Monday, February 26, 2007


Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17).

In last Thursday's devotion, I wrote of the concerns some people have with children's literature. I pointed out that imagination in children has often been discouraged by adults, but that imagination is necessary for invention and, more importantly, faith in God.

But we dare not dismiss the concerns of those who fear unrestrained imagination. Already before the Flood, human imagination was leading mankind into great peril: God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Every human being is corrupted with sin; this means that our imaginations are prone to dreaming up things that anger God and oppose His goals for us.

When passenger-filled aircraft were used as weapons of terror on 9/11, many people wondered who could conceive of such a horrid idea? At the end of WWII, Americans were aghast that Germans had dreamed up buildings designed to do nothing more than kill human beings by the score. Some of the men who envisioned the atomic bomb felt great remorse following the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Human imagination is capable of producing terrible suffering.

Is God to blame for such things? Of course not. God gave us imaginations so that we could trust in His promises and build a better future; it is our own fault that we misuse the creative talents He has endowed us with. God intended that we design tools, not weapons; that we compose words which uplift the soul, not debase it; that we create pictures celebrating beauty, not perversion. It is the sin within us that twists our God-given imaginations into cesspools of corruption.

Nevertheless, we should not be afraid to be to dream. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our sins are forgiven; the Holy Spirit has entered our hearts and shows us positive ways to use the creative spark that the Lord has gifted us with. It was from such a spark that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was moved to say the words "I have a dream". It is because of God-given creativity that we have indoor plumbing, satellite communication, and modern medicines. The Lord made David a musician whose Psalms still lead our hearts in worship, and He has enabled countless musicians to lay in our hands the gift of our hymnbooks.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The ways of God vs. the ways of man

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels." (Mark 8:31-38)

It is always shocking to hear Jesus rebuke Peter in this passage of Scripture. Peter had been with Jesus for three years by this point, learning from the Lord’s own lips about sin, God’s mercy, and the promise of eternal grace. Peter had been among those sent out by Jesus to preach the coming of the kingdom, and had been granted the authority to work miracles during that tour of preaching. Peter had even been given wisdom by the Holy Spirit to recognize that Jesus was truly the Christ, the One anointed by God to save men from their sins. How shocking, then, to see this man rebuke Jesus for speaking of going to the cross to die; how shocking to hear Jesus reply, "Get behind me, Satan! ...You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Jesus’ stern response should provoke us to think: what are the things of God? What are the things of men? And how are these two sets of priorities different?

First we should be clear in our minds—there are only two ways to live your life. Either you accept God’s priorities as your own, or you accept Satan’s. There is no third choice. When Jesus said "Get behind me, Satan! ...You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men", He clearly identifies human priorities with the satanic. This is because anyone who rejects our Lord Jesus is by default a follower of the devil. Jesus said, He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters (Matthew 12:30). Any method used to make decisions about life that is not based on our Savior’s teachings is a method of Satan's that supports his goals.

So let us contrast "the things of men" with "the things of God." One teaching of men is that power is good. A line from a famous play goes, "It’s good to be the king!" It’s good to be on the varsity team; it’s better to be the quarterback. It’s good to be a congressman; it’s better to be the President. People enjoy being in positions of authority because it means that your opinions are listened to, your wishes are carried out. Few are the people who are content to work their entire lives in an entry-level position of a company.

The disciples were no different. They had been taught growing up that the Messiah would bring freedom to those in captivity. At the time of Jesus, Israel had been occupied by the Romans for several decades; the Jews very much felt as if they were captives of the Empire. So the disciples, like any Jew, believed that the Messiah was going to raise up an army, kick Rome out of the Holy Land, and set up an earthly kingdom even greater than David and Solomon’s. This was very appealing to the disciples, because as Jesus’ closest followers they would have positions of influence within this new kingdom.

But the ways of God are different than earthly ways. Jesus did come to set the captives free, but political liberation and earthly rule were not on Jesus’ agenda. Jesus came to free men from their captivity to sin. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19). The poor are oppressed by poverty. The blind are oppressed by their faulty eyes. Captives are oppressed by the need of powerful men to control the lives of others. The uniting theme of Jesus’ ministry is freedom from oppression. But the only oppression common to all men is the oppression of sin. It is because of the curse of sin that resources are not distributed equally and some are poor. It is because of sin that death and disease stalk the world, bringing crippling problems like blindness. It is because of sin that people cannot get along with each other, and some end up imprisoned or politically oppressed. Sin is the great oppressor, and Jesus came to break its power and set its captives free. Men seek to oppress; Jesus seeks to free.

Another difference between the "things of men" and the "things of God" is the attitude towards time. People tend to focus on the here and now, or at best, on the near future. How many teenagers, while exploring their sexual urges, take time to wonder what life could be like ten years in the future, infected with AIDS? How many young adults save for a retirement that is 40 years away? How many middle-aged parents take the time to prepare for their children’s future by making out a last will and testament? Credit cards were invented because our unwillingness to plan for the future instead of living in the moment.

The disciples were focused on the near future. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, one of their questions remained: Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). Earlier, Peter had said, We have left everything to follow you! (Mark 10:28). Although he did not come right out and say it, Peter was basically asking: "we’ve given up everything for you, Lord—when will we be rewarded?" The disciples were looking for Jesus to give them a comfortable life in the near future.

But Jesus’ focus is on the long-term. Jesus lives eternally, and His first priority is what will happen to us eternally. For mortal man, 80 or 90 years of life are only the brief beginning of the soul’s eternal existence, like the brief pregnancy that comes before a long human life. What is truly important is our eternal situation: unending misery alone in the dark, unloved and forgotten? Or unending peace and love in the warmth of God’s light with all our Christian friends and relatives? This is why Jesus came to end our captivity to sin—so that we could be spared eternal darkness and live in eternal light.

This is not to say that Jesus is unconcerned with our happiness here and now. Jesus is very concerned that we be content. But in a world made distorted by sin, we cannot expect continual happiness or pleasure; in Philippians 4:12-13, Paul reflected on the ups and downs of his life when he wrote: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Jesus warned, the poor you will always have with you (Matthew 26:11). Our Lord told the disciples, Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes (Luke 12:23). We can be happy in the here and now, regardless of our circumstances, when we let Jesus focus our attention on the things that are both now and eternal—forgiveness and living in relationships of love. Men focus on the immediate things that do not last; Jesus focuses on the things that are eternal.

The final way that the "things of men" differ from the "things of God" is in the area of love. Men tend to love irresponsibly—their attitude towards love is that it must, first and foremost, fulfill my needs. This attitude leads to many divorces, because one spouse decides that the love in the marriage no longer fulfills him or her. This attitude leads many couples to live together before marriage, trying to assess whether the love that they share can "go the distance" and fulfill both of them for all the years that lie ahead. This selfish understanding of love is based on the human saying, "you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours."

The disciples were guilty of such an irresponsible love. When Jesus told them that He was going to suffer and die, their immediate reaction, voiced by Peter, was selfish. They might just as well have said: "How can you think of putting us through such a thing? Don’t you care about our needs, our feelings?" The disciples were not up to the challenge of staying in a committed relationship of love with Jesus through the dark, fear-filled hours of Good Friday. The disciples all fell asleep when Jesus requested their support in prayer. The disciples all fled from Gethsemane at Jesus’ arrest, and when Peter was later accused of association with Jesus, he went so far as to deny on oath that he even knew who Jesus was.

But Jesus’ love is an unselfish love. Jesus’ focus was not on what He got out of loving us, but on what we would get because of His love for us. Jesus suffered all the dark despair of loveless hell in our place on the cross, so that we could be spared that awful conclusion to our earthly lives. Jesus suffered such darkness that the sun itself was dimmed for the final three hours that our Lord hung bloodied upon the accursed tree. Jesus experienced the worst that hell could offer when He cried out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34). And our Savior endured all this willingly, out of love for us—did it even though we were lost in our sins and could have cared less about being saved from their oppression. Paul writes, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Jesus’ love was a responsible love. Jesus’ love looked at us in all of our ugliest moments, and loved us in spite of them. Jesus knew what was needed to save us from the disaster that a sin-filled life results in, and because He loved us He took whatever steps were needed to rescue us from that grim end. Those steps required His death. Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). That is the definition of true, responsible love—it is a love that holds nothing back, that fears no sacrifice, so long as the one who is loved is benefited. The love of men is focused on personal benefit; the love of Christ is focused on caring for the needs of others, no matter the personal cost.

The disciples did not want Jesus to go to the cross—that journey would end their hopes for power in an earthly kingdom during their lifetimes, and it would put each of them through a soul-wrenching personal ordeal. These objections played right into Satan’s hands, because if Jesus could be persuaded to avoid the cross, no sacrifice for sins would be made and everyone would remain oppressed by their sins. This is what Satan wants, because those who die in their sins are rejected by God and join Satan in hell forever. But Jesus is so committed to us in love that no personal sacrifice was too great to keep Him from rescuing us from our sins, so that we can have contentment in life and eternal joy in heaven. This is the difference between "the things of men" and "the things of God."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Having an active imagination

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

This summer will see the release of the final Harry Potter book; if the past is any indication, there will be renewed expressions of concern over what our children are reading. Years ago when the first books were published, the objections were about the use of magic in the stories; there was worry that children might be enticed to experiment with witchcraft. Later on in the series, teenage Harry began to act a bit rebelliously and some people feared that he was encouraging readers to act on their anger. Recently, the concern shifted to the death of a beloved character; many feel that children should not be faced with the tragic loss of a loved one in fiction.

Such concerns are nothing new. At one time, The Wizard of Oz was pulled from library shelves because it depicted witches who were good as well as evil. In the 1950s, comic books became subject to censorship because it was believed that the struggles with evil depicted in their pages were responsible for juvenile delinquency. When Maurice Sendak published Where the Wild Things Are, parents objected that the illustrations were too scary for children.

There was a time when childish make-believe was actively discouraged. It was felt that an over-active imagination in children was a dangerous thing. At best, it distracted youth from using time productively; at worst, it encouraged them to be curious and led them into unsavory, risky behaviors.

Educators of yesterday would shake their heads if they visited a modern school. These days, children are encouraged to be imaginative, to write and draw creatively. Why? Because, before something can be built, it must be dreamed. Leonardo DaVinci had to dream of human flight before the Wright Brothers could make it a reality.

Imagination is a gift from God. Without an imagination, how could you believe in a God that cannot be seen or touched? Without an imagination, how could you believe that the bloody death of one man on a cross could free you completely from the burden of your guilt? Without an imagination, how could you face death calmly, trusting that heaven waits just the other side of the grave? God gave us the ability to imagine what cannot be seen, so that we can seek His help in life and escape the grave to live with Him eternally.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Application: approved!

God is the builder of everything (Hebrews 3:4).

It has become increasingly common for job applicants to "embellish" their resumes. In order to stand out from other candidates, many job seekers feel the need to be "creative" when listing their training, experiences, and accomplishments. Having the most impressive resume may make the difference between being hired or losing the position to someone else.

God is building an everlasting city, a magnificent place that will showcase His rule and house His servants forever. However, when we apply for a place in His ever-growing capital, there is no difference between us. God doesn’t need to check our references; the all-seeing Lord of the universe already knows every ugly truth about our lives. Each of our applications for a place among God’s servants bears one disqualifying word stamped in huge red letters: SINNER.

Thank God for Jesus! God, the architect of the universe, has a Son who was raised in the carpentry business. This Son of the Boss is a loving Son. He loves His Father and is completely loyal to Him—Jesus would never do anything to cause His Father disappointment. At the same time, the Son of God also loves us, calls us His friends. With the keen eyes of a carpenter He can see our every defect, but He can also see how we might be remade under His skillful hands, made both beautiful and useful.

The Bosses’ Son has gone to His Father on our behalf. He has asked His Father to accept our applications to help in building His great city and to be allowed to eventually retire there. He promised to vouch for our good behavior. He promised to train us to be the kind of workers who will be helpful in the building of God’s kingdom. He made a pledge that every time we let His Father down with our laziness and bad choices, He would set right what we had messed up, even if it killed Him—and, of course, it did. Jesus bled for our mistakes and died to ensure our place in God’s great building program.

Because Jesus has done this, His Father stamps your application to work for Him as approved—and He welcomes you into the best job you will ever have, with retirement benefits like no other.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The veil of Moses

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2).

In recent years, much has been made over whether or not the Ten Commandments can or should be displayed in public buildings like schools or courthouses. Those who argue against it say that putting up the Commandments in effect endorses the religion that produced them; others counter this argument by saying that they are significant relics of history, and that by putting them up we show honor to our cultural heritage.

After giving this quite a bit of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that, as long as Bibles cannot be placed in public buildings, it really doesn’t matter if the Ten Commandments are posted in them or not. Without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Ten Commandments are only a statement of God’s condemning Law, providing no offer of God’s gracious mercy when we fail to live up to their exacting standards. In the end, Law without Gospel only condemns.

I wouldn’t be surprised if what I’ve just said has made you uncomfortable. One of the first things that we were taught as Christian children were the Ten Commandments. We have been brought up in the belief that God expects us to live holy, decent lives, and the Ten Commandments are the most important guidelines for such living that God gives to us. And this is certainly true. But the problem is that none of us can live holy, decent lives—not to God’s standard of perfection. After all, God said: "Be holy, because I am holy" (Leviticus 11:45). To be holy is to be completely free of every sinful impulse from conception to death—the Ten Commandments merely give us a glimpse at what it means to be holy. If we are honest with ourselves, the Ten Commandments don’t tell us how we can please God, they point out all the ways in which we anger God every day. The Ten Commandments reveal only one aspect of God to us—His holy, perfect, judging aspect. The Ten Commandments do reveal God’s glory, but it is a terrible glory to we who sin.

Of course, many people don’t look at the Ten Commandments this way. One group, the Jews, can serve as an example. In today’s Epistle reading, Paul compares the Jewish view of God’s holy Law with the Christian view. Paul starts by taking us back to Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone. In point of fact, God gave Moses many more commands to relay to the Israelites than just the Commandments; half of the book of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and the first part of Numbers were dictated to Moses and repeated to the Israelites while they camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. And while this was going on, something remarkable happened to Moses: chapter 34 of Exodus records: When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD's presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.

God caused a miracle to happen. Whenever Moses came to the people with God’s commands, Moses’ face shown with some of the glory of God. In part, this is because of what is said of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy: Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10). Moses’ face reflected God’s glory because he had been in the presence of God. But it also seems likely that God allowed Moses’ face to shine for a reason—to show the Israelites that Moses spoke with God’s own authority and should therefore be listened to. This calls to mind the purpose of Jesus’ transfiguration before the inner circle of His disciples, where Jesus shone with heavenly splendor, and His Father was heard to say, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" (Mark 9:2-8).

The glory of Moses was not his own, it was only a reflection of the glory of God. Yet even this reflected glory was so pure, so intense, that it frightened everyone who looked at Moses. Moses represented God’s perfect expectations for humanity, and the people could not help but be scared, seeing their imperfect lives in contrast with God’s demand for perfection. So Moses took to wearing a veil over his face when he was not repeating God’s instructions to the people; this kept them from being too frightened to talk to him.

What is interesting, though, is that over time, the glow slowly faded from Moses’ face. When we are first confronted with God through His Law, we are terrified, just as the Israelites were, and we resolve to try and live holy, decent lives. But as time goes on, we inevitably begin to take God’s laws less seriously; we try to look for loopholes, we try to cut corners, we look for exceptions to the rules. The glow of commitment begins to fade. We start down the same path as the Israelites, of whom Paul said: their minds were made dull.

Moses tried to maintain the illusion that his face still glowed behind the veil, in order to keep the Israelites in line through continuing fear of God’s Law. But God let the glow fade away because our heavenly Father knows that fear and intimidation do not change people over the long haul—people become inured to living under constant threat. In any event, fear of punishment is not how God wants to lead His people; God instituted the Tabernacle and the sacrifices for sin so that His chosen people would follow Him out of thankfulness for His mercy, not because of fear of His wrath.

But the Israelites were not cooperative. Paul said, their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. Paul meant that the Jews of his day lived as if Moses’ veil was still in place. When they read the books of Moses, with all their Commandments and laws, the Jews imagined that although they couldn’t see Moses’ face because he was long dead, yet still God’s impressive glory would be found hidden behind the reading and obeying of His holy Law. For Moses, the veil was the delusion that the Israelites could be compelled to be holy out of continuing fear of God; for the Jews of Paul’s day, the veil was the delusion that keeping God’s laws was how one earned entry into heaven.

But a delusion it certainly was—and is. There are still many people who think that God will take them to heaven if they just try their best; surely God doesn’t expect more of us than we are capable of? Such people have only seen the frightening glory of God’s Law; to reassure themselves that they can successfully keep that Law, they water it down. I know a man who claims he has never sinned; he has never broken one of the Ten Commandments. But like so many, he ignores the clear teaching of Scripture: in Romans 3:20 Paul warns us, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Paul tells us that there is only one way to be free of the veil of delusion; whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Jesus is the Good News—the good news being that He has fulfilled the requirements of God’s Law for us. Paul writes, we...know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:15-16). We do not find salvation in what we do, but in what we believe. Isaiah said that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); such acts, no matter how ‘righteous’ they appear to others, cannot save us.

Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of Man. As the Son of Man, Jesus was born under God’s Law; that means that He was obligated, like any man, to keep the Law perfectly. This Jesus did, because unlike us He was born without sin (since His Father was God). But as the Son of God Jesus’ life had infinite worth, far more worth than all our human lives added together. Jesus could offer His sinless life to His Father in place of our sin-filled lives, and in this way God’s holy Commandments were considered to be fully and satisfactorily met. We don’t have to be perfect—Jesus has been perfect for us. Jesus was so perfect that He even was willing to suffer and die as our substitute for all the times we have not kept God’s holy Law perfectly.

When Christ lifts the veil from our eyes, we see the truth: it is only by faith in Jesus that we see the true glory of God. The glory of God’s Law is a terrible, frightening glory, but the glory of His Gospel, shown to us in the face of Jesus, is by far a greater glory—the glory of forgiveness and unlimited love. Paul says, now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 corinthians 3:7-11).

I said earlier that God does not want to rule our hearts with fear, because fear makes us callous and destroys trust. Lasting relationships do not result from threats. Permanent inner change does not arise from fear. Only love builds permanent relationships. Only love can bring about true inner rebirth. And love is the means by which our God wants to lead us. We need to hear His Law so that we can understand our need to change our ways, but it is only His holy love that can work that change within us. God’s Law grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us out of the sleep of our sin, but it is the loving words of our Savior’s Gospel message that draw us into His gentle embrace. It is only through the Good News about Jesus that we will come to reflect our Lord’s glory from our unveiled faces to those around us, and be transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Seeing the light

Jesus…said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

Rose Crawford had been born blind. "I just can’t believe it," she gasped, after undergoing delicate surgery in an Ontario hospital at age 50. For the first time in her life, she saw a beautiful world of form and color.

Here is the sad part of her story: the last 20 years of her blindness had been unnecessary. The surgical techniques used on her could have given her vision back when she was 30; the type of operation she eventually underwent had already been perfected by that point in her life. The doctor said, "She just figured there was nothing that could be done about her condition."

Why did Rose spend 20 years assuming that her situation was hopeless? Perhaps she had stopped seeking a remedy because she had given up hope, or maybe those who knew of the operation just never told her about it. Regardless of the reason, Rose spent 20 years unnecessarily deprived of living in the light.

Millions of people walk in darkness unnecessarily. The darkness they walk in is not the result of unseeing eyes, but of unseeing souls. Unable to perceive God, they are constantly at risk of stumbling into sin. Sin is a danger to the soul that cannot be seen for what it is without the light of God’s truth revealing it’s poisonous barbs.

Why do people continue to grope through the dangers of spiritual darkness? Two reasons. Some have quit searching for escape from their darkness, assuming that their situation is hopeless. To those of you who have given up the search for answers, I say: "don’t give up!" Whatever your problem is, God has the solution. Don’t live 20 years or even 20 minutes in spiritual blindness—not when God can show you what you’ve been looking for.

Others stumble in spiritual darkness because no one has shared the light of Christ with them. Yet we know that the LORD gives sight to the blind; Jesus…said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." It is up to we who live in this light to share it with those who do not.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's day

God is love (1 John 4:8).

"Will you be my valentine?" I wonder if you realize how old this tradition is? Valentine’s Day is dedicated to the memory of a priest named Valentine who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius of Rome around the year 270 AD. Valentine was imprisoned by the emperor because of his Christian beliefs. The emperor had forbidden young men to marry until they had served time in his armies, and Valentine was secretly performing weddings for lovesick couples. When Valentine was caught the emperor demanded that he give up his Christian convictions, but Valentine refused. While he was in prison awaiting execution, he came to care for the head jailer’s daughter. On February 14th Valentine was brutally put to death, but before he died, he left a note for the young woman he loved which read, "From your Valentine." Two hundred years later, Pope Gelasius made the anniversary of Valentine’s martyrdom an annual observance of the church.

Valentine died because of his love for God and all of God’s children. This certainly puts us in mind of God’s Son Jesus, who died out of His love for God and all of God’s children. Jesus loved God His Father so much that He would gladly do anything the Father asked of Him, even coming to earth to die for our sins so that we could be forgiven. And Jesus loved each and every one of us so much that He rose from the grave our sins put Him in, so that He could personally welcome us into heaven and hold us in His arms forever. Jesus did all this out of love.

It is fitting that the early church made a religious observance out of St. Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is about love, and all true, pure, perfect love finds its origins in God because God is love, and every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17). It was this love that moved Valentine to share God’s gift of love through the marriages that he performed, and it was this love that held him firmly in his Savior’s arms when death came prematurely. Every Valentine that you send has its origin in the love that comes from God through His Son Jesus Christ. Without our Lord, there would be no Valentine’s Day.

Jesus wants to be your Valentine. Will you be His?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Forgiveness and healing

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:1-12)

Imagine the scene: a house crowded by people, eager to hear every word that the new teacher Jesus has to say. Then, a surprising intrusion: four men tear an opening in the mud-thatch ceiling, and lower their sick friend down right in front of Jesus. Jesus is known as a powerful healer—everyone eagerly watches to see if Jesus will heal this man as well. And then Jesus does a most surprising thing: He says, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

If you were in the crowd that day, you might have been confused. Your sins are forgiven? What does THAT have to do with anything? Didn’t the four friends bring this man to be healed?
Then, to stir things up even more, Jesus confronts those in the crowd who did not believe that He had the right to tell anyone "Your sins are forgiven." To prove that He has just performed an invisible miracle, Jesus next performs a visible one—He orders the man to get up and walk, and the paralytic man does so, showing that he is completely healed! But the question might linger in your head—why did Jesus first forgive the man his sins, and only after that restore him to health?

To understand why Jesus acted as He did, we must first understand the nature of sin. When we think of sin, we tend to think of doing or saying something that makes God angry—but that is too simple an answer. God is perfect, and everything that is in heaven with Him is perfect. When God created our world, it was perfect, and when He created Adam and Eve, they were perfect too. Try to imagine being perfect. Never making an error in judgment. Never overestimating or underestimating your capabilities. Never saying a cross word or wasting money on a foolish purchase. Never having an indecent thought as an attractive man or woman walks past you on the street. Never becoming impatient, never cheating or bending the rules even a little bit. Always being respectful of others, always being willing to lend your time or your money. And this is only a small part of being perfect.

Sin is when you stop being perfect. Sin is something that affects your entire life, because God expects you to be perfect from the moment that He created you in the womb. Only one sin is needed to make an entire life imperfect. Since God is perfect, and everything that lives in His presence is perfect, sin removes us from God’s presence. God permits no imperfect thing to live with Him. Imperfect things are separated from God, separated by their sin. Sin is being imperfect, and a sinner is someone whose life is characterized by imperfection and separation from God.

Our world depends on the sun for life. Light makes plants grow; light provides warmth to live in. In winter, our part of the earth is tilted farther away from the sun, and so days and nights are colder; at night, when our part of the earth faces away from the sun, darkness causes plants to shut down. Imagine what would happen if the sun stopped shining. Without its light, plants would not grow; without its heat, the cold would end all life. This is what happens to the soul when sin separates us from God. God is the source of life and the source of love; without the light of His life and the warmth of His love, every human being must gradually wither and die, as would the plants and animals of a sunless earth. Sin brings death, because it separates us from the source of life.

Make no mistake—every bit of suffering in this world is the result of the separation brought about by sin. When Adam and Eve made themselves imperfect, God could have destroyed them on the spot—but instead, He showed them mercy and placed His curse upon the earth instead. Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you (Genesis 3:17-18). No longer could mankind simply walk through a grove and pick their meal ripe from tree and vine; now food must be worked for, and things like thorns, thistles, drought, storms and insects would make good harvests hard to come by.

But Adam and Eve did not escape being directly hurt by sin; being perfect, God always keeps His promises, and He had promised: you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Genesis 2:17). And when the first couple ate in disobedience to God, He told them dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19). Because they chose imperfection, our first parents brought death to us all, along with everything that leads to death—sickness, birth defects, the loss of health as one ages.

As if all this was not enough, we in our sinful condition continue to heap even more misery upon ourselves and the lives of others--Jesus gives us a partial list in Matthew 15 verses 19 and 20: out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean'. Our own sinful choices increase suffering even more when we refuse to lend to a man whose farm is failing, when we commit adultery and spread venereal disease, when we drive drunk and kill a pedestrian. All suffering in this world is the result of sin; without sin there would never have been any suffering.

Since all suffering is the result of sin cutting us off from God’s life and light, there can only be one way to put an end to suffering: we must become reconnected to God. And since the reason that we are cut off from God is that we are imperfect, our only hope of getting reconnected to Him is by becoming perfect once more. But there lies a seemingly impossible problem: God expects your entire life to be perfect; however, you cannot undo the mistakes of the past. For that matter, you and I are incapable of being perfect for just today, let alone for the rest of our lives. It would seem as if we are doomed to unending suffering.

But Jesus tells us, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (Luke 18:27). Jesus is God’s love itself come to us to end the separation brought about by sin. We can only live with God if we are sinless, perfect. Jesus came to take our sins upon Himself, leaving us without any imperfection in God’s eyes; Paul tells us, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Psalm 103:12 says, as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Micah 7:19 says, you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. God reassures in Isaiah 43:25 that I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.

This is all made possible by Jesus’ great sacrifice that He made for us. The perfect Son of God accepted the responsibility for all our imperfections, and suffered all of His heavenly Father’s anger at our sins. Jesus experienced separation from the love of God when He cried out on the cross, My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) Jesus suffered separation so that Paul could write, 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 8:38-39).

This tremendous gift—the gift of reconciliation with God—makes it just as if we had never sinned, never been imperfect for even a moment. Paul writes, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Because of Jesus we can live in the light of God’s life and love; He regards us as perfect on account of what Jesus has done for us. All we need do is reject our love of sin and instead embrace the offer of forgiveness that Jesus holds before us. As soon as we live in Jesus, we live in God, and God lives in us because Jesus is the Son of God.

Does this mean that by becoming a Christian, one becomes immune to suffering? No. The earth remains cursed to produce thorns and thistles and living by the sweat of one’s brow. We remain surrounded by people who revel in their sin and in making other peoples’ lives miserable. And we are still subject to physical death and the things that lead to death—sickness, weakness, loss of vitality. But physical dying contains a blessing: it is the only way to be rid of the sin that we inherited from our first parents. Only by dying could Jesus leave sin defeated; only by your death can you join Jesus in life beyond the grave, free from sin and suffering forever. Scripture says, anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:7).

Why did Jesus first forgive the paralytic man, and only after that heal him? Because forgiveness and reconciliation with God were the man’s most pressing need. The body only lives for a number of decades; the soul exists forever. Jesus’ first priority is always the human soul. We see this pattern in the Old Testament as well. Psalm 103 says, Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. In fact, healing is sometimes synonymous with forgiveness, as when David prays, "O LORD, have mercy on me; heal me, for I have sinned against you" (Psalm 41:4). True healing begins by healing the relationship with God that was broken by sin. There is great truth in the old saying, "prayer is the best medicine."

We all hate suffering, but sometimes suffering does us spiritual good. Isaiah wrote, Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back (Isaiah 38:17). Isaiah recognized that in times of suffering, we are more inclined to turn to God for healing of the soul and body than when we are feeling well and are distracted by the pleasures of life. Would the paralytic man and his friends have made such a tremendous effort to get past the crowd to see Jesus if the man had been in perfect health? Perhaps not. And will Jesus free us from all our physical suffering upon demand? Not necessarily. But we can rely on this: when we come before Jesus, confident that He can heal us, we know that He will certainly say to us, "your sins are forgiven." And that is the best gift of healing that anyone could ever receive.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hearts that resist Christ

Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act (Psalm 37:7).

You may be familiar with the works of C. S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer. What you might not be familiar with is the story of his family. In his sixties, Lewis married Joy Gresham—an American divorcee with two sons. After she died of cancer, C. S. Lewis committed himself to caring for the boys—but Lewis himself died only two years later.

The youngest son, Douglas, later got married and moved to Tasmania. Neither he nor his wife had any interest in Christ or Christianity. One day, Wheaton College asked Douglas to participate in a tribute to his famous stepfather—and as an honorarium, the college gave him a folio of C. S. Lewis’ books on audio tape.

Douglas’ wife Mary began listening to the tapes, and eventually at age 40 became a believer in Christ. And after seven more years of prayerful diligence, she was successful in introducing her husband to Christ, and Douglas finally became a believer as well.

Too often, we expect things to happen immediately. We think that after we have finally convinced a friend to attend church with us once, they ought to become a believer on the spot. We think that years of Sunday School and Confirmation should be enough exposure to religion to place life-long faith in our children. But the sinful heart is a stubborn thing—sometimes it seems as if no matter what we say or do, a person that we love continues to reject every attempt to bring them into a loving relationship with Jesus. Yet a timeless God said: Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass (Isaiah 37:26). Things don’t always happen quickly; running water can wear down a rock, but it takes a long time. Just because a person does not welcome Jesus into their heart now, does not necessarily mean that they will continue to reject Christ for the rest of their days. Romans 12:12 tells us: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. How long are you willing to pray for those in your sphere of influence? How much effort are you willing to devote to bring a stubborn loved one to the Savior? Don’t give up—you never know on what day the Lord might break His way into a stony heart.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Membership fees?

God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corintrhians 9:7).

A synagogue in New Jersey recently sued some members for back dues. One member who settled out of court says that the entire matter is "morally and ethically wrong." According to CNSNews, when joining members signed a contract for goods and services in the form of annual dues, which cover synagogue expenses. In the mid-1990s, a court ruled that a synagogue is free to sue its members for non-payment of dues, but cases like this seem to be extremely rare.

Why don’t churches insist on membership fees? From a practical standpoint, it would certainly seem to be sensible. How many churches constantly struggle to make ends meet? You have to pay dues to belong to other organizations—why not the church? Didn’t God command the Israelites to give 1/10th of all they had to the upkeep of the temple and the priesthood?

It is true that the Israelites were commanded to tithe; however, we must remember that when Jesus fulfilled the Law for us, He freed us from many of the legal obligations imposed by Mosaic Law. You do not have to provide a bull to be sacrificed on God’s altar as a sin offering, as the Israelites did. You are not forbidden from eating pork, as the Israelites were. Through His perfect life and sacrificial death, Christ satisfied the requirements of the old ceremonial laws on our behalf—including the requirement to give 10 % of your profits for God’s use.

The New Testament lays out a different model for giving: in 2nd Corinthians 9:7 Paul writes: You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully. But even though God leaves the size of the donation up to us, there is still this general guideline to keep in mind: On every Lord's Day, each of you should put aside some amount of money in relation to what you have earned and save it for this offering (1 Corinthians 16:2). The principle is this—the more God has blessed you with, the more He expects from you in support of His work.

The Church is not a country club—there is no minimum fee for being a member. Membership in the Kingdom of God is Christ’s free gift to all who trust in His love.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Training to win

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

In today’s Epistle reading, Saint Paul compares our earthly journey as Christians to the kind of training that athletes put themselves through. But we must be careful that we do not misunderstand this analogy which Paul uses, so today we will look at ways that this passage could be misunderstood, and at the important message that Paul wants us to hear clearly.

Paul compares his training regimen to that of someone who competes in track or boxing. Both of these sports put an athlete in competition with another athlete; although both are excellent competitors, only one can win the prize. In Paul’s day, the winning athlete received a crown of laurel leaves—today, the champion gets a trophy or medal.

Should we conclude from this that God only lets the best people into heaven, that we have to compete with each other for God’s approval? The Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to believe this. They teach that only 144,000 people will get to live in heaven for eternity—these are the ones who were the best Jehovah’s Witnesses in life. The rest of the believers will get to live eternally on the new earth after the final judgment; while this will be a wonderful existence, it is not as wonderful as being in God’s presence in heaven. These teachings suggest that if you can live a better life than your fellow man, you can achieve greater eternal rewards.

But is this what the Scriptures teach? Does God grade us on a bell curve, and only "A" Christians get into heaven? No—Paul isclear that none of us are "A" Christians; he writes, There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22-24). Paul tells us that we are all alike in two ways: first, we are all alike in that we have failed to live our lives according to God’s standards; second, we are all forgiven and declared acceptable to God freely by our Lord’s loving mercy. And everyone who believes in Jesus’ mercy gets to go to heaven; Saint John writes in Revelation 7:9, 13-17, After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes... Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst...For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." From this passage it is apparent that all believers, all those who have had their sins washed away by the blood of Christ, will enjoy heaven together.

You may have heard some athletes say that they are more concerned with achieving their personal best than with defeating someone else in a contest. It might be helpful to think of Paul’s words in this way. Paul’s concern isn’t in being better than every other Christian; at one point he wrote, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). No, Paul’s concern was that he not end up excluded from the kingdom of God; I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. Paul does not see himself in competition with others, but in competition with himself.

But all this talk of competition raises another possible misinterpretation: is Paul teaching that we earn heaven by how well we live our lives? Absolutely not! Paul is adamant in his writings that we can in no way earn heaven through leading holy lives. In Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8 and 9 he says: it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. Much of the book of Romans is dedicated to this subject.

Scripture is very clear—the only way that we can merit heaven is through Jesus’ merits. Our Savior came down from heaven to live a life perfect in thought, word and deed. Jesus is the only one who has ever lived a perfect life, and He lived that life for us—Jesus’ perfect life is His gift to us through faith. When we believe that Jesus has kept all of God’s laws and expectations for us so that we don’t have to be perfect, our heavenly Father credits us with Jesus’ perfect obedience. By faith, we have access to a life that is pleasing to God and leads to heaven.

Jesus not only came down from heaven to live, He also came down to die. Jesus not only came to give His life to us, He also came to take away our death and make it His own. Sin is disobedience to God; sin is ignoring what God wants us to do, thereby violating His perfect laws. We have all sinned, and the God who made an ordered universe cannot tolerate the disorder that disobedient behavior brings about. Our sins had merited God’s punishment of eternal death in hell. But out of His great love for us, Jesus gave us His life in exchange for our death. Jesus took the responsibility for our disobedience and suffered all His Father’s holy anger that we had deserved. Because Jesus suffered and died on our behalf, we can be forgiven for every sin when we trust in Jesus’ loving mercy, and we can look forward to eternal, sinless life with God.

In his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther writes "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith." Our faith, our ability to believe, does not come from within us—it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Faith is what allows us to ask for forgiveness and trust that Jesus will give it; faith is what allows us to ask for eternal life in heaven and trust that our heavenly Father will welcome us in. Faith gives us access to heaven; faith alone, not works.

All of which raises a third question: if heaven is ours for free, purely by God’s loving mercy and His gift of faith to us, why does Paul emphasize the importance of training? If God does all the work of saving us from ourselves, why do I need to ‘keep in spiritual shape’? Once again we turn to Scripture. In Jeremiah chapter 9, God said of His stubborn people: See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people? Although they were God’s children by faith, the Israelites still sinned every day (as we do), and God still hates sin. So God told them through Jeremiah that they would go through a period of refinement and testing, so that in the end they would sin less.

When metals are refined, they go through great heat so that impurities can be removed. When materials are tested, they go through a stress that makes them stronger. This is not much different than exercise—the more you put strain on your muscles, the stronger they will become. Now what God refined and tested in the Israelites is the same thing that Paul recommends that we exercise: faith. When we first become Christians, our faith is a small, weak thing; Paul told the church members in Corinth, Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). Over time, as we feed on God’s Word and Sacraments, our faith grows, becoming stronger and more mature.

Any faith, no matter how weak, does save—the thief on the cross next to Jesus was assured of heaven, and he only received the gift of faith a few hours before his death (Luke 23:39-43). But a stronger faith is something that every Christian should want. Saint Peter warns us, be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9). The way that we stand up to our enemy the devil is through our faith. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus withstood temptation by putting His trust in the word of God as His defense (Matthew 4:1-11). When Satan comes after us, he is not concerned with hurting our bodies or minds, he wants to get us to give up our faith. Without faith, there is no forgiveness of sins, no eternity in heaven; if you don’t believe that Jesus will forgive you or that He can raise you from the dead on the last day, you will see no reason to ask for these things. Forgiveness and eternal life are ours for the asking, but if we do not ask, they remain beyond our reach. Without faith we are lost and condemned creatures, condemned to the same hell as the devil is.

A strong faith is needed to withstand the temptation to doubt. Satan whispers in our ears, trying to make us doubt our God and His love for us. "The church doesn’t know what you need to be happy; how dare they tell you that the things which give you pleasure are sins!" "God doesn’t love you—if He did, He wouldn’t let these bad things happen to you." "God could never forgive that sin." At the heart of them all, every temptation from Satan is basically this: "You are not loved by God." And because you are not loved by God, you’d just as well go out and love yourself, indulging in anything that makes you feel good today.

It takes a strengthened faith to spot the devil’s lies. It takes an experienced faith to accept the truth that many of the things that we enjoy get between us and God. It takes a mature faith to see how God brings about growth in us through the tough times. It takes an established faith to remain assured of God’s love and forgiveness even after we have committed a terrible sin. God has promised to help us through every temptation, but if we let the devil mislead us we can lose our way and end up racing down the wrong path. If we let Satan distract us into lowering our guard, we leave ourselves open to a hellish sucker punch.

Our Lord gives us many ways to exercise and train our faith. We have weekly church services where we hear the Word and receive the holy Sacraments, causing us to grow in the faith together. We have Sunday School and adult Bible class, where we receive intensive training on different facets of the holy Scriptures. We have our daily devotional time at home, where we shut away the distractions of the world and devote all our attention to the work that our Lord seeks to accomplish within us. Anywhere that there is a Bible, there is an opportunity to be in God’s word and to grow in the faith.

Faith is acting with trust. Satan counters this with his temptation to be suspicious, cynical, or sarcastic. Paul advises you to train yourself. Train yourself to be trusting, not suspicious. Train yourself to assume the best, not the worst. Design a training regimen that includes a healthy daily dose of God’s Word, and excludes time spent on activities that distract from heaven. Run in such a way that you will receive a crown that lasts forever, the crown of righteousness, the crown that declares you a member of God’s royal priesthood that will serve Him in joy forever.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


So God created man in his own image…male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

Imagine that you are visiting a zoo’s monkey house. Between the lemurs and baboons, you see a sign for Homo Sapiens; the information on the sign gives details on our dietary habits, preferred habitat, and other information. Then, as you gaze through the glass, you are astonished to see two living human beings!

This actually happened some time ago in Denmark. Why did they create such a display? A zoo official said that he hoped the exhibit would encourage people to face up to their origins. He stated, "We’re all primates…but some people find it hard to accept. This is a way to maybe help people realize that."

While children crowded around the tableau, many adults seemed somewhat uncomfortable by the sight. Why should such a display provoke feelings of discomfort? Could it be that deep down inside we realize that we were created in the image of God, that Genesis is true and we are not merely smart apes wearing clothing instead of fur?

The theory of evolution is just that—a theory. If it could be proven as a fact, it would not be called a theory. Yet many people embrace evolution as if it was indisputable truth. Why? Many prefer to believe in evolution because then there is no God to answer to, no God who sets limits on your behavior, no God who will send you to hell for doing evil.

But embracing the theory of evolution has come at a cost for our society. If we are simply evolved apes, then there is nothing special about human life. Babies are not gifts from God, so instead of being considered murder, abortion can be viewed as merely removing an unwanted tumor. Since human life is not divinely given, there is nothing wrong with ending a life that has become a medical, financial, or emotional burden. When we remove the Giver of life from the equation, all that we are left with is a culture of death, where the ultimate foe that ends life is now embraced as a friend that eases suffering. Such a culture does not appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made by dying in our place to free us from the captivity of the grave. The culture of death that arises from belief in evolution is actually a culture of despair, because without God there is no heaven—and no hope for continuing love, no hope for anything, once death has come.

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