Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).

"Moderation in all things"—some people think that these words come from the Bible. However, the truth of the matter is that they are first found in the writings of the Greek historian Hesiod who lived almost 3,000 years ago; the words he wrote are these: 'Observe due measure, moderation is best in all things.'

The teaching "Moderation in all things" is not found in the Bible. In some cases, the Bible does teach moderation; in Proverbs 30:8 this prayer to God is recorded: give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, `Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul suggests that a little wine can be good to settle the stomach, but also warns against excessive drinking (5:23 & 3:8). In some things, the Bible does advocate moderation.

But moderation in all things is an idea that comes from man, not God. Paul writes, I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil (Romans 16:19). There are many things in this world that God does not want us to sample, even in moderation. Marriage is a life-long pledge of faithfulness; God expects that husbands and wives never cheat on their wedding vows. There is never an occasion where telling lies is acceptable; speaking of the sinless Son of God, Peter wrote: he never deceived anyone (1 Peter 2:22). It is never appropriate to treat people in authority with disrespect; even when He was on trial for His life, Jesus always spoke respectfully to the evil men who were abusing their positions of power. When it comes to anything sinful, moderation is not acceptable to God.

At the same time, moderation should not limit our activities as followers of Christ. Some people feel that an hour a week in church is more than enough time for God; however, Paul praised the Christians in Berea because they studied the Bible every day (Acts 17:11). Some people are content to just pray before meals, and maybe when they go to bed; however, Paul tells us to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). And in 2nd Thessalonians 3:13 the apostle writes: As for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. When it comes to the time and energy we commit to the Lord, there can never be "too much of a good thing." God gives to us without moderation; we should give our lives to Him in the same way.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hope in times of depression

Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man? Like a slave longing for the evening shadows, or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages, so I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me. When I lie down I think, `How long before I get up?' The night drags on, and I toss till dawn. My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering.

My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again (Job 7:1-7).

I’d bet that at some point in your life, you’ve felt a bit like Job does in today’s reading. Almost everyone goes through periods of depression. Almost everyone goes through a tough time when they wonder if God still cares for them. We can all relate to Job when he says, the night drags on, and I toss till dawn.

Perhaps you’ve spent sleepless nights worrying about your checkbook. You felt as if you were breaking your back at work, and yet you never seemed to get ahead. There were always more bills than money, and you never got anything put into savings for retirement or your kids’ college education.

Or maybe you have tossed and turned in bed because of relationship troubles. Someone that you loved had left you, either by breaking up with you, divorcing you, moving away, or dying before you. As a result, you were tormented by feeling lonely, feeling as if no one else could ever love you as you had been loved, feeling frightened of facing the future without the support of the one person that you trusted to always be with you.

Some of you may have experienced depression over poor health. Maybe you watched a loved one struggle with disease, and it tortured you to be powerless to ease their suffering. Maybe your own health was the problem, and every minute seemed like hours as you endured discomfort that just wouldn’t let up.

The things that cause us depression are united by a common theme—they all involve loss. Loss of income or home, loss of family or friends, loss of health or life. We become depressed when something that we’ve relied upon is suddenly gone—the weekly paycheck, the friend we’ve had since first grade, the ability to live in our own homes unassisted. There is confusion caused by the sudden change in daily routine. There is an empty hole in the pit of our stomach as we miss what we’ve lost. There is fear of the future as we wonder how we can fill that empty hole again, how we can find security and happiness once more. Like Job, we are tempted to say my eyes will never see happiness again.

Job had certainly suffered loss. First, his livestock was rustled and his servants killed. Then a windstorm destroyed the house of his eldest son, and all his children were killed in the collapse. Finally, Job came down with a disease that made painful sores break out all over his body. Job suffered the loss of his income, his children, and his health. He certainly had much to become depressed about!

What is interesting, though, is Job’s reaction to the bad things that happened to him. When he lost his income and his children, Job said Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (Job 1:21). After he had also lost his health, Job’s wife came to him and said, Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die! But Job replied, You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:9-10).

Scripture tells us, In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 2:10). Job did not complain that God was treating him unfairly. Job realized that God created the universe, and God created him—he was in no position to tell his Lord how God should act. Job humbly accepted whatever God chose to give him in this life.

As time dragged on, Job sank further and further into depression. Eventually, he says My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again. Clearly, these words are spoken by a man who is deeply depressed. But has he lost his faith in God? No—because in chapter 19, Job says these famous words: I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

There is an important point to be learned here. Job could become terribly depressed about his life on earth, but he never lost confidence that his God would one day raise him from the grave and give him the gift of eternal joy. Job could be convinced that he would never know another moment’s happiness in this life, and yet he kept it all in perspective by seeing that his life was only a brief, fleeting thing when seen from God’s eternal perspective. Saint Paul echoed Job’s view on the troubles of life when he wrote, Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

But even though Job never lost his faith in God’s eternal mercy, his depression was not pleasing to God. Eventually Job became frustrated with God, impatient that his prayers for mercy seemed to go unheeded. He said, I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me (Job 30:20). In response, God himself replied to Job: Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you (Job 40:7-14). In essence God is saying, "do you think you can be a better God than me? Do you consider your wisdom and sense of justice better than the wisdom and justice of the One who created you?"

Immediately, Job is repentant. He says, I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, `Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, `Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:2-6). Job returns to the attitude of humble submission to God that he had when his troubles began.

Why did all this happen? It was a test of faith. Satan was working hard to make Job turn away from God. Satan believed that Job only loved and trusted God because life was going well for him—but if Job lost his income, his loved ones and his health, he would surely also lose his faith. But God knew differently—and although God allowed Satan to stir up trouble for Job, God put limits on how far Satan could go. It was for Job just as it is for us: God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). So Satan tempted Job through loss, but although Job became frustrated with God, he never turned his back on Him and Job’s faith was strengthened. And after the test had strengthened his faith, God gave Job twice as much as he had before, because the love of earthly things could not tempt Job’s heart to abandon God.

Job got through it all by faith: I know that my Redeemer lives. It is this faith that gets us through the tough times as well. When we are depressed over how our lives are going, it is all too easy to become frustrated with God. "I’m a Christian, for crying out loud! Why is God letting this happen to me? God said that He answers prayer—well, I’m waiting, God! What’s the delay?" It is especially at these times, when we begin to wonder whether God still cares about us, that faith in our Redeemer carries us through. Jesus, God’s own Son, came down to earth to live 33 years with the discomforts of poverty, betrayal by His friends, and death itself. Jesus suffered the loss of everything as He hung on the cross in our place—even the relationship of love with His Father, temporarily, when He cried out in torment, My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? (Matthew 27:46). As Jesus suffered God’s anger at our sins, He felt all the hurt that Job and we have ever felt—and much, much more.

But the fact that God loved us so much that He was willing to allow His Son to suffer for us this way tells us something important. No matter how dark our lives get, it does not mean that God has stopped loving us. Jesus died for us! God has promised, Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Paul writes, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

This is the hope that gets us through the dark times in our lives, the nights when we toss and turn sleeplessly in our beds. Jesus loves us. Jesus suffered for our sins so that we won’t have to. Jesus rose from the grave to forgive us when we repent, and to assure us that we too will rise from death and see Him with our own eyes as Job knew he would one day. When we go through bad times, it is an opportunity for our faith to grow, for us to cling to Jesus all the more tightly in loving trust. Our Savior doesn’t want us getting depressed at such times; when we start feeling as if things are hopeless, we are not trusting our Lord’s mercy as we should. But we also have the reassurance that when we get frustrated while waiting on God to deliver us, our gracious Lord will forgive our temperamental outbursts, just as He forgave Job.

Getting depressed over your problems does not mean that you have lost your faith. Job was depressed, but he could still say with confidence, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Even in the midst of pain and loneliness, Job never lost his faith that something better than anything in his life still lay ahead, something that was worth waiting for through all the sorrow and frustration—eternal, joyful life with his God. Job had faith, faith that moved him to repent of lashing out at God in his frustration, faith that refused to curse God and just give up. That same faith is our Lord Jesus’ gift to you; it is the means by which He will see you through the dark days of your life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! (Psalm 42:5)

All of us face depression from time to time; all of us have had days, weeks, even months where we have felt sad, isolated, and without the energy to do anything constructive. You may feel depressed because of a medical condition with no immediate cure; you may be struggling with relationship problems. Perhaps you have been depressed because of financial difficulties; maybe dissatisfaction with you job has gotten you down.

While doctors tell us that depression can be a symptom of a medical problem, more often than not we become depressed by our own hands. Sometimes we are responsible for the troubles that get us down. We act selfishly and drive away someone we love. We mistreat our bodies by the things we swallow, inhale, or inject, with the result that our health becomes crippled. We open ourselves to depression by reading or listening to excessive amounts of bad news, or basing our self-worth on the opinions of others.

Ultimately, depression results from one ugly truth—most of the time, you don’t have control. You have no power over the weather or the economy. You have very limited control over your health—you cannot prevent the onset of cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease or old age. You can’t control what another person thinks or feels—you can’t make someone love you or respect you.

No one likes to feel helpless; what’s the point of living, we wonder, if we are powerless to protect ourselves from hurt and loss? This is what gives rise to depression—the feeling that we are nothing but helpless victims. But isn’t it interesting what love and affection can do in the face of sorrow? Remember when you were little and you scraped a knee or elbow? Mommy kissed you and hugged you, and suddenly the pain and fright were not so bad anymore.

Jesus loves you; during the gray days of depression you might not feel loved, but Christ’s love for you is an indisputable fact. Look at the cross—Jesus shed His blood there for you. Look at your baptismal certificate; it documents the day when Jesus promised to never leave you, never forsake you. Our Lord is the King of Creation; He can set right whatever we have messed up. And while our Lord does not always give us quick relief from the things that trouble us, He is always ready to take you in His arms and love you, and make the pain fade away.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Commit yourselves to the LORD (1st Samuel 7:3).

We live in an age of commitment-free relationships. People lease cars rather than buy them. People live together without getting married. People attend church without becoming members.

People act this way because they are afraid of commitment. Why get tied down to one car when a better model might come out next year? Why get tied down to one partner when you can’t be sure how long love will last? Why join a church when you have to go through classes in order to join, and the members expect you to contribute some of your time and money to the fellowship?

Commitment-free relationships; the whole idea is ridiculous. How can a relationship exist without commitment? The basis for all relationships is trust. If you can’t trust your car to start, you sell it; if you can’t trust your spouse to stay faithful, you get a divorce. Trust is essential for relationships; trust means that you can rely on someone to be there when you need them. Trust arises from a commitment to be there when it counts.

People enter relationships because they want commitment. Would you willingly buy a car that is untrustworthy? Would you willingly live with a person who cheats on you? We want security from our relationships; we want the peace of mind that comes from a commitment you can trust in.

The real problem is, we want to have it both ways. We want commitment from others, but the freedom to walk away for ourselves. However, if you want the freedom to leave whenever you want, sooner or later you will be badly hurt when someone else walks out on you. Without commitment, no relationship can be counted upon to be there when you need it most.

Jesus is committed to you; His hands shed blood because of His desire to hold you forever. But in order to build a lasting relationship with you, the Savior calls you to make a commitment to Him in return—a commitment to spend time with Him in worship, time with Him in prayer, and your active membership in His church family. A relationship with the Son of God requires commitment—but it is a relationship that you can always rely on.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Kingdom of God is near!

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him (Mark 1:14-20).

In a distant kingdom, there were commoners and nobility. No commoner could become a nobleman except by decree of the king. As a way to encourage the commoners to be good subjects, every year the king would choose one person to promote to the nobility.

One particular year, the king disguised himself (as was his custom) and sat quietly in the tavern of a small town in his kingdom, watching the commoners. His attention settled on a middle-aged man with intelligent eyes and hands made callous by much hard work. The disguised king thought this man might be a good candidate for entering the nobility—a man who was smart and worked hard might serve as a good example to the other nobles, and it would please the king to reward such a man for years of honest labor. So the king asked to join the commoner at his table, and offered to buy the man a drink.

The commoner welcomed having a companion at his table because he was feeling alone and bitter. Life had not been going well for this man. His wife had left him because she was too selfish to understand his need for several drinks after a hard day of work. Business was bad because many of his customers thought that he overpriced his goods, when all he was trying to do was make the best profit he could like any businessman would. Ultimately, though, it was all the king’s fault, for taxing honest workers unnecessarily for an army when there hadn’t been a war for the past five years!

The commoner paused for reflection, and then he said: "It’s the time of year when our idiot king elevates another fool to join the nobility. How I wish he would promote me! I'd show them how things ought to be done." To this, the disguised king replied, "My friend, you’ll never know how close to nobility you were."

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus says, The kingdom of God is near. Often times, we think that Jesus is speaking about the point in time when He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. But although this is part of Jesus’ message, it is not the whole message. When Jesus says The kingdom of God is near, He means that the kingdom is located nearby. In the story I just related, the offer of nobility was sitting right at the same table with the foolish commoner; the nobility that he wanted was only a couple of feet away from him. In the same way, when Jesus stood before a crowd and told them The kingdom of God is near, He meant that the kingdom of God was standing there, right in front of them, so close that they could reach out and touch it.

The kingdom of God was near, because Jesus is the Son of God and His Father has made Jesus king over all. Scripture says, God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything (Ephesians1:22). Jesus rules over everything on earth—Even the winds and the waves obey him! (Mark 4:41). But most importantly, Jesus desires to rule in the human heart. Jesus said, Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:19-20). Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians to examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.

The kingdom of God is everywhere that Jesus rules as king. Every believer has Christ in His heart; every believer is a citizen of the kingdom of God. And this means that whenever a believer sits next to an unbeliever on a bleacher in an auditorium, the kingdom of God has come near to that unbeliever! Paul tells us, We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is the reason that Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow Him—Jesus desired to train them to be His ambassadors for the time after He returned to Heaven. This is why the Apostles trained others to replace them as Jesus’ ambassadors; this is why the training has gone on generation after generation for two thousand years—so that you, reading this today, can be our Lord’s ambassador and tell the unbelievers in your life that the kingdom of God is near!

Why would anyone care whether the kingdom of God is close to them? You already know the answer. Membership in the kingdom of God gives strength and wisdom and comfort for today, and it gives security and hope for the future. Today, Jesus’ rule in your heart gives your life direction, security and empowerment. You know that you were created by God; we are not here by accident. You are not an evolved ape that has no purpose in life except to eat and sleep and reproduce; Scripture says that we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). We were created by God to love and to serve—to love and serve God by loving and serving our fellow men and women.

God does not leave us on our own to try and figure out how to live these lives of loving service; our Lord has preserved His wisdom in the words of sacred Scripture. When we are struggling to make a good decision, whether it be about our relationships, our careers, or how we spend our money, God has given us the Bible to consult for advice. The Ten Commandments are still the best guide on how to try and live a moral, God-pleasing life, a life where things are done for the right reasons.

Being members of the kingdom of God also gives us security, because we know that our God has promised to protect us. God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6). Even when we are strongly tempted to betray God for earthly pleasures, we are reassured that 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 (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We can live our lives with a sense of empowerment as well. The world is a big place, and we have little or no control over most of it. Oftentimes, we don’t even have good control over ourselves. But Paul reassures us, it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). God works through our voices and through our hands; when we are involved in doing the work of the kingdom of God, we can be sure that God will provide success in spite of our failings.

Even more importantly, citizenship in the kingdom of God has a long-term benefit. We believers do not fear death. True, we don’t look forward to the pain of dying, but we do not fear passing beyond death because we know that death is only a gate leading to a better place, a place where evil has no toe-hold, exerts no influence. Jesus said, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13). That gate is as small as one person—our Lord Jesus Christ. He also said, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9). Because we are subjects in the kingdom of God, we have the assurance of unending life, in a perfect place, with our loving Lord and all our friends and relatives who died in the faith.

You know that being in the kingdom of God brings many good things to our lives. It is your personal experience of Jesus’ goodness to you as your ruler that makes you perfect to serve as an ambassador to others. Tell them of all the love that our Lord lavishes on His children. Tell them of the sense of purpose, the security, the comfort and the hope that belonging to Christ provides. And when they show interest in a better way of life, when they ask what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30), be ready with Jesus’ answer: Repent and believe the good news!

Why is it necessary to repent? Because Jesus says, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24). Unbelievers are already serving one master. They have listened to his teachings, and believe that might makes right, that you have to look out for Number One. They believe that the universe is an accident of evolution, and that life only has whatever meaning you choose to give it. They have been taught to eat, drink, and do whatever it takes to be happy today, because tomorrow you die and when you die, that’s the end.

Many people would like to hold on to these beliefs, and just add on to them belief in Jesus and eternal life in heaven. But Jesus’ teachings are incompatible with the teachings of this world. Our Lord wants us to love Him with all our commitment. Jesus wants us to serve others instead of only seeing to our own pleasures. Our God expects us to honor our parents and all in authority, to respect life and the vows of marriage, to be content with what He gives us, and to always speak the truth in love. The Christian way of life cannot be successfully grafted into a life that honors selfishness and pride; a person who tries to do so will Either... hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. To become a member of the kingdom of God, one must reject the beliefs and values of this evil world.

Along with repentance, Jesus tells us that we must believe the good news. The good news is simply this: For 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). God did not want to see us lost forever because we did not have a relationship with Him, but our holy God could not tolerate our evil tendencies. So God sent His Son Jesus to free us from evil’s control by dying the death that our evil lives deserved. When Jesus suffered under the weight of our sins, we were released from the threat of that suffering. And when Jesus rose from the dead, He took His place as king over all who trust in His love and mercy. Jesus rose from the grave to forgive everyone who turns their back on the love of sin, and desires instead the love of the God who gave them life. That is the good news.

The time has come. When the kingdom of God draws near, it is time to repent and believe the good news. You carry Christ in you. When you are on the phone or are chatting on the Internet with an unbelieving friend, the kingdom of God has come near to them through you, God’s ambassador. The time has come for them to repent and believe; it is your time to proclaim the good news of God. Don’t feel intimidated—as a member of Christ’s kingdom, you have His assurance that He will work through you, in spite of your inadequacies. Jesus said, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11). Just tell them about how wonderful it is to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, and trust to the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Seven deadly sins, one heavenly response

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas formalized a list of what the church long considered the worst possible sins. These have come to be known as the Seven Deadly Sins, and they include Pride, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth. Starting back in December (with a break for Christmas-themed devotions), I have been talking about each of these sins in turn: Sloth, or laziness and apathy; Gluttony, or wasteful overconsumption; Lust, or letting your mind be dominated by the desire for sexual gratification; Wrath, or unforgiving anger; Envy, or an unhealthy obsession to have more than everyone else; Greed, or the desire to fill your life with things in order to feel good; and Pride, the desire to chart your own destiny apart from God.

When cataloguing sin like this, three important points need to be made. First of all, no listing of sin can ever be comprehensive; we human beings are endlessly inventive, and people are continually coming up with new ways to anger God with every year that goes by. Speaking of sinners, Paul wrote: they invent ways of doing evil (Romans 1:30).

Another important point to remember is that whether they are large or small, all sins have an equal result: they all anger God and earn His eternal condemnation. James writes, whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). God’s laws are like links in a chain; if you are on a swing it doesn’t matter which link fails; any break in the chain results in a hard fall.

But the most important point to keep in mind is this: no matter which sins you have committed, and no matter how many times you have committed them, your sins, in their entirety, can be forgiven. It was no mere man who suffered God’s anger on the cross; it was the Son of God Himself who died to offer full compensation for your sins. The Son of God is infinite in love, infinite in power; there is no limit to the sins that His blood can wash away. Jesus died to protect you from hell; He rose on the third day to free you from the grave. And this is His free gift to you; Christ demands nothing from you for the privilege of forgiveness, save that you renounce the love of sinning and cling to Him alone for the rest of your life. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The LORD despises pride; be assured that the proud will be punished (Proverbs 16:5).

When you have a decision to make, do you first pray to the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom? If not, you are guilty of pride. Do you believe that everything God teaches in the Bible applies to you? If not, you are guilty of pride. Do you pray to Jesus to forgive you for being sinner? If not, you are guilty of pride.

Pride is when you put yourself on the same level as God. What do I mean by that? Consider this: the Bible is God’s word, dictated to human writers by the Holy Spirit. But what if you don’t believe that everything in the Bible applies to you? What if you believe that some of it is out of touch with your situation? If you start deciding what parts of the Bible you accept and what you do not, you are acting as an editor of God’s Book—you have set yourself up to have the final say over God’s words. That’s pride.

Or consider this: God designed the universe in all its wonderful complexity. God designed you down to the tiniest detail. But what if you don’t pray to Him for help in making decisions? It would suggest that you don’t hold His wisdom as superior to your own, otherwise you would be quick to seek it. When you live as if you don’t need His leadership, you are acting as if you are God’s equal. That’s pride.

Let us also consider the issue of forgiveness. Jesus came to earth to suffer and die so that you could be forgiven for angering God; He did this for everyone, because everyone is a sinner. But what if you don’t ask for forgiveness? If you don’t feel the need to apologize, then you are telling God that you are not accountable to Him. You don’t believe that He can or will make good on His promise to punish the unrepentant in hell forever. When you decide for yourself what behavior is morally acceptable and what is not, you have announced to God that you believe you are His equal. That’s pride.

God hates all sin, but He hates pride most of all. Pride breaks the very First Commandment: You will have no other gods (Exodus 20:3). When pride rules you, you declare yourself to be your own god, answerable to no one else. And if you tell God that you don’t want to live under His authority, when death comes you will find yourself excluded forever from the only place where peace and happiness can still be found.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am." And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." But Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." So he went and lay down.

Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." "My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."

Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me." Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:1-10).

Peace. We all say that we want it. We expect our government to seek it. We look to our military to bring it about. We expect our police to enforce it. Some are so desperate for peace that they spend money on psychiatrists to help them find it. Others resort to medication, alcohol or drugs to experience it. More than anything else, people want peace.

Since everyone wants it, why is peace so hard to find? And once found, why is peace so hard to hold on to? Where can we find peace that lasts?

Let’s begin by defining what peace is. Peace is what life is like when there is no stress. When there is no conflict, you have peace. When there is no pain, you have peace. When you are not in need, you have peace. Peace is what we feel when nothing is going wrong. Peace is what we feel when everything is going as it should.

You can see why peace is such a rare commodity. In a world where storms and fires and earthquakes destroy communities and kill people of all ages, how can you avoid the stress of being in need? In a world where cancer and heart disease and Alzheimer’s steal the health of body and soul, how can you avoid the stress of pain? In a world where terrorists believe that peace will only come about when everybody belongs to their radical sect of the Muslim faith, how can you avoid the stress of conflict?

Frankly, we human beings are not programmed to be content—not for very long. It’s been a few weeks since Christmas, now—how many of the kids you know have started asking for new toys or new clothes? How many are already making wish lists for their upcoming birthdays? This simply reveals the constant discontent that lives within us all. Why do husbands and wives cheat on each other? Why do workers leave behind years of success in a career to take on a totally different kind of job? Why do people trade in the car that they bought new only twelve months ago? Why do people periodically rearrange the furniture and pictures in their homes? Why do people stop attending a church they grew up in and start worshipping someplace else? The problem is that they have become discontent. What was once shiny and exciting and new has become dull and ordinary and boring.

If you think about it, you will see that peace is often lost because over time we become discontent with it. Two countries, weary from years of war, will finally sit down and hammer out terms for peace. At first, everyone is delighted that the war is over; but as time goes by and memories of war begin to fade, the people on both sides start looking at the provisions of the peace treaty and become dissatisfied. Although the terms of peace have not changed, the attitude of the people has—and eventually war will break out once again, as each side seeks more than they got during the last round of negotiations.

In the human world, peace is part of a cycle. A period of stress comes to an end—health is restored by successful medical treatment, couples who were separated decide to reconcile, a family comes out of bankruptcy free from debt. What follows is a time of peace and contentment. But then something happens; we start to look inward, focusing on our wants, our needs. "Since the cancer is in remission, why do I have to stay away from cigarettes?" "Sure, I’m glad that my wife and I are back together, but why can’t she get in better shape so that she’d look more like the hot babe who works in my office?" "Now with that ugly business of bankruptcy finally behind us, maybe it’s time to think about that RV and boat that we’ve always wanted for going up to the lake."

Once we have settled into a period of peace, we soon get bored. We start thinking about how things could be better—for us. Over time, we become dissatisfied—we want more. Because we think we don’t have everything we need, we start to feel stressed. This stress then leads to foolish decisions that only make matters worse. The person who had his stomach stapled gains weight as he starts eating improperly again. The woman who took her boyfriend back starts obsessing over each of his shortcomings and is soon ready to go clubbing on her own again. The business that struggled back from insolvency is soon burdened with new debts arising from unnecessary expenses like new office furniture and company-paid vacations for management. And so peace is traded away for renewed stress, leading to more consultation with doctors, relationship experts and financial planners, as that lost peace is sought once more.

How do we break this cycle? How do we find peace and hang on to it? The key is in keeping our attention focused outside of ourselves. Peace always slips away when our attention turns inward and we start wanting more. Peace loses its luster when we start brooding about ourselves.

To be released from stress usually requires outside help. It usually takes a doctor to relieve the stress of medical problems. Couples usually reconcile only with the help of a relationship expert or supportive friends. Financial problems usually require the help of a credit counselor. It should come as no surprise, then, that if peace comes from outside ourselves, that is the direction we should keep our focus for continued peace.

Jesus is our source of real peace. He brought us peace with God through the shedding of His own holy blood upon the cross. Because the innocent Son of God died for us, we the guilty have been given the gift of peaceful relations with the God who hates sin but forgives the sinner. Jesus also brings us peace with each other; He enables we His followers to forgive each other as He first forgave us, and this forgiveness restores peace to our troubled relationships. Jesus even brings peace to nature. Ever since sin entered the world, storm and disease and death have made human life anything but peaceful; however, Jesus came to earth to conquer sin, and He repeatedly showed how even storms quieted at His command, the diseased were made healthy at His touch, and the dead were returned to life by His mercy. The Lord is our source of peace, so it only makes sense that if we want continuing peace, we keep our attention focused on Him.

Not that this is easy to do, as we see in today’s Old Testament lesson. In that long ago time, God tried to get young Samuel’s attention. But getting the boy’s attention was not an easy thing to do. Notice where Samuel was—he was sleeping in the temple, in God’s house of worship. Notice when God called to the boy—at night, when everything was quiet and still. And even then, when Samuel heard God calling to him, he did not realize the source of the words—three times he went to the head of the temple, assuming it was he who had called. It was only when the man of God told Samuel what was really going on that the boy finally listened to God attentively.

The lesson is obvious—when God speaks to us, much of the time we are not receptive. Samuel was receptive because He was in God’s house, away from the distractions of the world. Samuel could hear God because, during the peace of the night, his thoughts were not preoccupied with the many things that needed to get done during a busy day. Samuel’s attention was turned to God because God’s priest clued him in to what was going on.

But what about you? Do you expect to hear God speak to you if you don’t make time to be in His house of worship? Do you expect to hear God speak to you if your life is so cluttered with rushing around that you are never still enough to listen? Do you expect to hear God speak to you if you are uninterested in what the pastor or priest wants to teach you about the Almighty?

I’m not saying that you should expect God to speak to you in the way that He spoke to Samuel, but don’t assume that God is completely silent. Haven’t you had the experience of walking along feeling sorry for yourself, when suddenly the clouds break and allow a ray of sunshine to bath you in unexpected light? Haven’t you prayed for hope in a desperate situation and seen that prayer answered? God often communicates His love and concern without words, whether you notice it or not.

Of course, God does communicate with you using words—the words of Holy Scripture. This is where we are told that Grace and peace [can] be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord (2 Peter 1:2). This is where we are told that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). It is within the pages of God’s Book that He teaches us how to live in holiness and peace, He comforts us when sin brings stress into our lives, and He extends to us the offer of everlasting peace in paradise. God is ready to speak with you any time, any where—all you need do is open His Book and give Him your undivided attention.

Do you want peace—peace that lasts? Then keep your attention focused on the heavenly bringer of peace. Look to young Samuel as your example. Spend as much time in God’s house as you can. Schedule time each day to clear your mind so that you can be receptive to God’s call. Avail yourself of the men God has placed in His church to teach you and advise you. Say with Samuel, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. And when you listen, really listen, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Filling your life with stuff

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

How much "stuff" do you have? More to the point, why do you have it? Experience suggests that if you have a lot of stuff, it is for one of two reasons:

Some people accumulate stuff out of fear—fear of the future. They won’t throw anything away because someday you might need it; their closets are filled with old clothes that might one day come back into fashion, their basements are cluttered with worn-out TVs and empty, mildewed boxes. They buy an extra freezer and stock up on food that they might need, but goes uneaten for months or even years. They buy a book or movie rather than borrowing from the library or renting at the video store, because they fear that the title might be unavailable when they want it or that they won’t be finished with it by the return date.

Other people accumulate stuff because they are overcome by desire. Some people need the newest electronic gadgets. Some people need to be dressed in the newest fashions. Some need every baseball card in a series; others cannot resist buying just one more ceramic frog or porcelain doll or vintage car. And their collection ultimately enslaves them; where and how they live must take into account the needs of the collection, a collection which eats up living space and diverts money from being donated to charity.

God warns us not to get attached to earthly things. God expects us to have faith that He will take care for us; if we really trust in His love, there is no reason to be afraid, no reason to become a packrat "saving for a rainy day". Jesus tells us not to worry, but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33). God also expects us to lavish our love and attention on Him, not on the things He has given to us. We need to remember that the toys of this world will not follow us through the transition of the grave—only a relationship with the Giver of all good things is eternal. And so we are told that a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God (Luke 12:14-21).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Competitive or content?

Be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

People are competitive by nature. Everyone wants to be the Valedictorian, the MVP, the Homecoming King or Queen. A scientist might suggest that this is simply an expression of the instinct for survival—after all, the theory of evolution is built on the idea of "survival of the fittest." But the Bible has another name for competitiveness—the Ten Commandments refer to it by the term "coveting." To covet is to want something that God has given to someone else—their money, their property, their position of leadership, their wife or husband.

The problem with competitiveness is summed up by a bumper sticker I once saw: "he who dies with the most toys wins." Competitiveness insists that you must be the winner, and you will not have peace of mind until you see yourself on top. When parents get competitive, their children suffer—how many sports-minded fathers, or mothers of child actors, have stolen all fun from the lives of their kids by relentlessly pushing them to succeed? Competitiveness in the workplace has destroyed friendships, as former buddies backstab each other as they fight for a promotion. Competitiveness contributes to a corporate problem identified by Dr. Lawrence Peter—people continually seek advancement, even if it is to a position that they are not equipped to do well. This is called the "Peter Principle"—"in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." This happens because people cannot find satisfaction with their current level of responsibilities and compensation. Competitiveness sets God’s people against each other, and often ruins relationships.

According to Ephesians 2:10, God created us to do good works which He prepared in advance for us to do—in other words, the Lord has designed us to do certain types of tasks for Him, and has placed us where we can put our God-given skills to best use. Instead of constantly trying to get one-up on others, we ought to be trying to find out what God has in mind for us. We can be sure that He will give us everything we need to serve His purposes effectively; it is pointless to compare our situation to that of others, because God has equipped them to do something different for Him. If you want to be content, don’t look at what God has allowed others to have, look at how the Lord has blessed you.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dirty souls

And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:4-11).

When you were a child, did your folks pester you about staying clean? Did you get yelled at for getting your clothes dirty? Were you nagged about taking a bath or washing your hands? More to the point, did you really care about keeping clean, or was it more fun to be dirty?

Most kids don’t mind getting dirty. To get dirty is part of having fun. Staying clean requires that you hold back and be careful; getting dirty is the result of being reckless and carefree. It’s not that most children enjoy being dirty; it’s just that when you’re having fun, trying to stay clean becomes a distraction. And no one wants to be distracted in the middle of a ball game, or while climbing a tree, or while doing somersaults in the grass. Dirt is what happens when you are living it up.

It isn’t until we get a little older that we start to understand the importance of cleanliness. Dirty clothes get in the way when we are trying to make a good impression, whether it be during an important job interview or on a long-anticipated first date. Going without bathing can result in itchy head lice or burning skin infections. Eating without first washing your hands can lead to serious, maybe even fatal illness. In order to stay healthy and happy and comfortable, cleanliness is an essential part of life.

Of course, knowledge of germs as the cause of infection is a relatively recent discovery. Prior to the advent of modern medicine and indoor plumbing, washing was a rare event for many people. It took a lot of work to haul water up from a well in sufficient quantities for bathing, let alone heating it for use; and during a time when few knew the dangers of bacterial infection, the worst effect of not bathing was body odor, which was often masked by the heavy use of perfume. Unless one lived close to a body of water in a warm climate, bathing was rarely part of the daily routine.

Throughout history, people have not minded being dirty; for most it was a simple reality of daily life. You can’t run a farm without getting dirty. You can’t catch fish for a living without getting slimy. You can’t be a carpenter and escape sawdust. You can’t travel along country roads to sell your merchandise without becoming dusty. To live life is to get dirty.

What is true of the body is even more true of the soul. Throughout our days here on earth, we live with dirty souls. Revealing the unpleasant truth that we would prefer to keep hidden, our Lord says: out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lying, slander. These are what make a man `unclean' (Matthew 15:19-20). Our souls are made dirty by our instinctive selfishness and greed; you can see it already in babies, who are slow to speak words like "yes" and "yours", but quickly learn how to say "no" and "mine."

Dirty souls are off-putting. When you go out on a date with someone you really want to impress, you get ready by taking a shower, fixing your hair, and putting on clean clothes. But your attempt to impress also extends to your behavior—you ‘clean up your act.’ You don’t belch during your date; you don’t stare at other members of the opposite sex as they walk by; you are careful about the kinds of jokes you tell, you watch your table manners during the meal, and you make a point of being a good listener. But as you get more comfortable around another person, your act starts to slip; bit by bit, your real self starts to show through. And that real self, that soul smeared with dirt, is quite unattractive. It is that dirty soul, prone to selfishness and being inconsiderate, that results in nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce. It is that dirty soul, which can be so hard for another person to love, that ends friendships with bitter words that are regretted for a lifetime.

Dirty souls are also unhealthy. A dirty body can fall victim to rashes and infestation by lice, which make life miserable. A dirty soul can fall victim to mental health problems, which also make life miserable. A dirt-smeared soul insists on having its own way, with the result that life is an endless battle, often resulting in anger and frustration. When a filthy soul drives away friends and loved ones, you can be left not only lonely, but also filled with shame over your behavior that has ended a cherished relationship. A dirty soul has a hard time trusting in anyone else, even God, with the result that life is little more than worry heaped upon worry; instead of holding out hope for something better, tomorrow is just another opportunity for things to go horribly wrong. A dirty soul burdens life with a host of negative emotions.

Most dangerous of all, dirty souls bring the threat of death. Eating with unwashed hands can result in a deadly bacterial infection. Living with an unwashed soul sets you up for eternal spiritual death. In fact, the Bible describes such people as dead inside even while their bodies are still alive and walking around; Ephesians chapter two says: Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else. When our souls are separated from God, He views us as dead; and if we reach the end of life still separated from God, then the only thing we have to look forward to beyond the grave is eternal death in hell.

Dirty souls are off-putting, unhealthy, and result in death. And yet so many are ignorant of the danger. They are like children who don’t want their fun spoiled by having to be careful what they do or by taking time to wash up. They want the freedom to do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences to come. Now there are some who do wrinkle their noses at how smelly their sin makes them, but since they don’t realize that the stench of sin warns of mortal danger, they just apply perfume to cover up the smell. The perfume they use is the doing of good deeds, as if doing good can cover up the evil that taints their souls. But to them Jesus says, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean (Matthew 23:27). The plain truth is this: the sin that makes our souls dirty repels God and everyone else from us, it fills our lives with problems, and if left unattended, will result in God sending us away forever to the cesspool of hell.

What we need most desperately is washing—baptismal washing. We need to hear and believe what God tells us in Titus chapter three: Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us. But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life.

Baptism is a washing by the Holy Spirit that gives us new life. It cleanses us from the filth of sin that sickens us. It makes us clean and presentable, so that we can approach God confident of His welcome. Most importantly, it replaces death with life. Paul writes in Romans chapter six, we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised as he was.

Where does baptism get its power? The power comes from what Christ has done for we the members of His Church. Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 5, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In the Jordan River, the Son of God underwent the first of two baptisms; in this first baptism, He joined us in the water of repentance. When that water touches us during our baptisms, our sins are washed away—but those sins had to go somewhere. Where they went was to Jesus. Standing in the baptismal waters, our Master accepted the sins those waters had removed from us; instead of cleansing Him, they covered Him in our filth. Yet in spite of this unholy burden, Jesus never gave in to sin, never gave in to despair or rage or selfishness. He carried the burden of our sins all the way to the cross, all the while never sinning even once. Our Lord went to the cross completely innocent of wrongdoing.

It was while He suffered on that cross that Jesus underwent His second baptism—a baptism of blood that washed away all our sins forever. The Law of God states: it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11). The only way that sin can be made up for is by the shedding of blood in death. This is the baptism that we all deserved because of our sins—blood shed in death. But Jesus loved us too much to allow us to undergo such a horrible baptism, so He volunteered to take our place on the cross and suffer the agonizing death that was needed to cleanse us from our filth. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might receive the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This supreme act of sacrifice made by Jesus is what gives baptism its power to save.

Nor is this only a one-time event. Baptism establishes a life-long relationship with Christ, who has promised to always wash away our sins when we come to Him dirty and ashamed. Jesus said, whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37). John also writes, if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong (1 John 1:9). Baptism is the start of a new way of life—a life dedicated to spiritual cleanliness and grateful devotion to our Savior.

Children don’t understand the importance of being clean—so they have to be taught. Unbelievers don’t understand the importance of being spiritually clean—so they have to be taught. They have to be told that sin makes them unattractive. They have to be told that the reason their lives are filled with misery is because of that sin. They have to be told that the infection brought by sin will result in eternal death if left untreated. Are the souls of your loved ones as precious to you as the health of their bodies? You care enough about the children in your life to lead them to the sink for washing; do you care enough about the unbelievers in your life to lead them to the baptismal font, so that they might be washed by Christ?

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Do you have a short fuse? If you do, I’d imagine that your quick temper has gotten you into trouble more than once. In the Bible, we read of many times that God has gotten angry—so how can we tell if it is appropriate for us to be mad? There are two key points to consider: first, God only gets angry in response to sinful behavior, and second, God never loses Himself to His anger, never acts impulsively.

When you get mad, is it because someone did something that is evil? If so, it’s okay to get angry. But how many times have you gotten riled up, not because someone was disobeying God’s rules, but because they weren’t doing what you wanted them to do? Has God dictated what color the carpeting or drapes should be? Has the Lord set a minimum grade that all students must achieve? Many times we get angry at others, not because they have done wrong, but because they have not met the expectations we have set for them or agreed with our opinion. But who gives you the right to make demands of another person that God does not make? Do you have the right to get mad over something that does not anger God?

It is also important to consider what your anger can lead to. It is unwise to make rash decisions, and an angry frame of mind is not inclined to carefully examine every side of an issue. The Bible shows us that God is not quick to act on His anger; He warns His people that they are doing wrong, and He gives them time to repent and change their ways. It is only when people are obstinate in their sins that God shows them His wrath. When you get angry, stop yourself from reacting hastily and try to answer these two questions: 1) if Jesus was experiencing what you are, would He be angry? 2) Have any of God’s laws been broken? If the answers to these questions are no, it is time to pray to Jesus to help you let go of your anger before it leads you to sin. But even if your anger has been justly provoked by another person’s sin, you still don’t have license to seek retribution—God says: I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it (Deuteronomy 32:35). Only God has the wisdom to judge and the right to punish another; when a person has sinned against God, leave it to God to set things right. Our best course of action is to pray for the person who has hurt us, that they might stop what they are doing and turn to the Lord for mercy.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Evidence of God

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).

During World War II, some soldiers who were being hunted by the Nazis hid in a bunker near the city of Cologne. In that dark shelter, they left the following inscription: "I believe in the sun even if it is not shining! I believe in God even if He is silent. I believe in His love even if it is hidden."

Right now, Dead Horse Alaska is going through a 53-day period when the sun does not rise. If you went there for a visit but did not know that the sun does indeed rise during the summer, what would clue you in that the present darkness is not a permanent condition so far north? The evidence lies in the soil. If you would move away the snow and dig into the ground, you would find seeds waiting to germinate. Even though they might be dormant now, the presence of seeds is the proof that the sun does shine in that dark and cold place.

Is there evidence to suggest that God exists? Science can’t prove it; science is based on measuring what can be seen and touched, but God is invisible and intangible. But there is evidence if you know where to look for it. Just as the sun is proved to shine in Dead Horse because there are seeds that depend on it for life, so there are seeds in this world that give evidence of the light of God’s love.

These seeds are the seeds of faith. Sometimes it is hard to see them; they are buried deep inside the psyche of all manner of human beings. And sometimes these seeds lie dormant for extended periods of time. But when they sprout and blossom, when they bear fruit, they are the clear evidence of the love of God shining upon them. How else to explain the Christian martyrs who sung hymns while Roman soldiers tortured them to death? How else to explain how a Christian can face the death of a loved one with a smile of peace even while tears roll down the cheek? How else to explain a willingness to forgive another person without expecting anything in return, not even gratitude? How else to explain an attitude of calm hopefulness when disaster makes a mess of life? Such fruit only comes from the seed of faith, a faith that is convinced that Jesus Christ has made peace between us and the God we cannot see. This seed of faith is evidence that God’s love is real, because it is impossible for us to have such reassuring confidence in the future without the light of God’s love.

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