uses those inspired words to build faith in us. We don’t have to do a thing—the Spirit creates the faith we need to believe that Jesus died for our sins, and rose again from the dead to prove His mastery over life and death. The Spirit makes it possible for us to not only believe that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, but to also trust that He will forgive each and every one of us when we repent of our wicked ways and humbly ask Him to take us home to heaven with Him. The Spirit makes it possible for us to believe the eyewitness testimonies of the people who saw God’s miracles first hand, and wrote down what they saw in the Bible so that we too could believe.

I said earlier that any faith, large or small, gives us salvation. That’s because faith by itself doesn’t save us. Jesus’ atonement for our sins and His promise to forgive repentant sinners is what saves; faith is our way to get access to Jesus’ salvation. Consider the plumbing in your house. If you are thirsty, you need water. The well provides the water, but you can’t get the water from it without a pipe. It doesn’t matter what size pipe you have—as long as you are connected to the well, you will have water.

Of course, thirsty people with small pipes will want to get their water lines enlarged; similarly, Christians nourished by the Holy Spirit want their faith to grow. Since the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, it makes sense for us to read and hear His Word as much as possible. You can attend worship, go to Bible class, hold family devotions, and read the Bible before going to bed at night. All of these activities encourage the growth of the faith that God has given you. We all want to arrive safely at our home in Heaven, and it is faith that holds our hand as we journey there.

The benefits of faith are also experienced now while we are alive. People who have faith know that God loved them so much that He sacrificed His perfect Son on their behalf; knowing this, they also have confidence that, no matter what, God always has their best interests in mind. When a person knows with certainty that Heaven is his eternal home, and trusts that God will see him safely there, the problems of life don’t seem quite so bad.

Abraham was lead by God to the land of Canaan; God promised Abraham that the land would belong to his descendants. But all his life, Abraham lived as a nomad, pitching his tent on land owned by others; he had to purchase ground in which to bury Sarah when she died. Abraham did not consider Canaan his home; Hebrews tells us that Abraham looked for his true home in the city designed and built by God Himself. Abraham considered his home to be the New Jerusalem, God’s city in heaven. Canaan was just a place he was passing through on his way home. When we live a life of faith, it is the same for us. Our life on earth is a journey towards heaven. When this world and its citizens disappoint us, when our trust in earthly things is betrayed, God’s gift of faith sees us through. God’s gift of faith gives us spiritual eyes that can see the unseen. The home that God gives us here and now is only a distorted glimpse of our true, perfect home to come. We are like Abraham. He lived his life as if he was on a ship, journeying towards home. Just as passengers on a ship can see their home port long before they actually arrive, Abraham saw his true home through the eyes of his faith. Even though he wasn’t home yet, even though he was still aboard the ship of life, he knew for certain where home was and he lived his life accordingly. Through the eyes that faith gives us, we too can clearly see our home, the New Jerusalem. And seeing our home, we know that it is real, and we live our lives like passengers aboard a ship, able to endure patiently the choppy waters because we know that we are almost home. God gives us faith, faith gives us hope, and hope carries us through our troubles to our Savior’s waiting arms.

We need a living faith as much as we need to breathe and to eat. How blessed we are that God gives us everything we need, including the gift of faith. Take time to thank God for your faith, and care for it as you care for your body. Feed your faith on God’s Word, and it will see you to the end of your journey—your journey to heaven.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Keeping things in focus

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus (Matthew 17:8).

When Leonardo da Vinci was working on his famous painting The Lord’s Supper, he had only one goal—that the person of the Savior should attract and hold the attention of all who gazed at the painting. But in one part of the picture there was a tiny ship that he had spent three weeks painting with great care. When the finished painting was exhibited and the people came to see it, Leonardo noticed that they all crowded together to look at the one corner of the picture with the small ship that had required so much intensive labor. “Just see how grand that is! Truly, he is a master artist!” he heard them say. Chagrined by this, he waited until all the visitors were gone; then he took his brush, and with one sweeping stroke he blotted out the little ship. He said, “No one shall find reason for admiring anything except Christ alone.”

We are often like the crowds who admired Leonardo’s little ship; we treasure the Bible for the beauty of its language, we delight in the uplifting music of the worship service, or we admire the sunlight sparkling through the stained-glass windows. However, these things all point to Jesus; if we do not focus on God's Son, the Bible is just a book, the hymns are just songs, and the stained glass is just a window.

We need to be like Leonardo—the focus of our attention needs to be fixed exclusively on Christ. Christmas has meaning only because Jesus was born among us to live the perfect life that God expects of us; Lent only has purpose because Jesus suffered God’s punishment for our sins; the wonder of Easter is that Jesus defeated death and rose alive from the grave to love us forever. It is only because of the Christ of God that our sins are forgiven and we have the hope of life beyond the grave. Please join me in praying:

Holy Spirit, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Help us to remember that nothing in our lives should distract us from our Savior, and move us to repentance when we focus our attention on the wrong things. In Jesus’ most precious name we pray, amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

All alone

Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear (Isaiah 59:2).

In his book “The Cocktail Party”, T. S. Elliot describes three people waiting in the anteroom of hell; each talks, but only to himself. No one listens to anyone else or responds to them. Gradually these people become aware that they need not expect the devil to come and lead them to a worse place. They are in hell, and although they are surrounded by others, each of them is utterly alone.

You have probably felt alone at some point in your life. Maybe you moved into a college dormitory, or took a job in a different city. Maybe you went through a divorce, or lost your spouse to death. Whatever the circumstances, for a time it seemed as if you had no one to talk to, no one to listen to your joys and sorrows. I’d imagine that you felt confused, sad, even frightened.

But in reality, you know that you weren’t really alone--not totally. Almost certainly, there was at least one friend that you could call. There were people that you ran into every day who knew your name and would give you a smile if you said “Hi!” And if you needed help, you knew that there were doctors, policemen and many other professionals that you could turn to for help.

Think of how you would feel if you were truly alone—no one that you could call for help, not even a familiar voice on the TV or the radio. Living in utter silence—that would be terrifying.

When God created Adam, He said it is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In fact, being isolated is the worst thing that we can experience—that is why prisons reserve solitary confinement for the worst offenders.

Our sins separate us from God. If we die while so separated, we will spend eternity separated from God, all alone—that is hell. Thankfully, Jesus suffered hell on the cross for us; when He cried my God, my God, why have You forsaken me? (Mark 15:34) we hear the very words that we would cry if we were sent to hell! By suffering God’s punishment for our sins, Jesus has spared us from ever having to be truly alone. No matter how lonely life can make us feel, when we pray we have our Lord’s promise: I will hear, for I am compassionate (Exodus 22:27c).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

True riches

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, `This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:13-21)

In this lesson, Jesus denounces the sin of greed. Since the pursuit of material things is criticized by our Lord, we have to ask the question: are material things evil? Are poor people better off spiritually, because they don’t have much in the way of property? For the answer, we have to look to Scripture. In Deuteronomy, Moses told the Israelites: When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you--a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant--then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Again in Job, we read: They said to God, `Leave us alone! What can the Almighty do to us?' Yet it was he who filled their houses with good things, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked (Job 22:17-18). It is clear from the Bible that God is the giver of all good things, and this includes food, drink and shelter. Since God gives us these things out of love, we cannot regard them as evil—everything that God gives us is intended for our use in His service.

But any good gift of God can be perverted by our sinful nature. You’ve probably heard the argument “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” There is some truth to that statement. God created a perfect world, but we have corrupted it. God provides food to eat, but our sinful nature tempts many of us to eat too much of some things and not enough of others, leading to health problems. God provides clothes to wear, but many of us are tempted to spend foolishly on designer labels, so that we can strut like vain peacocks in front of others. Material things are not evil in themselves; man makes them evil by how he uses them.

Our world doesn’t really understand possessions for what they are. Our world agrees with the bumper sticker that says “The one who dies with the most toys, wins.” Most people see possessions as a way to measure success in life. Religious people—including many Christians—often believe that the happier God is with you, the more stuff He’ll give you. If you are well off, God is pleased with you; if you fall on hard times, it’s a sign that you must have angered Him somehow. Such people have forgotten that Jesus said of His Father: He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Atheists believe that a person with a lot of money must be smart, shrewd, ruthless or a very hard worker; for the unbeliever, money measures the worth of a man. To such unbelievers, God says: a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable didn’t understand his wealth. He didn’t understand how he had gotten his wealth or why he had become rich. Jesus said that the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. From God’s perspective, it was the ground that produced the riches, not the man who happened to “own” it. The good crop was a gift from God. But the rich man didn’t recognize this. He thought to himself, I have no place to store my crops. As far as he was concerned, the good crop was his solely because of his hard work. How foolish this man was! Any farmer knows that you can work sun up to sun down, seven days a week, using the best fertilizers and pesticides, and still get a poor crop if the weather or the soil isn’t right. No one has complete control over the harvest of his fields. But the rich man was arrogant; he took all the credit for himself.

The rich man also didn’t understand why he had been given the gift of wealth. God gives generously so that we can be generous with each other. Jesus said: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). If we are not to store up our wealth, we must dispose of it for the benefit of others. But since the rich man doesn’t see that his wealth is a gift, he has no inclination to share it. Instead of praying to God for guidance, he consults with himself and decides I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Thus, he insults God in a number of ways: first, in his arrogance he did not ask for Divine leadership in what to do with his abundant harvest. Second, by hoarding his excess, the poor were deprived of help he could surely afford to give. Third, by storing up for the future, he showed that he did not trust in a loving God who would care for his needs, year after year. Fourth, by hoarding and taking his leisure, his good field would end up lying unused, benefiting no one during the years of his expected “retirement.” The rich man had taken God’s gift and selfishly kept it all to himself.

So often, we are that rich man. We fail to give God thanks for our food, our clothes, our home, our paycheck. We treat our money and the things it buys as if we earned them, instead of the gifts that they are. Even worse, we take these gifts of God and make them the center of our lives, instead of the God who gave them to us. We fix our eyes on something we want—a fancy house, a new car—and we work hard to earn the money to buy them, sometimes missing worship because of work or scrimping on the collection plate so we can get that down payment scraped together. Then, when we finally get our prized possession, we lavish time on it, and thinking about decorating the house or cruising in the car causes us to daydream at work or to only half-listen to what our children are trying to tell us. Soon, our prized possession needs upkeep, so we spend more time and money on repairs and maintenance, time and money that doesn’t go to God or our neighbors. When our possessions become so important that we seek them before we seek God and His righteousness, we have begun to worship that possession in our heart—we have become idolaters.

Why does this happen? Why do material things hold such power over us? It’s because they are visible and God is not. In the Old Testament, the heathen nations could not understand why the Israelites worshipped an unseen God, when everyone else bowed and prayed to trees, carved images of gods, or the sun. Today, unbelievers cannot understand how Christians are able to remain content when hard times come. Unbelievers haven’t understood Saint Paul when he says: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13). Unbelievers don’t understand that joy in life comes not from the gift, but the Giver of the gift.

Our unseen God is the giver of all good things. He gives freely and He gives generously. God gives us life. He gives us family and friends, food and drink, clothing and shelter. God gives us jobs and the health that allows us to make a living. At times, He gives us just enough to meet our needs; at other times, He delights us with more than we need or could even think of asking for. Most importantly, He has given us the gift of rescue—rescue from loneliness, guilt and despair, rescue from sin.

Sin separates us from God and each other. Sin makes us unacceptable to God, and sin makes us unacceptable to everyone else. Sooner or later, our natural selfishness alienates everyone in our lives, and we find ourselves alone, cut off from love. We buy things, thinking that something new and shiny will distract us from our loneliness, but our unwillingness to share our new toys with others just serves to isolate us further. But Jesus doesn’t care about our toys. When two brothers fought over an inheritance, Jesus wasn’t interested in dividing up property. Jesus came into our world to repair broken relationships. Jesus is God’s living gift to us, the gift that removes guilt and reconnects us to our Heavenly Father and each other. Jesus shows us how worrying about our property distracts us from the important things—a relationship with God and relationships with each other. When we see that we’ve misplaced our priorities, Jesus forgives us and brings us back to the Father; Jesus can do this because He suffered and died to satisfy His Father’s anger over our selfish sins. When Jesus returned to life, our divine punishment was left in His grave—now, Jesus is the living gift through which all of God’s other gifts come to us.

When Jesus is in charge of our lives, we receive God’s gracious gifts properly. First, we always give thanks to God for the kindness He shows us, from keeping us alive to giving us an unexpectedly good harvest. We thank God in prayer when we get up, when we eat, and when we go to bed. We also thank God by giving Him credit for our blessings when we talk with others. Second, when God gives us more than we need to support body and soul, we joyfully share His gifts with others. We give generously, because God gives generously. And when we share with others, we let them know why we’re sharing—we tell them that God has been good to us, and we want to share His goodness with others. In this way, we open the door to share the most important thing of all—the Good News of Jesus’ work in our lives. We can share nothing more precious than this.

Jesus told the brothers who were divided over an inheritance that they should be rich towards God. With Jesus leading us, we can all be rich towards God: thanking Him for His countless blessings, and sharing His good gifts freely and generously with everyone in need. It doesn’t matter whether we are rich or poor in the eyes of the world; we know that God gives to us generously of His love and care, enabling us to give generously, regardless of how many “shiny toys” we have. If we have the means, we can support a charity; if we don’t have lots of money, we can donate our time as volunteers. And no matter what our situation, we can always share the greatest of all God’s gifts to us—His Saving Word. Giving thanks for God’s gifts and sharing them with others—this is being “rich towards God.” May you be rich towards God today and every day of your life.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bruised and bloody

He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

In the days of Oliver Cromwell, a young soldier was sentenced to die at the ringing of the evening curfew. The woman who loved this soldier went to Cromwell to plead for his life, but he turned her down with an unsympathetic “no.” She then rushed to the sexton of the church who was to ring the curfew, but he too refused to help her. The fatal hour came, and they marched her beloved out to be executed. The sexton went to the bell tower and began to pull the rope.

But no shots were fired. Up in the bell tower the young woman clung desperately to the bell, while below the virtually deaf sexton kept pulling the rope, thinking that the bell was ringing. After the sexton had left, having done his daily duty, the woman came down from the tower and hurried to Cromwell, her hands bleeding and her body bruised. When Cromwell asked why the curfew had not rung, she told him what she had done to save the life of the man she loved. Cromwell then said to her: “Curfew shall not ring tonight.” From that day on, the young soldier was devoted to the woman who loved him. Because she had saved him, he would have been willing to anything for her, even at the cost of his own life.

Jesus’ body was bruised and His blood was shed when He hung on the cross for our sins. Our Lord endured this punishment so that we could be spared God’s condemnation for our crimes against His Law. Because Jesus offered up His life for us, we no longer fear death, because He has promised that death will be no more permanent for us than it was for Him. In response to this, it is only natural that we should be completely devoted to our Savior, dedicating our time and our skills to His service. Please join me in praying:

We thank You, Lord Jesus, for trading Your glorious throne in heaven for the terrible throne of the cross, so that by Your suffering our lives might be spared. Forgive us for all our sins, especially for taking Your sacrifice for granted. In Your Name we pray, amen.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Jokes--not always a laughing matter

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you (Matthew 18:15).

When I was a child, people told a lot of ethnic jokes. Jokes about the Polish, jokes about the French, jokes about Blacks, jokes about Indians. Anyone who was part of a minority could be the target of a joke that made fun of them. Nowadays, Political Correctness has curbed these kinds of jokes a bit; we are more likely to hear jokes aimed at groups who aren’t otherwise targets of discrimination—blondes, lawyers, politicians.

Yet is a blonde joke really any different than a joke that makes fun of a Jew? The whole point of these kinds of jokes is to put someone down. If you love others as Jesus desires, why would you ever make fun of them?

We often use jokes to point out problems. We joke about wasteful government spending. We joke about lawyers who use sleazy tactics to win. We joke about people who will do anything for attention. In such cases, we tell jokes as a way to blow off steam over something that bothers us.

But Jesus leaves no room for seeking revenge through insulting jokes. When we have a grievance against someone else, our Lord tells us that the way to healing begins with honest, face to face communication. Rather than tell mother-in-law jokes, go talk with your mother-in-law if the two of you have a rocky relationship. Tell her how you feel she has hurt you, and be ready to apologize for any hurts you have caused. Forgiveness is how Jesus restores our relationship to God; forgiveness is how He instructs us to repair damaged relationships with each other.

I’m not suggesting that all jokes are bad, just that we should be careful of jokes that demean others. We are all sinners, and Jesus wants us to help each other recognize when we do wrong so that we can repent and be forgiven. If we are to do this in a way that builds mutual trust, we must be tactful when we point out another person’s sin; being insulting will only worsen the relationship. Far better that we admit to our own shortcomings through jokes, than to joke about the shortcomings of someone else.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

God-pleasing prayer

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: `Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:1-4)

Have you ever prayed a prayer like this: “Lord, please, please, please let me have that new bike!” Or, have you ever prayed a prayer something along these lines: “God, my boss is impossible! Please make him lose his job.” Or, “Jesus, if you just let me get this promotion, I promise I’ll put more in the plate every Sunday!”

Have you ever wondered if your prayers were appropriate, if you were asking for the right things the right way? Jesus’ disciples wondered, and so they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. In response, Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer. Let's look at these words, and see what it tells us about God-pleasing prayer.

Father. Every prayer is addressed to someone. We pray to the God who created us, who sent His Son to redeem us, and who will judge the world at the end of time. We can call this mighty being Father, not just because He created each and every one of us personally in the womb, but because we are His children in spirit. God did not create us to be His servants, but to be heirs of the heavenly kingdom. Servants cannot inherit, but children can. We are God’s children because of Jesus; His sacrificial death on our behalf diverted God’s wrath at sins away from us to our Savior. With God’s wrath taken away from us, we no longer have to cringe in fear of Him, but can approach Him with a purified, child-like love made possible by the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul tells us, If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). By addressing God as “Father” we acknowledge the very personal relationship we have with Him.

Hallowed be Your Name. As Martin Luther notes in the Small Catechism, God’s Name is Holy, in and of itself. By our acknowledging that God is holy, we are telling others that God is worthy of both our praise and theirs. When we say “Holy be Your Name” we are praising God for being who He is, thanking Him for what He’s done, and witnessing to others that God is the center of our lives. Saying that God is worthy of our thanks and praise is important, because God calls to sinners through our mouths. What we say about God is usually the first step in how an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we don’t talk about God, if we don’t say out loud how important He is to us, we need to be reminded of Jesus’ words: You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

Your Kingdom come. In a kingdom, there is only one person in charge—the king. In a democracy, everybody has a say in how things are done, but that isn’t how the Kingdom of God works. God the Father has made His Son Jesus King over all, as was revealed to John by revelation: I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True...The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean...On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11, 14, 16). Jesus is King because He is perfect in power and perfect in wisdom. No human being can rival Him, no one can question His judgments. Because we have a perfect King, when we ask for His kingdom to come we are asking God to take charge of our lives. Our thinking is faulty, distorted by sin. When we try to live our lives without God’s leadership, we always make a mess of things. But Jesus is the perfect king, who rescues His subjects from slavery to sin and Satan; when we ask Jesus to be our king, to govern our lives, we have a security no army in the world can give.

Give us each day our daily bread. Jesus shows us that it is appropriate to ask for the things that we need to live: food, drink, clothing and shelter. Notice the emphasis on “each day” and “daily.” To find out more, let’s look at Matthew 6, verses 25 to 34: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Jesus’ message is plain: material things are important, but must always take second place to God. On the way to the Promised Land with Moses, God gave the Israelites bread from heaven to eat every day, but if they tried to hoard it, it quickly spoiled. By trying to hoard food, the Israelites showed that they didn’t trust God to see to their needs on a daily basis. When we pray for material things, then, our prayers should be that God does not let us live in need. To pray for more than we need suggests that, like the Israelites, we don’t trust God to take care of us every day. And if God chooses to bless us with more than we need to meet our daily needs, we are to share it with those who are in need—it is through our sharing that God most often answers the prayers of the poor and the suffering.

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. Our single greatest need is a right relationship with God; if we die without such a relationship, we will be doomed to an eternity of being alone in the dark, without anyone to love us or care about us. Sin separates us from God. Sin is the enemy of love and happiness and peace. To return to a right relationship with God, we must humble ourselves and admit that we’ve done wrong, that we don’t have all the answers. The Father is ready to forgive every sin we’ve committed, because of Jesus’ blood poured out on the cross. We need only admit to our sins and sincerely ask for forgiveness, and we are welcome in Heaven once more. But God does expect something of us. Let’s consider a parable of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 18: Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,' he begged, `and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,' he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. These are harsh words, but consider this: we who belong to Jesus are His ambassadors. People get their first impression of Christ from us—from what we say and how we act. If we do not show forgiveness to others in our daily lives, strangers will not expect to find forgiveness in the Church that we call home. So when we pray for forgiveness, we also pray for the ability to forgive others.

And lead us not into temptation. When we belong to Christ, we accept Him as leader in our lives. Where He walks, we follow. But while Jesus is perfect and has resisted every temptation, we are weak and easily distracted. As we follow Jesus along the road of life, Satan sets up distractions in the ditches. Our eyes might be caught by a beautiful woman or handsome man who is married to someone else. We might stop for a bit to check out an expensive new sports car or walk up a driveway to tour a fabulous house with the fireplace and swimming pool we’ve always wanted. We might wander over to a fence to exchange gossip with a neighbor or to finish an argument with an old enemy. If Satan has his way, we are soon far from Jesus and the road to Heaven, and we can’t find our way back. Thankfully, Jesus knows our weaknesses and He comes to find us, like a shepherd looking for lost sheep. Saint Peter tells us: you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:25). But since there is danger in wandering away from Jesus, we beg Him in prayer to lead us along a path where temptations are few and more easily resisted. We ask this that we may reach the end of the road of life with Jesus, so that we may enter Paradise with Him.

The Lord’s Prayer is given to us an example of how to pray to God. In it, Jesus shows us that the most important reasons to pray are to praise and thank God for His goodness to us, and to ask for help when the troubles of life leave us weak and lonely, lost and afraid. God is not a cosmic vending machine, where we put in prayers and get from Him money, popularity and influence over others. Neither is God a supernatural bean counter who adds up all the good works we’ve done and gives us material blessings and peace in proportion to our piety. God is our heavenly Father; He has a personal interest in each of our lives and wants to be involved in all the decisions that we make. He has promised to listen to our every prayer and to answer according to our needs. Since we are sinful, we do not always ask for things that are good for us or that will benefit others; when we ask for things that will come between us and God, He tells us “no.” But we can count on God to give us whatever we need to strengthen our faith in Him, and to help us carry out our earthly duties as servants to those who suffer from hunger, cold, disease, guilt, and despair.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Luke 11:9). Jesus tells us to pray; Saint Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:18). I encourage you to take time to pray to God every day. Remember to thank Him for your food and the health of your loved ones. When making a decision, ask Him to help you to make the best possible choice. When you are troubled or worn down, ask Him to ease your burden and give you strength. When you are afraid, pray to God for confidence in His promises of grace and deliverance. And because God’s wisdom is greater than our wisdom, remember to pray not my will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42). God will answer your prayers—God will always give you what you truly need.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

God loves *you* best!

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

The young daughter of sculptress Sally Farnham was once asked which child was her mother’s favorite. The little girl promptly replied: “She loves Jimmy best because he’s the oldest, and she loves Johnny best because he’s the youngest, and she loves me best because I’m the only girl.”

It would be hard to find a better illustration of God’s all-embracing love for His children. It is wonderful to know that God loves each of us personally, regardless of our different backgrounds. Young or old, wealthy or impoverished, educated in college or through the school of hard knocks, God loves everyone. This should not surprise us, because God creates each and every human life—God is Father of us all, and we are all His precious children.

But many people do not realize that God is their Father. One of the reasons that God sent His Son Jesus to live among us was so that Jesus could tell us about our Father who is in heaven. Many people live their lives feeling worthless and unloved, but Jesus came to offer assurance that we are all loved by God, that we are all valued by our heavenly Father, and that He wants each of us to have a close relationship with Him. Through Jesus, God our Father promises to forgive us for our shortcomings, and extends His arms of welcome to every man, woman and child. Please join me in praying:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for giving us life as Your children. We thank You for loving us so much that You sent Jesus to tell us about You, to secure forgiveness for our sins by dying on the cross, and to lead us back to You. We thank You for taking us into Your powerful arms and caring for us. Help us to share the wonderful news of Your love with people who don’t know that they too are Your beloved children, so that they can join us in the warmth of Your love. In Jesus’ Name we pray, amen.

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