Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Center of the Bible

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"

"What things?" he asked.

"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread (Luke 24:13-35).

Have you ever gotten to the end of a book and gone, "huh?" It might have been a novel or it could have been a textbook, but when you were reading it, it just didn’t make sense. You had no idea what the author was trying to accomplish. When you put that book down for the last time, it was nothing more to you than a bunch of words printed between two covers. It meant nothing to you.

It is a sad fact that many people in our world have this same opinion of the Bible. They may have read some of it, but what they read made no sense to them. They don’t understand what the Author was trying to accomplish through His writing. To them, the Bible is nothing but a bunch of words between two covers. To them, the words of the Bible mean nothing.

Yet to the Christian, the Bible is something completely different. To the Christian, the Bible makes perfect sense. The Christian knows exactly what God was trying to accomplish through the pens of His inspired writers. When a Christian temporarily lays down his Bible, he lays down a message that makes his heart burn within him, just as the hearts of the Emmaus disciples burned with passion.

What is the difference? Why do some people read the Bible and put it down, never to pick it up again, while others read and re-read the Bible throughout their lives? Why does the Bible seem like nonsense to some people, while it makes perfect sense to others?

What does the unbeliever find within the pages of the Bible? Chiefly, he finds one of two things. Some unbelievers look at the books of the Bible as propaganda. Such a person reads the Old Testament as a Jewish version of world history. But when this type of person reads about the miracles of God, he doesn’t suppose that these miracles really happened; the unbeliever knows that miracles are impossible. So this reader concludes that the Jewish writers of the Old Testament ‘made up’ the miracles to prove that they were God’s chosen people. By claiming that God has proved His love for the Jewish nation by a series of miracles, the Jews have created a history that gives them moral superiority among the nations. The New Testament is interpreted in the same way. The miracles of Jesus and the Apostles are of course impossible, but they were written into the Bible to prove that God supports Christians over Jews and Islamics. The New Testament was written to show that Christians have moral superiority over all other religions.

More commonly, the unbeliever who reads the Bible finds within it rules for moral conduct. To such a reader, the Bible is a guidebook to living with others--how to organize society for the good of all. Jesus’ teachings are especially noteworthy, since He introduces the idea that love can preserve relationships and society where strict laws and punishment cannot. This kind of reader believes that Jesus’ greatness comes from the fact that He re-wrote the Old Testament laws of conduct into a more humane teaching of love and acceptance. Jesus replaced old, out-of-date ways with a new approach towards living.

But what result comes from reading the Bible in these ways? If one sees the Bible as propaganda then it is worth nothing, because propaganda deliberately distorts the truth in someone’s favor. If one sees the Bible as a series of moral guidelines for living life, it is at best dated. If Jesus rewrote the rules of moral conduct because the older rules of Moses were obsolete, are not Jesus’ own teachings of 2,000 years ago now in need of updating? Times change, don’t they? If you were to read a book on dating manners from the 1950s, you could not expect to follow those rules when dating today, could you? If the Bible was written by men who were brought up in a different culture on the opposite side of the world two millennia ago, how can we hope to make sense of what they were trying to say? And so the Bible is laid down, a book of words without meaning or relevance.

But what does the believer find in the Bible? True, we find some history, as God shows us how His love for mankind has changed lives. We also find guidelines for making moral choices, choices in life that are pleasing to God. But we find one thing in the Bible that unbelievers do not find, even though they are looking right at it: we find the Savior, the Son of God dressed in human form.

Of course, even an unbeliever can see that Jesus is in the Bible. But without looking through the eyeglasses of faith, the unbeliever doesn’t see Jesus clearly. First of all, the unbeliever cannot see Jesus in His fullness, as we can. The unbeliever only sees a man who claimed to come from God, taught some good things about love, and was unfairly put to death. With the eyeglasses of faith, we can see the rest: that Jesus really was the Son of God, even though He also had human characteristics. By faith, we can see clearly that His suffering on the cross to the brink of death was not a tragic mistake of history; Jesus suffered under the anger of God as our stand-in, our replacement. Jesus taught about love, yes—but He did more than teach love, He lived love. His love for us moved Him to willingly accept every bit of God’s punishment that had been earmarked for our sinful transgressions against God. We were all due God’s wrath, because all of us have angered God by ignoring His righteous ways. But because of Jesus’ humiliating and painful crucifixion, we are freed from the sentence of punishment. We are freed from the fear of being punished to the point of death, and continuing to be punished even after it in hell.

Reading the Bible through the eyeglasses of faith, we can make sense of what seems to be nonsense to the unbeliever—we can see the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This makes no sense to the unbeliever—the dead cannot possible be revived after three days of decay. But because of our faith, we know that God's saving love could not permit His Holy One to see decay, to remain the captive of death. We know that Jesus not only could be raised, but that He would be raised. Jesus demonstrated His power over death by raising Lazarus after he had been entombed for four days. Jesus, who always kept His promises, said that He would rise again on the third day. Jesus had said that He was returning to His Father in heaven. Certainly no one who died as a criminal hated by God could spend eternity in the Father’s presence; when Jesus died, He died not because He was a sinner but because He had completed the work of atoning for humanity's sins. But most importantly, Jesus had to rise because He is the resurrection and the life—no one comes to the Father except through Him. If Jesus remained dead, the way to the Father in heaven would be cut off from mankind forever. Jesus had to live so that as He lives after the grave, so may we. Our faith lets us see that the resurrection did happen, because it had to happen—just as God intended.

We have this confidence because our glasses of faith also let us see Jesus everywhere in the Bible. The unbelievers only see Him in the New Testament, but we can see Jesus in the Old Testament too. We see Him in the creation of the world, because Scripture says of Him, "He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made" (John 1:2-3). Scripture teaches us that if sinful man looks upon God, it means death-- so it is the office of the Son of God to appear to us and speak for His Father. It is the Son of God that visits Abraham with the promise of a son. It is the Son of God who speaks to Moses from a burning bush, and leads the Israelites through the desert as a pillar of flame and a pillar of smoke. It is the Son of God who speaks to Elijah in the wilderness.

Jesus is at the center of the Old Testament. It is because Adam and Eve fell into sin in that a Savior is promised to them in Genesis chapter three. The Savior of the world is promised to Abraham as His greatest descendant. King David is promised that one of his descendants will rule God’s people forever. Isaiah spoke of the coming Deliverer as one who must endure suffering in order to bring about the release of God’s people from slavery to sin and death. The book of Psalms speaks of the Savior’s resurrection. The entire Old Testament is either about what God is doing for His people through His Son at that time, or what God will do for His people through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus did not reinterpret the Old Testament, nor did He make it obsolete—Jesus completed the Old Testament, by bringing to full flower its’ every promise.

We can only see Christ in the Bible clearly through eyeglasses of faith. We don’t have the ability to make these glasses for ourselves—Jesus gives them to us. Jesus gives them to us when we read the Scriptures with an open mind, a mind that does not refuse to believe what God says of Himself. This is what happened to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus came to walk with them that first Easter afternoon, and He showed them how all the Scriptures spoke of Him and His saving work. As Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, their hearts burned with light and passion. The words of Scripture made sense! They were not merely words on paper; they were a message of hope that transformed their lives. And as Jesus sat down with them, He gave them faith—faith that allowed their eyes to see Him clearly, both in the Scriptures and right there in their lives. Jesus disappeared, then, but it was no longer necessary that He be visible to the mortal eye. Through the eyeglasses of faith, the disciples would never lose sight of Him again.

The Bible is about God revealing His love for us through Jesus. If the reader of the Bible cannot see Jesus in every book of the Bible, the Bible will make no sense. It is only through faith that we can see Jesus, a faith that He gives us as we read His words with open minds and hearts. As we read, willing to believe, Jesus builds faith in us-- and the more we read, the stronger our faith becomes and the clearer Jesus’ love shines in our eyes. That is why the Bible is not a book that we put down and leave; the Bible is a book that we may set aside as we do other things, but we come back to it again and again. The Bible is a book that makes more and more sense as we read and re-read it.

I encourage you to pick up a Bible and look for Jesus within its’ pages. If you can, use a Bible that has cross-references, and take the time to read those cross-references. The more you see Jesus in the Scriptures, the more of Himself He will reveal to you, and the more your heart will burn with the light of His love.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Times of depression

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

There was a time during his married life that Doctor Martin Luther became depressed. His wife Kate tried in vain to cheer him up. Finally, she put on funeral clothes and went about her housework in deepest mourning. When Luther saw this, he asked her "Who is dead?" "God," she replied. "Don’t talk so foolish!" he retorted. "Well, my dear Doctor," answered Kate, "you are so downhearted that I concluded God must be dead, and I put on my mourning apparel." Luther, understanding the lesson his good wife wished to teach him, embraced her and forgot about his cares.

When troubles pile up, it is easy to despair and conclude that things are hopeless. But when we start thinking this way, we have forgotten that God is alive and wants to be a part of our lives. We too often take God for granted, assuming that since He loves us He will smooth every wrinkle out of our lives. But God will not accept being treated in this way, and He often allows our road through life to become bumpy so that we wake up and realize that we have been ignoring Him.

The Bible says pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When we are praying, we are remembering that God is alive, that He has promised to listen to us, and that He cares about what we are going through. The habit of prayer steers us away from depression, because by it we are reminded that we are not facing our troubles alone.

Peter writes, cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. When we become gloomy, it is often because we cannot figure out how to solve a problem. But our God is the Lord of Creation, infinitely powerful and infinitely wise. Doesn’t it make sense to ask the One who is Wisdom from on High for guidance in what to do? Doesn’t it make sense to ask the Almighty to step in and use His power on our behalf? When we belong to God through faith in His Son Jesus, we don’t have to solve our problems on our own. What we need to do is remember that God is a living part of our lives and turn to Him for help. Please join me in praying:

Lord Jesus, please forgive us for so often acting as if You are dead. You rose from the grave so that You would always be available to hear our prayers and lend us Your aid. Give us wisdom to make the best decisions in confusing situations. Use Your power to rescue us when life seems hopeless. Remind us always of Your presence and Your love. Amen.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Lamb of God

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

A traveler in Europe was looking at a church tower when he saw something that puzzled him. Near the top of the tower, one of the stones had the carving of a lamb on it. The traveler had seen lambs depicted in churches before, but never in a location like this. When he asked about the carving, he was told that back when the church was being built one of the workers lost his footing and fell from the scaffolding, just as that particular stone was being laid. His fellow workers hurried to the spot where he had landed and were shocked to find the man standing there brushing the dust from his clothes. He had fallen into the midst of a flock of sheep, and pointing to a lamb at his feet he said "That lamb was crushed, but I live." The construction crew carved a lamb on that stone so that all might remember the miraculous rescue of the fallen workman.

The European traveler had seen a lamb motif at many churches because the Bible identifies Jesus as "the Lamb of God." Predicting Jesus’ quiet submission to death for our sins, Isaiah wrote: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7). Any ordinary man would have resisted being put to death for crimes he was innocent of; at the very least, such a victim of injustice would protest his innocence or beg for his life. But Jesus was no ordinary man; Jesus was and is the Son of the living God. He did not protest being executed for our sins because that is what He came among us to do! Jesus died so that we might live just like the lamb died, crushed by the fallen construction worker and so sparing the man’s life. But unlike that sacrificial lamb in Europe, the Lamb of God did not stay dead; John records the following sight in Revelation chapter five, verses six and nine: Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne encircled by the four living creatures and the elders…And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." The lamb at the church in Europe gave its life to save one man, but the Lamb of God shed His blood to save uncountable people the world over. This is why churches often display the symbol of a lamb marked by a fatal wound, yet alive and carrying a cross to show triumph over sin and death.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Why do bad things happen to good people? Many books have been written trying to answer this question. Today we will look at this question as well, but we will look at it from a uniquely Christian point of view. So we will rephrase the question slightly, and ask it this way: Why do hard times come to those who trust in God? This is the unspoken question that the Holy Spirit addresses through Saint Peter’s pen in the passage quoted above.

Peter’s first Epistle is a letter addressed to Christians who were experiencing persecution because of their belief in Jesus. He writes to encourage them, and so He begins his letter by speaking about hope. Peter says, "In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." According to the Bible, hope comes through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. As we think about this, it makes perfect sense. Scripture tells us repeatedly that every human being is born with the taint of selfishness. From conception, every one of us had only one priority—ourselves. We had to be taught to share. We had to be taught to wait our turn. It is our very nature to say "Me first", to want the biggest piece of cake, to whine when we don’t get our way.

God hates selfishness. God created us to love Him and to love each other, but selfishness undermines love and ruins it. To be selfish is to disobey the Lord, who said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). To live life under God’s anger is to live a life without hope, because it can only end badly. To disobey God is to die eternally.

But Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope. It gives us hope because it proves God’s forgiving love for us. Because God loves us, He sent His Son to live among us, teach us about God’s love, and die because of our sins. Jesus was never selfish; in fact, Jesus was so unselfish that He volunteered to suffer His father’s anger at all of our selfishness, an anger that resulted in Jesus’ death. But just three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. He rose from the dead to be our living Savior. He rose from the dead so that He can forgive us for our selfishness. When we regret being selfish and ask Jesus for another chance, He assures us "Don’t be afraid. I have already endured your punishment. Take my hand, and I will show you how to love unselfishly." It is only because Jesus lives now and forever that we can have hope.

Saint Peter calls our hope a living hope. This is not an idle hope that sits in the back of your mind. This is a hope that shapes your life. If you are hoping to buy a new car, that hope affects your life. You will cut back your spending on luxuries, and you will consider carefully how much money you will spend to keep your old car running until you trade it in. Your hope for the future affects your behavior today. It is the same with the hope that we have in Jesus’ resurrection. Because we know that we are inheriting unending life with those we love along with perfect health and freedom from all frustrations, we act differently. We want to end up in that heavenly place that Jesus has opened to us, so we avoid those things that could lead us to a different, hellish place. A person who saves up for a new car doesn’t spend his money foolishly—he saves wisely. A person who saves up for an inheritance in heaven doesn’t waste his time with earthly priorities—he invests his time wisely by preparing himself for life in heaven. Our hope in Jesus is living, because it plays out in our lives.

Peter tells us that those who live their lives in hope—those who live by faith in Jesus—are shielded by God’s power in this life. God shields us from those who would try and turn us away from our hope in Jesus. God shields us from three enemies. The first enemy is the leader of devils, Satan. Satan selfishly rebelled against God and knows that he is doomed to eternity in hell because of it. But misery loves company, and Satan wants to surround himself with miserable people, people who have no hope. Of course, no one would choose eternal despair and pain over eternal life and love--so Satan tells us lies to trick us into following his lead. Satan tries to make us doubt God’s love for us, doubt God’s authority over us, even doubt God’s very existence. Satan knows that if we doubt God, we will lose our hope in Him—and lose our heavenly inheritance.

Our second enemy is the world we live in. More specifically, it is the people of the world who do not believe in Jesus and are, by default, Satan’s unknowing pawns. These people follow Satan’s way, the way of selfishness and pride. These people live on a diet of flawed love, love that has been twisted and diluted by selfishness. These people are starved for love, because the imperfect love in their lives can never satisfy them. Selfishness always sours their relationships with others.

Such people need Jesus’ love, the love that He shows through the Bible and through the lives of those who hope in Him. But the people of the world are selfish and prideful; many of them resent being told that their lives need to change in order to improve. Their selfishness tells them that they know how best to live life. Out of selfishness, they tell us that we should change to live as they live, because they know what is best. Their selfishness moves them to exclude us from their group of friends if we refuse to fit in. Their selfishness may even move them to insult our beliefs or make fun of us or try to hurt us, because we insist on following Jesus’ ways alone. A selfish child who can’t have every toy he sees will often convince himself that the toys he doesn’t have aren’t worth having—he has all the best toys. Similarly, many of people of this world who don’t have hope in Jesus convince themselves that such hope is not worth having.

The third enemy is ourselves—more specifically, the selfish nature that is our birthright. Earlier I described our selfish tendencies in terms of a child’s behavior. The sad fact is that, even as adults, these same selfish urges still lurk within us. When we get mad, when we get drunk, when we don’t get our way, our childish selfishness comes bursting out, hurting anyone who happens to be in the way. In spite of everything that we’ve been taught about sharing and taking our turn, we still want to be first, we still want the biggest piece. Even though Jesus has taken us by the hand to lead us through life, when we see something that we want we start tugging on Jesus to go our way, and when He won’t change direction, we seriously consider snatching our hand away so that we can be free to go after that which is tempting us.

These three enemies—the devil, the people of this world, and our sinful human nature—are the enemies that God’s power shields us from. But this shielding is not total, because Peter says, "now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." What are these trials? They are the struggle that we go through every time that we resist temptation, using the power of God’s strength. When Satan whispers in our ear that God doesn’t really love people, we are subjected to a trial, a struggle. Will we start to doubt God’s love for us, or will we turn to the Scriptures and read of the tremendous sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf? Will we let Satan’s lies crush our hope, or will we pray to Jesus to strengthen our hope in Him?

It is the same with the ungodly people of the world. When the person you are dating wants to sleep with you, you are subjected to a trial. Will you agree with the world that sex outside of marriage is okay, or will you turn to the Scriptures and read about how sexual union is set apart by God as one of the blessings that makes marriage special? Will you make life-changing decisions based on fear of being rejected by others, or will you make them based on trust that Jesus knows what is best for you, both now and ever after?

It is no different when it comes to your own inner struggles. When you sit down after a long day of work, you are subjected to a trial: should you pick up the Bible and read a couple of chapters, or would you rather turn on the TV or check your email? Will you invest your time in preparing yourself for the life to come in heaven, or will you use your time to become more of an expert on the affairs of this world? Where are your priorities?

As we consider our past struggles with these three enemies, we must admit that we’ve lost more battles than we’ve won. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus died for us—so that He can forgive us for all these failures and allow us to begin again. But since we love our Lord Jesus, since we are grateful for the heavenly inheritance that He’s promised us, we don’t want to continue living this way. We want to be stronger, better able to resist the temptations of our enemies. And it is for this reason that God shields us exactly the way He does. God shields us to protect us from certain failure; Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 10:13, "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." But God does not shield us from the trials of temptation completely; He allows just enough into our lives to test the quality of our faith.

Think about the pilot of a ship or an airplane. If the pilot succeeds in getting home safely through a violent storm, his skills as a pilot have improved and his next trip will be the safer for it. It is the same with our faith. Every struggle that we succeed in overcoming with God’s help makes our faith stronger. Every fight we win against our three enemies makes us better fighters in Jesus’ army. As we wrestle with the devil, the world and our flesh, we become stronger, purer, closer to the kind of people God wants us to be. None of us will ever become anything approaching perfect—we will only be rid of the sin that infests us when we die and enter heaven. But as we grow in living life by Jesus’ standards, we will find more and more opportunities to thank God for freeing us from slavery to sin and equipping us to do important things in His service. Nevertheless, we must always remain humble, remembering that we can only resist temptation with the help of our Lord Jesus. It is only with hope in eternity that we can say no to the momentary temptations of today.

I have reminded you that we are not to be selfish. Even the strengthening of our faith has value for other people besides ourselves. As a person’s faith grows, he is able to withstand stronger assaults from our three enemies. There are some believers who become true heroes of the faith—people like Martin Luther, who faced significant opposition because of their adherence to their Christian beliefs. God uses the faith of these pillars of the church as a witness to the unbelievers of the world. Unbelievers look at the faith God has built in such people and wonder, "What does that person believe that gives him the strength to face such adversity with such peace?" God strengthens and purifies our faith not only for our own good, but to lead our friends and co-workers to ask us about the love of God that they can see in our lives. God builds our faith so that we can share it with others.

Why do hard times come to those who trust in God? Because we don’t want to be weak Christians, we want to be strong—strong in love, strong in commitment to the Risen One who has rescued us from the dead-end life of selfishness. God lets us be tested, according to our ability to bear it, so that our faith can become stronger. As our faith grows stronger, our love for God and each other becomes purer. As our faith grows stronger, we know peace with increasing frequency as our confidence in the promised blessings of heaven grows. May the Lord make your faith strong, that your love may be purified and that you may have peace, confident that heaven is yours.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Role models

Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:17-18).

A gentleman had a lovely Chinese plaque with fanciful raised figures worked into its surface. One day it fell from the wall on which it was hung, and was cracked right through its center. Without delay, the gentleman sent to China for six more of these valuable plates--and to ensure an exact match, he sent his broken plate as a copy. After a wait of six months, he received his carefully wrapped shipment. To his astonishment, he found that the Chinese had copied his sample so faithfully that each new plate had a crack across it, exactly like the plate he had sent as an example.

It is natural for us to look to others for inspiration. Children often want to go into the field of education when they grow up because of the example of a favorite teacher. Prominent sports figures stir a desire for fame and fortune among their fans. Hollywood celebrities inspire many people to imitate their fashions and lifestyle choices.

The trouble is, no one is perfect. Sports figures can set a personal example of greed and misuse of drugs. Best-selling singers can set a personal example suggesting that beauty is more important than character. Talk show hosts can set a personal example that dismisses the importance of marriage or distorts its meaning. If we decide to imitate other human beings, we will inevitably imitate their flaws as well.

There is only one person who is without flaws—Jesus Christ. The Son of God lived a perfect life; the Bible tells us that He has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. He lived a perfect life as an example for us, because there is no one else who we can look to as a faultless role model—according to Romans 3:23, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is why Jesus said: I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:15). Of course, none of us can be perfect like Jesus—that is why it was necessary that He die for us, so that we can be forgiven for our imperfections. But it is impossible to even approach perfection if we choose to imitate other flawed human beings instead of the perfect Son of God.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pledge of allegiance

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14).

The Kingdom of Christ is unlike any earthly kingdom. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France recognized this truth during his days of exile on the island of St. Helena. Consider Napoleon’s thoughts, as he neared the end of his life: "You speak of empires and power. Well, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and myself founded empires, but on what did we found them? Force. Christ founded His on love, and at this moment there are millions ready to die for Him…I see no army, no banner or battering ram; yet a mysterious power is there, working in the interest of Christianity—men secretly sustained here and there by a common faith in the great Unseen. I die before my time, and my body will be given to the earth as food for worms. Such is the fate of him called Napoleon the Great. But look to Christ, honored and loved in every land. Look at His kingdom, rising over all other kingdoms. His life was not the life of a man; His death not that of a man but of God."

How different a ruler Christ is from any emperor or president. Earthly kings write laws for their subjects to obey; Jesus lived His life perfectly to keep God’s Law for us. Earthly rulers tax their people in order to provide government services; our Lord gives us uncountable blessings, even though we have done nothing to earn or deserve them. Earthly presidents send their citizens off to face death as they fight the enemy; Jesus fought and defeated sin, death and the devil on our behalf on the cross, dying Himself in the process. Earthly leaders make all sorts of promises for a better nation to live in if we support them and their policies; the Son of God assures eternity in Paradise to those who pledge their loyalty to Him alone. Earthly officials try to manipulate us by frightening us or appealing to our greed; Jesus Christ offers us God’s love and makes the law of love the constitution of the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ’s kingdom is above every other kingdom, and it is to this land that I pledge myself:

"I pledge allegiance to the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ, and to the faith for which it stands; one Savior, eternal, with mercy and grace for all."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Eyewitness testimony

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

There sure are a lot of crime dramas on TV these days. Not only that, but schools that offer degrees in crime scene investigation have reported increased enrollment lately. Americans, it seems, are fascinated with investigations that uncover the truth.

But no matter how sophisticated our science gets, there is one thing that remains essential for getting a conviction—you need the testimony of witnesses. Every trial involves the calling of witnesses, who share whatever they have seen or heard that is relevant to the case at hand. Nor is every witness equal. Cases often collapse if the evidence is only circumstantial, like when a witness at a murder trial recalls the defendant arguing with the victim shortly before her death. Although this is important information, no crime was actually witnessed.

The best witness is someone who saw the crime take place with his own eyes; such testimony must be taken very seriously. Even then, however, it is just one person’s word against another’s—the word of the witness against the word of the defendant. This is why multiple eyewitnesses are needed to assure a conviction.

Even the Bible holds court proceedings to this standard. In Deuteronomy 19:15 the Israelites were given the following instruction: One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. When a matter is in dispute, multiple witnesses are needed to verify the truth of things.

This explains why no less than four different men wrote about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. Matthew was a tax collector who left his former way of life and became one of Jesus’ twelve disciples; he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death and return to life. Mark was close friends with Peter, the unofficial leader of the disciples; like a court stenographer, Mark listened to Peter’s testimony about Jesus’ time on earth and preserved it in writing. Luke tells us that he researched his books by meeting with people who were eyewitnesses to everything that transpired. And John? John was brother of James and a business partner with Peter. He was the disciple whom Jesus loved most dearly of all. He, along with Peter and James, was with Jesus even when the other disciples were not. These three men were the only ones to see Jesus’ glory on the mount of transfiguration. These three were the only ones invited to remain close to the Lord during His hours of prayer in Gethsemane. John and Peter were the only disciples present for Jesus’ trial before the religious leaders who condemned Him to death; John was the only disciple to stand close by cross as Jesus died. The first disciples to enter the empty tomb were John and Peter, and John was the first to believe that Jesus had really come back from the dead.

John and Matthew were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ death and return to life; Mark and Luke provide us with commentary from other eyewitnesses as well. God demands the testimony of two or three witnesses to establish the truth of any important matter; Jesus’ death, burial and return to life are such important facts that our Lord provides no less than four witnesses to establish the truth of these events.

Why did God give us four witnesses? One reason is that, right from the start, people have been denying the truth of the Easter event. In Matthew chapter 28 we are told the following: some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, "You are to say, His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep"… So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. Already on Easter morning, people were being bribed to lie about the resurrection. And the lies continue, from ancient writings like the so-called Gospel of Judas to modern fiction like The Da Vinci Code. For two millennia, Satan has been trying to convince the world that Jesus remains dead and buried. And so our heavenly Father, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), provided us with four eyewitness accounts regarding what really happened—more than enough to satisfy any court of law.

There is a second reason why God gives us testimony from four different sources. Frankly, the resurrection is hard to believe. Do you know anyone who was verified dead by a government official, underwent partial embalming, and then came back to life after three days in the tomb? Sure, there have been people who were clinically dead for a few minutes who were successfully resuscitated, but dead for two nights? Such a thing is completely beyond the bounds of our experience. You’ve been to funerals. You’ve looked at dead bodies; maybe you’ve even touched one. No amount of makeup can give the illusion of life. When you have seen someone lying dead in a coffin, you know something vital is missing, never to return. The soul has departed, and it fills you with grief.

This is why we need four eyewitness accounts. On Easter, something truly impossible happened, and God knows that it is hard for our mortal minds to accept. Indeed, many people do not. But no one can reject the truth of the resurrection for lack of eyewitness evidence.

Why are the events of Good Friday and Easter so important? John tells us why: these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Are you afraid of dying? Does each death of a loved one tear out another piece of your heart? You can have life in spite of death. So can your loved ones. You can experience love that never comes to an end. Jesus makes it possible. All you need is faith—faith that Jesus is who He claimed to be and will make good on His promises.

Who did Jesus claim to be? None other than God’s own Son, born into our world with mortal flesh and blood. What did Jesus promise? He promised that anyone who came to Him for mercy would receive forgiveness and a new start in life. He promised to send God’s Holy Spirit to help us resist evil and embrace a godly way of life. He promised that when the hour of death comes for us, He will send His angels to lift our trembling souls in their arms and carry us to heaven. He promised that when He returns to make all things new, our bodies will rise from their graves in perfection and be restored to us.

Jesus can make good on these promises because He is indeed God’s Son. Only the Son of God could suffer for every sin of the entire human race; by suffering for our sins, He has earned the right to forgive us every time we seek His loving touch. Only the Son of God could come back to life after having died; by breaking free of the grave, He has demonstrated the power to free us from the grave as well.

We need to believe these truths about Jesus; if a person does not believe, he sees no reason to go to Jesus for mercy and the offer of everlasting life. A stranger could write you a check for a million dollars, but if you don’t know that the stranger is both wealthy and generous, you’d probably figure the guy was a nut job and just throw the check away rather than cash it. People who don’t believe that Jesus is the risen Son of God react the same way; they throw away His generous offer to settle their debt of sin with God, and laugh off the possibility of a never-ending vacation in paradise. Such a lack of faith prompted Jesus to issue this warning: whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:18).

Which brings us to you as a witness. You have listened to John’s eyewitness account, and by believing, you have the promise of eternal life. But many others in your life have not heard, do not believe. As things stand at this moment, they are condemned for lack of faith. It’s time that you take the witness stand. It’s time that you describe for them the crime scene, the foot of the cross where Jesus died for our crimes against God’s laws. Show them the evidence. Read together with them the eyewitness accounts of what happened. Bring them with you to church and to Bible study, where the evidence can be examined in detail. It’s not up to you to create faith in the heart of your friend; let the facts of the matter be established by four witnesses who know what happened because they were there.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Out caste

Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34).

Not so long ago, leprosy was the disease that people dreaded, the way that people dread AIDS today. Leprosy was a highly contagious skin disease which was incurable. People who contracted the disease could expect to die alone, in misery.

Years ago, there was a leper hospital set up by Christians in India, a haven where the poor souls afflicted with this terrible disease could find welcome and care. One day, the doctor in charge was told that one of the patients was dying on the roadside a few miles away. "It can’t be," the doctor said, "we have all our patients here." Nevertheless, the doctor sent out four other patients to see. Two miles out along the road, they found a stick-thin leper who had collapsed on his long walk to the medical facility. He was dying of starvation and disease. The men carried him with tender care back to the hospital, where they washed, fed, and cared for him. A few days later, as he lay on his clean white bed, the superintendent of the facility came to see him. Again and again the leper said, "when they brought me in, those men, they never even asked my name!"

You may wonder why the leper was so amazed that he had been cared for without having had to give his name. The reason is this: Indian society is governed by a caste system; some people are born into privilege, many are born into the middle classes, and the majority are among the lowest classes. In India, people of low social rank are permitted little or no contact with those of a higher caste; a person’s name indicates his position and social class, thus limiting who he may associate with. The fact that the four rescuers did not ask the leper’s name showed true love—love that didn’t care about social expectations or politically correct behavior.

Christ’s love is not limited by what is socially acceptable or politically correct. The Savior of mankind was the perfect Son of God, a descendant of King David, a royal and holy man; yet He scandalized societies’ leaders by eating with criminals and prostitutes and beggars. Jesus’ love drew Him to everyone who needed a new start on life, and the outcaste need Him more than anyone. And it is a good thing that the Lord loves outcastes, because, by God’s holy standards, none of us are worthy of eating with Him. In comparison to the Almighty and His Son, we are all lowest of the low. Yet remarkably, the Son of the Almighty suffered and died to cleanse us of the leprosy of our sins; He has cured us of the incurable, by dying of our disease as our substitute. That is true love.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Being Christ-like

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:15).

In the late 1800s overseas in India, a man was studying to be a preacher of Christ. However, he was dismissed from the church because of something that he did wrong. Burdened with shame, knowing that he could never again dare to preach, the man left and went to a far-off area where Christianity was unknown; there, he settled as stranger and made a living as a maker of pots. The church never heard from him again, and it was there that he died.

Years later, it was decided to send a team of missionaries to the same distant place. They rented a house and began to tell the stories of Christ. They were amazed when the crowd of villagers responded eagerly, exclaiming, "we know the man you are talking about; he lived here for years." "Oh, no," said the missionaries, "you don’t understand. We are talking about Jesus Christ." "Well," answered the villagers, "he never told us his name. But the man you’ve described was our potter, without a doubt."

The story of the Indian potter teaches us two things. The first is this: when we follow Jesus, we are to imitate Him with our lives. Martin Luther said that we are to be like "little Christs"; we are to try and imitate His example in everything we say and do. Like Him, we are to be humble, obedient, and always in service to the needs of others. We are to be loyal, honest, and hard working. Most importantly, we are to forgive others for wronging us, and be in constant contact with God through prayer.

But the Indian’s story teaches us something else as well. That man did something wrong, so wrong that the church ejected him from membership. He felt true remorse; he believed he was unfit to speak as God’s representative ever again. Yet the legacy he left was that everyone he met regarded him as Christ-like. Clearly, Jesus had forgiven him for whatever sin he had committed. Jesus forgave him and restored him to fellowship with God, because no one can imitate Christ without the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit living within him. The Indian’s life teaches us that even though we are sinners, our Lord will forgive us for our mistakes and give us another opportunity to lead lives worthy of true disciples of Christ.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Communion with the Savior

Then one of the Twelve--the one called Judas Iscariot--went to the chief priests and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?" He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, `The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.' " So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:14-30).

This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the anniversary of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the Savior of the world. Next Friday is the anniversary of Jesus’ condemnation as the greatest sinner of all time and His subsequent execution by the powers of this world. The following Sunday is the anniversary of Jesus’ triumph over sin, death and the powers of darkness. But there is one other very important anniversary this coming week. Thursday evening is the anniversary of the very first Communion service. And so I would like to reflect on what the institution of the Lord’s Supper means to us today.

Our text tells us that Jesus celebrated the first Communion service on the Jewish holiday of Passover. The timing was no accident. Jesus fully intended for the celebration of Holy Communion to replace the celebration of the Passover. Indeed, the Passover instituted by Moses was intended to prepare God’s people for the greater celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which would be instituted by Jesus. The Passover was merely a shadow of the greater celebration that was to come.

You recall the history of the Passover. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt and God sent Moses to free them and lead them to the Promised Land. But Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, was a hard man, not easily impressed or intimidated. Through Moses, God sent nine plagues to Egypt, punishing the nation for holding God’s people captive. But the tenth plague was the worst. God sent an angel of death to Egypt. In one night, every first-born living thing in Egypt died, from first-born calves to the first-born son of Pharaoh himself. But God spared His own people. God had Moses tell the people to sacrifice a perfect lamb and spread its innocent blood on the doorframes of their homes. When the angel of death saw the innocent blood, it would pass over that house and spare the family and animals within. While this was going on, the family was to eat the body of the sacrificial lamb—they were to eat it quickly, without fancy spices or preparation, because in the morning they needed to be ready to leave the land of their slavery. In the morning, grieving over the loss of his eldest son, Pharaoh would keep them prisoner no longer. And so the yearly Passover meal reminded the Israelites of two things: that innocent blood would protect God’s people from the judgment of death, and that immediately following their eating of the sacrificial lamb, they were set free from slavery.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover. Jesus celebrated the first Lord’s Supper on the anniversary of the evening when the Israelites of Egypt spread blood on their doorframes and ate of the sacrificial lamb. Jesus is the ultimate perfect, innocent lamb. Jesus’ blood would be poured out on the cross in only a few hours’ time, just as the Passover lamb’s blood was poured out. But Jesus’ blood is greater than any lamb’s blood. Each family had to sacrifice a lamb to protect them from the angel of God’s wrath; Jesus’ blood was of such value that it met the need for every family throughout history. And this protection from God’s anger came by faith in God’s promises. God promised the Israelites that if they followed His instructions given through Moses, they would be spared. The Israelites believed that for the sake of the lamb’s blood, they would be saved. They received God’s mercy by putting their faith in God’s words. So it is with Jesus’ sacrifice. God promises us that we will be spared His wrath, for the sake of our Lamb’s blood—Jesus’ blood. John writes, "the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). And we receive this gift of purity by faith in Jesus, as Paul writes in Romans 3:22; "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Like the Israelites, we too receive mercy by putting our faith in God’s words.

There is a similar relationship between the eating of the Passover meal and our eating of the Lord’s Supper. When an Israelite ate of the body of the lamb, he ate in confidence that rescue from slavery was very close. When we eat of our Lamb’s body, we eat in confidence that rescue from slavery to sin is coming to us. The Lord’s Supper is a means for us to receive God’s grace. Like Baptism, Communion brings us the gift of forgiveness for our sins. When you walk away from the altar, you walk away free of sin and protected from God’s anger because sin no longer rules you. When you receive holy Communion with faith in God’s promises, you receive the blood of Jesus that purifies us from all sin. When we are purified by Christ, God does not look upon us in anger, He looks upon us in forgiving love.

Do you really receive Jesus’ body and blood in Holy Communion? Jesus said, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Jesus did not say, "this represents my body, this represents my blood." He said, "This is My body, this is My blood." Many churches today don’t believe that the bread and wine of Communion are anything other than what they appear to be. That is why it doesn’t matter to them who joins them in celebrating Communion—after all, it’s only bread and wine. But we take Jesus at His word; when He says that His body and blood are found in the bread and wine, we believe Him. It is true, we can’t see or taste Jesus’ body and blood, but that proves nothing. We can’t see or touch angels or the Holy Spirit, yet we believe they are real because Jesus tells us that they are. Since Jesus tells us that He shares Himself with us personally in holy Communion, we trust that this is so—just as we trust that we are saved by the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross 2,000 years ago.

Because Communion presents us with Jesus personally, there is more to this meal than a mere historical celebration, like the eating of a Passover meal. Our Lord is truly with us, face to face, as we eat of His body and drink of His blood. Communion is more than a meal—it is a joining with the Son of God, who comes to us to forgive us and to strengthen us spiritually. This is serious business. In 1st Corinthians 11:26-31, Paul writes, "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment." Paul warns us that the Lord’s Supper, when misused, can bring God’s judgment against the offender. This raises the very important question: how does one misuse the Lord’s Supper?

To begin with, consider Paul’s words: "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself". What Paul means is that a person who wants Communion to be a blessing for himself must recognize the presence of Jesus’ body and blood. One must believe that Jesus comes to him in the bread and wine, just as Jesus promised He would. Communion is only a blessing from God to those who have faith in Jesus’ words.

This is why our church body, along many others, does not practice "open" Communion. We are God’s representatives on Earth. God expects us to show His loving will to those who do not believe. We are to help bring people to God, not drive them away. We do not bring others to God by allowing them to eat and drink God’s judgment upon themselves. If there is the slightest doubt that a person does not recognize Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, it is out of Christian love that we ask them not to come forward. When so many church bodies deny the divine presence of Christ in His Supper, one cannot assume that just because a stranger has been confirmed in a Christian church, that he will recognize the body of the Lord in the Sacrament.

But there is more to worthy participation in the Sacrament than only recognizing the presence of our Lord. Remember what Jesus does for us by means of the Sacrament: Jesus forgives us our sins and sends us home reconciled to the Father. Jesus forgives us our sins, and He does it in the most intimate way possible—by touching each and every one of us personally. What a tremendous gift of love! But what are the implications of this cleansing touch? What if I have committed some sin and am quite proud of it? If I go to Jesus for forgiveness, knowing that I have sinned and am not sorry, am I really asking for forgiveness? If I go to Jesus, comfortable in my sin, am I not really asking Him to bless my sinful ways? If I am knowingly, happily, living in sin, what am I expecting from Jesus when I ask Him for His body and blood, which were crucified because of my sin? Is this an act of love and respect towards my Savior?

Please understand: everyone who receives Christ’s body and blood is a sinner. You are a sinner, I am a sinner. It is because we are sinners that Jesus gives us Holy Communion. Jesus lived a life under Satan’s oppression, just like we do. Jesus knows how weak we are, how easily we can cave in to temptation. So Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper—He gave us this Sacrament, both to remind us that He has paid the price for our sins, and to strengthen our commitment to Him. Through the Sacrament, Jesus touches us. When Jesus walked this earth years ago, everyone He touched in love was forgiven, healed, made strong. This is what Jesus offers us through Communion. Jesus touches us to forgive us and make us strong, strong in the face of temptation.
This is why Paul strongly urges that we examine ourselves before participating in Communion. Each time that Communion is offered, you ought to ask yourself: Am I a sinner? Am I enjoying being a sinner? Do I need to change my ways? Do I need Jesus’ help in order to change? When you realize the danger of the sin in your life and your need for Jesus’ help, you are ready to come and share in His body and blood, found hidden in the bread and wine.

A few years ago, while I was in school training to be a pastor, I worked with a man who was openly gay. He asked me this: if he came to my Communion rail when I was ordained, would I commune him? I told him that it depended on his attitude towards his sins. If he was proud of his gay lifestyle I would not commune him, because the Bible teaches clearly that sexual union is to only occur between a married man and woman. But things would be different if he hated his sins. I told this young man that if he struggled to resist homosexual attraction, that if he was genuinely sorry for every homosexual thought or deed, Jesus was ready to forgive Him and would be only too happy to strengthen him through the Lord’s Supper. The holy Sacrament isn’t for those who are comfortable in their sins, but it is for those who hate being sinners and long for their Savior’s love.

This week we will celebrate the anniversary of the very first Holy Communion. Our Lord Jesus served the meal that night, and He continues to serve to all who come in faith to His altar. I pray that you will examine yourself this week. I pray that you will, by God’s power, reject your sins and come our Lord for forgiveness and strength. Jesus has forgiven you completely; come share in the joy that He desires to give you.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Worry, worry

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27)

Some years ago, the United States Public Health Service issued a statement about how worrying tends to weaken and shorten one’s life. It reads in part: "So far as is known, no bird ever tried to build more nests than its neighbor. No fox ever fretted because it had only one hole in which to hide. No squirrel ever died of anxiety, lest it should not lay by enough for two winters instead of one, and no dog ever lost any sleep over the fact that it had not enough bones laid aside for the declining years."

There was a time in this country when it was considered un-Christian to carry a life insurance policy. The reason was that it showed that you did not trust God to take care of tomorrow; you had to take care of the future yourself. This is what worry is all about. Worry is being preoccupied in making plans because you think that something bad might happen in the future.

It should be immediately obvious why worrying is bad for you. Time is spent on making plans for a problem that might never happen; this time spent on worrying comes at the expense of enjoying right now and putting today to good use. Not only does worrying waste your time, it is also unhealthy; when you worry, your body chemistry changes to prepare you to fight or run away. Your blood pressure rises and you are constantly on edge, ready to overreact to any surprise or bad news. But with no one to fight and nowhere to run to, the tension filling your body finds no release.

Jesus said, who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Our Lord makes a subtle point—research has repeatedly shown that worrying actually shortens life. So what is the solution? Time with Jesus. Time studying His words of promise in the Bible. Time in prayer. We need to distinguish between what might happen from what is likely to happen. For example: winter is likely going to be cold; it makes sense to cut firewood before it is needed. But will you still be alive in two years? Do you really need to cut that much firewood right now? Perhaps there are more immediate things that need your attention—an evening stroll holding hands with your spouse, an hour playing catch with your child, twenty minutes spent with the Lord in devotions. The future should not take you away from today, or you will end life wondering what you accomplished with it. Jesus can help; ask Him to help you to stop worrying and reset your priorities. Focus your planning on what is likely to happen, and trust God to protect you from what might come to pass.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

There once lived a captain of a large ship who was a skeptic; this man doubted the existence of heaven, the reality of Jesus, and many other teachings of the Bible. After his retirement from active duty, the sailor spent his declining years in a soldier’s home. The chaplain was deeply concerned about the man’s soul, so one day he surprised the retired captain with a challenge. He handed the old sailor a New Testament and a red pencil, and asked him to mark everything that he could not believe. Periodically, the chaplain would visit the old man and ask him if he had found anything to mark. The man never replied; he just smiled. One morning, the chaplain was informed that the captain had died suddenly during the night. He hurried to the man’s room, where he found the Bible clutched in the old sailor’s hands as he lay dead on his bed. The chaplain paged through the New Testament looking for red marks, but found only one place where something was written. In the margin next to John 3:16 were the following words in red: "I have cast my anchor in a safe harbor; I am at peace, thank God."

There are quite a few skeptics in our world, people who do not believe that there is a God who judges sin, a Savior whose death frees us from sin, or a heaven that waits for those whose sins have been forgiven. They do not believe in what they cannot see.

The funny thing is, these same skeptics believe that Lewis and Clark traveled across the American west to the Pacific and back. They believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States. They believe that Pilgrims came to America on a ship called the Mayflower. And what do they base these beliefs on? Have they met Meriwether Lewis or George Washington or Myles Standish? No; their belief that these men lived and did the great deeds attributed to them is based on the writings from their hands and from those who knew them. It is the personal accounts and letters written at the time that convince us that history is true.

The Bible is no different. The Gospel accounts of Jesus and the letters based on His teachings were written by men who walked with Him, ate with Him, learned from Him. These eyewitnesses saw Him crucified, buried, and raised to life from the grave. Most people who are skeptics have never taken the time to read the New Testament closely; they reject it without knowing what it says. If you open it and read it, as the skeptical sea captain did, you will likely be surprised to find that the Bible tells a different story than you thought it did.

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