Thursday, August 30, 2007


The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

Do you have a loved one who’s in trouble, but you don’t know what you can do to help? Is there a member of your family who’s in pain, but doesn’t want to talk to you about it? Have you lost touch with people who were special to you, and although you are still concerned about them, you have no idea where they are or how to contact them?

There are times in life when we desperately want to help another person, but circumstances get in our way. Sometimes we don’t know the right thing to do. Sometimes the other person doesn’t want our help. Sometimes we can’t help because the other person has gone someplace where we can’t follow or has disappeared from our lives without a trace.

It can be deeply troubling to know that someone we care about is suffering and in need, while we are unable to reach out and help them. But Christians are never backed into such a corner. Our Lord has given us a way to help others in any and every situation, regardless of any obstacles we might be facing. We can always give aid through prayer.

God promises to hear and respond to the prayers of the righteous. Who are the righteous? Anyone who has been redeemed by faith in the blood of Jesus: 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). With the help of Jesus, our prayers are focused on the kind of requests that please God, and the Lord promises that such prayers are powerful and effective.

If you have a loved one who’s in trouble, but you don’t know what you can do to help, pray for him. God is infinitely wise—leave it up to Him to solve the problem. Simply ask God to give relief and bring about a positive outcome. If you have a family member who’s in pain but pushes you away, take it to the Lord in prayer. She can’t stop you from praying for her; you can ask God to provide the help that you cannot. If you have lost touch with people who are special to you and are concerned about them, you don’t have to know where they are because Jesus knows—so ask Him to keep watch over your missing friends. No matter how powerless you feel, you can always help the people who are precious to you—you can always pray for them, trusting in Jesus’ loving care.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Being remembered after death

I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

A poem that has stuck with me throughout the years is "Ozymandias of Egypt" by Shelley. It reads as follows:

"I MET a traveler from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

When I read these verses, I picture a barren wasteland stretching to the horizon. In the midst of this parched desolation, all we find are the legs of a statue sticking up from the sand, broken off at the knees; beside them lies the proud head of the long-dead king, his face pitted by years of wind-driven grit. Ozymandias was quite proud of his accomplishments—yet all that remains of his kingdom are the pieces of one lonely, time-forgotten statue. How very sad.

Shelley wrote this poem to warn us about the foolishness of pride. We can get pretty impressed with ourselves—Most Valuable Player, head cheerleader, school Valedictorian, general manager of the company, owner of the most expensive house in the neighborhood. But how long will these achievements last? After you’ve graduated, won’t some other student eventually set a new record that eclipses yours? When you are retired, will your former employees still follow the procedures that you established? Will the family who buys your house keep it decorated the way you did? How many times have you seen a little plaque honoring the name of a person now deceased, and you have no idea who they were or what they did? For all the effort you have put into excelling, how will you be remembered when you are gone?

Solomon, blessed by God with great wisdom, looked at all the ways people try to fill life with meaning and concluded that they all come to nothing. Only dedication to God provides lasting meaning, because God lives forever and it is only through Him that we can live beyond the grave. Only the Lord can save us from being forgotten by the passage of time.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pleasing God

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 4:30-5:2).

Every person reading this has let a mother or father down at some point in life. You had a parent who had hopes for you and for your life. I suspect that your parents wanted you to be a good person—someone who respects not only their parents, but teachers and other people in authority as well. I’m pretty sure that you have had a parent who wanted you to become the kind of person who helps others. It’s my guess that your parents hoped you would marry a good person, and that your marriage would last a lifetime. They probably also hoped that you would never get in trouble with the law or end up in court. And above all, I’m sure that your parents wanted you to be happy as you lived your life.

But each of you reading this has disappointed your parents. Perhaps you often argued with your father. Maybe you disappointed your mother by getting into fights at school. Perhaps you have disappointed your parents by living together with someone outside of marriage, marrying someone that they disapproved of, or by getting a divorce. You may have given your dad extra gray hairs by doing drugs or driving while intoxicated, or upset your mom by becoming the family gossip. Or maybe you have been so wrapped up in making and spending money that you just don’t have any time for the people who love you, and it hurts for them to see you so alone. In any event, I am sure that you have brought grief to your parents.

When we love our parents, we don’t want to cause them pain. In fact, when we love our parents (especially when we are little) we want to try and grow up to be like them. Little boys want to do the kinds of things they see Daddy do; little girls want to grow up to be like Mommy. However, as children grow older, they begin to question everything. They start to wonder why things are done the way they are and what would happen if life were lived a different way; it is such questioning that often results in choices that bring disappointment and grief to parents.

In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul speaks of how we grieve the Holy Spirit living within us. In a sense, God is like a parent to us. The Father gives us life. The Son takes care of our every need. The Holy Spirit tries to teach us how to live a life that pleases God, helps our neighbors, and results in peace and satisfaction within us. And like children who love their parents, we love our God and want to grow up to be just like Him.

But we are all wayward children at heart; all of us naturally question why God wants things done a certain way. By nature, we wonder what life would be like if we made the decision that the Holy Spirit tries to steer us away from; we are curious to see if life could be better without living under God’s expectations 'straightjacketing' us.

And so we grieve the Holy Spirit, just as a wayward child grieves a parent. As Christians, we bring grief to the Holy Spirit in a number of ways. It starts with bitterness. You’ve tasted bitter food—remember how it made your mouth feel? Bitterness is unpleasant, and it describes how the human heart feels when a person holds a grudge. A bitter person is an unforgiving person—someone who keeps careful track of every wrong done to him and cannot accept an apology.

Bitterness that is not relieved through forgiveness can distort a person’s thinking. Such a person can become so consumed with bitterness that he cannot focus his attention on positive things, cannot make balanced rational decisions—when bitterness blinds a person to the good things in life, frustration with the constant unhappiness results in rage. Rage is when a person reacts irrationally to the problems of life. When a person is enraged, he cannot see anything except the problem—his view of life is limited the way a horse’s vision is limited by blinders. An enraged person becomes consumed with his bitter feelings.

Irrational feelings can easily give rise to angry behavior. Not all anger is wrong—God gets angry at sin, and it is appropriate for us to become angry over sin as well. But anger crosses the line when it arises from focussing on oneself. A bitter person is not so likely to become angry over the passing of liberalized abortion laws as she is to become angry that the city council granted her neighbor an easement in zoning regulations. Most of us were taught to stand up for our rights and the rights of others—but when we heatedly insist on getting our own way regardless of the consequences to others, such anger is displeasing to God.

Anger arising from selfishness can tempt us to try and force others to submit to our desires. One way of trying to control others is through the threat of force, which our lesson refers to as ‘brawling.’ Some people get into physical fights to force another person to back down, but since there are laws in this country against fighting, people are often likely to use intimidation, hinting that something bad will happen if they are not allowed to get their way. When we hit or threaten someone to get them to do what we want, our anger has taken a form that grieves the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we are not powerful enough to get our way through brute force; when this is the case, we are tempted to use others to help us get our way. Slander is when we gossip about others to weaken their popularity or influence. Slander results in a person losing the respect of others, making it easier for us to gain the advantage over him. We slander people whenever we spread news about their personal failings—their weakness for alcohol, their bad temper, their extra-marital fling. It is not slander when we tell the truth to protect someone from criminal behavior, but it is slander when whatever we say is spoken to damage a person’s reputation—regardless of whether our words are lies or the truth. When we speak slander against someone, we involve multiple people in our sin.

Paul tells us that all of these sins arise out of malice—they are different ways that the malice in our heart takes form. Malice is the root of sin—malice is the resentment that smolders deep inside us, resentment that we cannot do whatever we want, whenever we want to, because someone else is in our way. We felt malice towards our parents for making us go to school when we wanted to stay in bed; we felt malice towards the coach for not putting us in the first string; we felt malice towards the sheriff when he pulls us over for speeding. It is in our nature to want to have complete freedom, and we resent others when they put limits on us.

Our God is the ultimate authority figure, the ultimate parent and teacher and policeman. God tells us what we can do and what we mustn’t do. God defines moral and immoral behavior—and deep down inside, we resent being told how to live our lives. Deep down, we feel malice towards God. By nature, every one of us resists God’s leadership in our lives, and that resistance shows itself in bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander—against God and against others when they speak for Him. And when our malice, our sin, takes control of our feelings and our behavior, we grieve the Holy Spirit, who came from God to help us grow up into the kind of people who are respectful, helpful, loyal, law-abiding and supportive—people who want to be just like their heavenly Father.

But a good and loving parent does not give up on a rebellious child, and neither has God given up on us. God wants us to be happy, and true happiness can only come about when we are at peace with God being our Father. So God sent His Son Jesus to show us what a life of love looks like—Jesus came among us as a man and was perfectly obedient to His heavenly Father His entire life. Jesus showed us that love is about giving, not taking. Jesus showed us that God gives us relationships with others so that we can show them love, not demand that they serve our desires. Jesus put all His energy into doing what His Father wanted—which was to seek out hearts filled with malice and offer to fill them with love instead.

Kindness and compassion are the results of love in the heart. Kindness is a willingness to be generous with others, regardless of their level of need. A kind person brings flowers to the sick in a hospital, or makes a glass of lemonade for a spouse working in the yard. A kind person gives a thousand dollars to cancer research, or sits in a field and blows dandelion seeds into the air with a little girl. A kind person is always taking the opportunity to give of themselves in large ways and small, because this is how one person shows love for another.

Compassion is being considerate of the feelings of others. A compassionate person is one who listens to troubles, offers a shoulder to cry on, and offers words of encouragement (instead of criticism or placing blame). A compassionate person bends over backwards to avoid causing unnecessary emotional pain, but will speak a painful truth when truth is needed for healing to begin. A compassionate person exposes himself to the pain of others so that he can bring relief from that suffering.

Kindness and compassion describe our Lord Jesus. Jesus was not content to just show us what true love is all about; Jesus got His feet dirty by walking to where people lived in pain and sorrow, Jesus got His hands dirty by healing them and blessing them. Jesus spent His life showing kindness and compassion to others, but more importantly He embraced a painful early death to show kindness and compassion to us all by suffering for our sins. Jesus accepted the verdict of ‘guilty’ for every person’s crimes of rebellion against God, every instance of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander. Jesus was punished by His Father for it all, and Jesus did this out of love—a love that wanted to forgive us for our malice, take it away, and instead fill our hearts with kindness, compassion, and a willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Paul describes Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf as a fragrant offering to God. Jesus showed a love that held nothing back. Jesus gave all of Himself--His time, His energy, His comfort, even His very life—so that we could be forgiven and restored to God’s loving embrace. This kind of totally selfless love was an offering that God found fragrant, something that God regarded as pleasing.

We can learn from this. When you were little, you tried really hard to get just the right gift to make Mom or Dad happy. As God’s children, we want to thank God for forgiving us by offering Him something that He really likes. Paul tells us what that gift should be. We should put aside our selfishness and the troubles that it causes, and instead live a life of love, devoting our time and energy to kindness, compassion, and most importantly, forgiving those who have wronged us. It is by doing these things that we, God’s children, try to grow up to be like our heavenly Father.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"The Tapestry of Life"

We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

One of my favorite poems is called "The Tapestry of Life." The name of the person who wrote it is unknown, but he or she must have been a person blessed by God with insight. The poem reads as follows:

"My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors which He works so steadily.
Oft times He weaves in sorrow, and I in foolish pride,
forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.

"Not till the loom is silent and His shuttles cease to fly
will God unroll the tapestry and explain the reason why
the dark threads are as needed in His skillful hand,
as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned."

That is a wonderful illustration of trust. Trust is such a rare, precious thing. Remember when you were little, when you believed everything you were told by a parent or teacher? How quickly we lose that innocent trust! The adults we looked up to soon showed us that they could not always be trusted to keep their promises or tell us the truth. We learned to be suspicious of claims made by advertisers and politicians. We became skeptical about the coverage provided by manufacturer warranties. Some people don’t even trust in the vows spoken by the love of their life at their wedding; they insist on a signed prenuptial agreement, "just in case."

Our bad experiences with other people make us cynical and cautious. Regrettably, our guarded attitude tends to also color our relationship with the Almighty. How can you pray to "Our Father who art in heaven" with a trusting and open heart, when your experiences with your human father have been unpleasant?

It is a terrible mistake to evaluate God based on our experiences with flawed human beings. People are sinful; God is perfect. People let selfishness ruin love; God loves unselfishly. People are undependable; God always keeps His promises. God has said, I will never fail you. I will never turn my back on you (Hebrews 13:5). No matter what happens in your life, you can be sure that the Lord will bring about a good result for you--a result that will build your character, that will better equip you with skills to serve Him, that will deepen your relationship with Him. That good result may not be immediately obvious, but if you trust God, one day you will see the loving care that He put into the weaving of your life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Respecting God's name

The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name (Exodus 20:7).

When I was a young child, one mean kid at school came up with a nickname for me that I hated. Of course, most of the other kids immediately picked up on that nickname and started using it. Before the nickname, I had felt like a stranger among the other kids; once they started using the nickname I felt as if they were all against me, as if we were enemies.

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me." What a fib that is! Calling someone by a derogatory name can be very hurtful; it can destroy self-confidence, cause isolation, even provoke feelings of anxiety. Verbal abuse can result in emotional hurt that is even more damaging than the bruises caused by physical abuse. Words that denigrate other people are so harmful that a whole movement has grown up in our culture in response to the problem—we call it ‘Political Correctness.’ People are increasingly sensitive to any comments that seem to insult another person.

Isn’t it funny, then, that our Lord’s name is given less and less respect these days? On the various home improvement TV shows, when a refurbished living space is revealed the owner almost always squeals "O God!" as if God’s name is little more than an exclamation point. At work and in school hallways, angry people say "Jesus Christ" as if the Savior’s name is a curse word.

When I hear God’s name used inappropriately, I am reminded of being taunted with a nickname designed to humiliate me. Misusing someone’s name is only done to show disrespect. The name ‘Jesus’ means "God saves;" Jesus’ name describes who He is. To use that name as a curse word not only insults the Lord, but also insults the work He suffered and died to complete—rescuing your soul and mine from God’s punishment in hell. Hardly anyone today would dare make fun of Allah or his prophet Muhammad. No public figure can get away with telling ethnic jokes lest he risk losing his leadership role for being ‘insensitive’. So why is it acceptable to kick around God’s name like a dirty football? Is it wise to insult the One who made you, the Redeemer who shed His blood to buy you back from Satan’s ownership? Jesus said, I'll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill people and then throw them into hell (Luke 12:5).

Friday, August 17, 2007

Eagle's Wings

In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt--on the very day--they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites" (Exodus 19:1-6).

When I started doing funerals in South Dakota, I was introduced to a song I had never heard before—"On Wings Like Eagles". It seemed as if almost every family wanted this song used as part of the funeral service for their dearly departed. As time went by, I discovered that there are actually several different songs written on the idea of "On Eagles’ Wings." But what these different versions have in common is the idea taken from Scripture that God, like an eagle, lifts us from our problems.

This idea is based on the behavior of a mother eagle towards her young ones. When she believes that her offspring are strong enough to fly, she breaks up the nest, forcing her chicks to leave it. She then flutters overhead, showing them how to fly and encouraging them to try. If the chicks do not try to fly, she will take them on her wings and soar aloft; then, she will suddenly glide out from under them, briefly leaving them to fly on their own. If they cannot manage to stay aloft, the mother eagle darts back underneath them, takes them on her wings, and returns them safely to the rock upon which the nest was built. God describes Himself in these same terms in Deuteronomy chapter 32: "He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions."

Scripture develops this idea further in Isaiah chapter 40 where we read, "those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Here we see that when we trust in the Lord, He will give us the strength to travel through life; we can make the journey from birth to old age without getting worn down by despair because God supports us with His strength.

It is because of imagery like this that people want such a song for a funeral, because their focus is on the journey through life having come to an end. But while this is a nice sentiment, it does not do full justice to God’s purpose in bearing us up on eagle’s wings. The reference to eagle’s wings in Exodus is the very first such reference in the Bible, and so we must look at this passage carefully to see the point that God was making to us through Moses.

Not so long ago, the Israelites had been held captive as slaves in Egypt. They had been worked hard, kept half-starved, and there had been attempts to limit the number of their children. The Israelites were living in misery and they had begged God for deliverance. In response, God sent Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into a bright new future across the desert. It was not an easy job. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, did not want to lose the cheap labor that he got from his slaves, and it took ten plagues sent by God to make him realize that holding Israel captive just wasn’t worth the trouble. And even after Pharaoh had agreed to let God’s people go, he changed his mind, forcing God to drown the enemy army to protect the fleeing Israelites.

In all this, God not only acted as Israel’s nurturing protector, He also showed Himself to be like an eagle in other ways. An eagle is a dangerous opponent; in Hosea chapter 8, God compares the danger of His anger to the danger of an eagle’s attack: "An eagle is over the house of the LORD because the people have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law." And an eagle, because of its swiftness, can bring about change suddenly and unexpectedly; Jeremiah warns how quickly God can come and change things when he says, "Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles" (Jeremiah 4:13).

God had demonstrated both of these eagle-like qualities when He rescued the Israelites from Egypt; He showed His devastating anger through the ten plagues, and He showed how quickly He could change everything when He drowned all of Pharaoh’s army in one swift stroke. God not only has the power to strengthen His children in their weakness, He also has the power to protect them from the attacks of predators. In this sense, the phrase "eagle’s wings" takes on the added meaning of delivering from danger.

So when God speaks here of "eagle’s wings", He is speaking of His divine power that takes His loved ones away from danger. But where were the Israelites taken to by God’s wings? They were brought to Mount Sinai, where they received a wonderful gift: God told them, "Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." God had rescued the Israelites so that they could begin an entirely new kind of life. No longer would they be oppressed by slavery to an uncaring king; now, if they swore their loyalty to God, He would make them a kingdom of priests. This is a remarkable promise! A priest’s job is to act as mediator between God and humanity. By accepting God’s leadership in their lives, the Israelites had gone from being slaves to becoming God’s representatives to the world! The God who had demonstrated both power and love in freeing the Israelites was willing to come into the lives of others as a rescuing eagle; the Israelites were to be His representatives who could personally attest to God’s power and willingness to save. The ones God had rescued would now offer His rescue to those who were still in slavery.

This meant that for the Israelites, the journey had not ended, it had just begun. Now more than ever, they would need God’s support and strength; now more than ever, they would need to be encouraged and supported in learning how to fly, so that they would not become exhausted as they journeyed through life as God’s nation of priests, bringing news of God’s salvation to the world. God’s ‘eagle wings’ had rescued them so that they would be freed to work for the Lord in thankfulness for His great care and mercy.

Looking at Exodus, we see that the eagles’ wings God speaks of are not really about lifting us out of life so much as lifting us into a new life here on earth. Like the Israelites who were born into slavery, we too were born into slavery—but while the Israelites were oppressed by a cruel king and his laws, we were oppressed by Satan and sin. Just as there appeared to be no way out for the Israelites, so did our situation look hopeless—no matter what we tried to do, the fact that sin contaminates everything we say and do made it impossible for us to please God in even the smallest way. Every sinful word and deed only served to advance Satan’s control of our lives. But like a powerful eagle, God rescued the Israelites--and like a powerful eagle, Jesus rescued us. Jesus, God’s divine Son, came into the world, into Satan’s kingdom, and here our Lord opposed the evil creature that held us as prisoner. Just as Moses led the Israelites free from Pharaoh’s control, so has Jesus freed us from Satan’s control; He did this by resisting Satan’s every temptation to do wrong, succeeding in our place where we have failed. And Jesus freed us from Satan’s eternal rulership by dying the death that we deserved for sinning, so that we could be forgiven and renewed and find acceptance in God’s kingdom instead of Satan’s. Like an eagle, Jesus destroyed our enemy and has carried us away on His wings to safety.

But we were rescued for a purpose. The Israelites were not taken to heaven, but they were brought before God. They were brought to Him to be set aside for a new way of life—service to God instead of slavery to a selfish king. Our Lord Jesus has rescued us for the same purpose. We have been freed from the domination of sin and Satan so that we can belong to God and serve Him in grateful love. Jesus did not bear you on His wings to Mount Sinai, but He has instead brought you to His church—nevertheless, the purpose of your coming remains the same. The Israelites were brought to God’s holy mountain to hear the promise of God--if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Jesus brings you to His holy Church to also hear His promise: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (John 14:23). God freed the Israelites for a purpose—that they turn their backs on Egypt and dedicate themselves to His leadership. Jesus rescues us from sin for the same purpose—that we turn our backs on sinful distractions and dedicate ourselves exclusively to His leadership in our lives.

Commitment to God resulted in a wonderful opportunity for the Israelites—trade slavery for becoming an ambassador representing God! Commitment to God results in a wonderful opportunity for us as well—Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus promises that when we dedicate ourselves to His work, He will always be there to support us and strengthen us, just like the caring mother eagle: He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

As we look closely at Scripture, we see that the comfort of the ‘eagle wings’ of God is not the comfort of being freed from the responsibilities of life; no, the ‘eagle wings’ of God are the wings that have rescued us from sin and Satan, they are the wings that hold us up and help us on our way as we dedicate our lives to God’s service. God’s ‘eagle wings’ protect us and carry us away when temptation comes calling; God’s ‘eagle wings’ lift us when the worries of life sap our strength. Flying on God’s ‘eagle wings’ gives us the joy and confidence to teach our children to rely on the Lord, and to tell our friends about the wonderful rescue and strength that Jesus has put into our lives and wants to share with them as well. The ‘eagle wings’ of God are not about the end of life, they are about the beginning of life!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A God of history, a God for today

I am no better than my ancestors (1 Kings 19:4).

When I was a teenager, I didn’t like history class. I thought the material was boring and I could never keep names and dates straight; I wondered "what do I need to know this stuff for?" But there was one exception—I didn’t mind reading historical fiction. I enjoyed stories and poems that took me back to another time and involved me in the events that were changing lives and shaping the future.

When I entered college, I found teachers who made history interesting; instead emphasizing dry facts, they spoke about trends in society, the ideas and fears that drove historical figures into making the decisions that they did. These teachers showed me that history is a record of lives lived, of personal triumphs and tragedies--and I’ve loved history ever since.

It has been said that if you ignore history, you are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Scholars hope that if we study mistakes made in the past, we won’t make those same mistakes in the future. But while I enjoy learning what history has to teach us, I’m afraid that the lessons learned often fail to make us wiser. We have over 5,000 year’s worth of written history available for our enlightenment; with all these past mistakes to caution and guide us, have we really improved how humans relate to each other? Are modern marriages stronger, today’s children better behaved? Have we come closer to eliminating poverty and human rights abuses? Are wars becoming something we’ve learned how to avoid?

We are slow to learn from our own mistakes, let alone from those made by others in the past. It’s because of the sinful nature that we are all born with, a distorted way of thinking that focuses on immediate pleasure and ignores the possibility of negative consequences. The Old Testament shows us how God’s people repeatedly did wrong, were punished by God for their sins, repented and were forgiven—yet in only a matter of years, their descendants made the same mistakes all over again. Our sinful impulses blind us to the lessons of the past. The New Testament, however, shows that God stepped into human history and made a change of lasting significance; He sent His Son Jesus to end sin’s grip on us by taking responsibility for all our mistakes and dying to free us from the punishment those sins had earned for us. When we study the past by opening the Bible, we find that we are no better than our ancestors. Nevertheless, our Lord has given us hope for a better tomorrow by getting involved—involved not only in the history of days gone by, but also involved today in your life and mine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Conservatives, liberals, moderates--unity is needed!

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians--you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Conservatives. Moderates. Liberals. Our world seems to be polarized into competing groups. Our political arena is polarized, and as a result time is wasted in squabbling that could instead be used to improve conditions in our country and abroad.

Even more tragically, we have allowed polarization to infect the Church. Every church body, it seems, is divided into competing groups that squabble with each other about how the work of Jesus should be done. This infighting results in hurt feelings and wasted resources; it draws attention away from ministering to the needs of a world confused by sin and dominated by Satan.

The problem, of course, is that sin infects us all. Christians are just as tempted to form cliques as unbelievers. Christians are just as tempted to acts of pride and arrogance as are people of other faiths. Christians are just as tempted to selfishly insist on getting their own way as everybody else. In Romans chapter 7 Paul speaks of the daily struggle every Christian goes through, trying to resist the evil impulses that rot us from within.

Our only hope for things to get better comes to us through Christ. Jesus is our example—the Son of God insisted that God be respected and obeyed in all ways and at all times, yet He showed mercy to everyone who humbly admitted their failures and gave them the new start they so desperately desired. Jesus is our Savior—knowing that we could never be the perfect people God expects, He lived a holy life on our behalf and suffered the punishment for evil that our misspent lives had earned us. Jesus is our Helper—He lives in us through faith and helps us exchange arrogance for humility, trade unforgiving hearts for ones that reach out to others with mercy and love.

Conservatives. Moderates. Liberals. These labels do not unite us, they divide us. Instead of dividing people into groups, let us instead consider how God wants us to live together as we follow His Son. He wants us to honor the Word of God as pure and holy, an unchanging truth that offers the only stability in a world made chaotic by sin. He wants us to be flexible in how we take this unchanging truth and introduce it to people who have no knowledge of Jesus. He wants us to do this work with passion and courage, knowing that He will bless our efforts and forgive our mistakes.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Unity among Christians

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it...It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:1-16).

On more than one occasion, St. Paul has compared the Church on earth to the ‘body of Christ.’ When we listen to this analogy, we usually focus on the idea that no matter how diverse we are, each Christian has a part to play in Christ’s Church. But there is another focus in today’s Epistle lesson, which is what we will consider today—growing together in unity of faith and love.

Paul identifies Jesus as the head, and the Church as His body. In this sense, Jesus is the one who does the thinking for the Church—Jesus establishes the priorities, Jesus sets the goals, and Jesus puts the Church to work to achieve His purposes. As for His body the Church? Well, that’s us. We are the Church—you, me, and every person the world over who looks to Jesus for leadership in life and mercy when that leadership is ignored. The Church of Christ on earth is made up of everyone who claims allegiance to Jesus alone as their Lord and Savior; in 1st Corinthians chapter 12 Paul writes, no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. Allegiance to Jesus is proof of God’s saving presence in the human heart.

Christ is the head of the Church; this means that we, who comprise His Church, are to carry out His commands. And what are those commands? Paul tells us that we are to speak the truth in love, and in this way grow in faith and love, until we reach unity in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God; this will lead to us becoming a mature body, reflective of Christ’s nature.

Okay, so what does all that mean? Let’s take it a step at a time. The goal Christ sets for us is to become united in faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. Unity is essential for the proper working of the human body. I'm sure you've had the experience of having an arm or leg ‘fall asleep’ because you sat or laid in one position for too long. If you let that leg fall completely asleep, it was impossible to walk on it until feeling started to come back; if you let that arm fall completely asleep, your hand was virtually useless to you. Now apply this to the Church. If the Church is Christ’s body, and a member of the Church is allowed to fall asleep, not only is that person useless to the Lord, but the entire Church is impeded in doing the Lord’s work as well.

A member of Christ’s body can ‘fall asleep’ in many different ways. He might start taking the Church for granted and stop participating in the work of Christ, by failing to tell others about Jesus or by failing to support mission work through his giving. But one may ‘fall asleep’ in other ways. The reason that an arm or leg goes numb is because pressure has prevented blood vessels from bringing oxygen from the lungs, causing the cells in the limb to weaken. We can see the same effect from air pollution—in major cities, there are days when many people are warned to take care, or breathing the polluted air may cause health problems. The cells of their bodies might not receive the pure oxygen that they need to stay healthy.

We can compare polluted air to false teachings about God. Many people weaken their bodies by breathing polluted air, by listening to people who mix the pollution of false teachings into the pure oxygen of the Gospel of the Son of God. The Bible is very clear that acts of homosexuality are repugnant to God, yet many Christians choose to ignore the Scriptures in regard to this teaching, even going so far as to appoint gays or lesbians to positions of church leadership. The Bible is very clear that bringing a life to an end is God’s prerogative alone, yet there are Christian churches that ignore this teaching and pay for abortions for their workers through their insurance plans. The Bible is very clear that in a way we cannot understand, Jesus’ body and blood is present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion and brings us forgiveness from sin, but there are Christian churches that claim such a thing to be impossible and teach that Communion is merely a remembrance of Jesus’ death. And the Bible is very clear that we are only made acceptable to God by trusting that Jesus’ death on the cross as our substitute has completely rescued us from God’s holy anger at our sins, but there are Christian churches that limit Christ’s work by teaching that, in addition, you have to live the best life that you can or you may end up in hell anyway.

All over the world, there are Christians who are breathing in polluted air, Gospel tainted by false teachings—and weakened by these false teachings, they too are in danger of falling asleep like the complacent Christian. They too are being deprived of the pure oxygen of Christ’s saving promises. They too are weakened and unable to help the body of Christ grow and work as it should. This is why Paul emphasizes that unity in knowledge of the Son of God is just as important as unity in faith.

So how do we achieve unity in faith and knowledge? Paul tells us that we do it by speaking the truth in love. Jesus serves as our model. Jesus never let a person wallow in his sin unchallenged; Jesus never let a sinner off by making excuses like "other people do it" or "it makes me feel good" or "this is the way I am." Jesus always told the truth, and the truth is that Scripture tells us what sin is, and that we are all guilty of ignoring those truths. But Jesus always told God’s truth in love. Every time that Jesus challenged a sinner, it was for the purpose of getting that person to admit that they were wrong, say they were sorry, and beg Jesus to take over leadership of their life. Jesus said, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17). Jesus told people the truth about sin, the truth about hell, and the truth about God’s forgiving love offered through Jesus so that every believer could be released from a life of slavery to sin and guilt and depression; Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).

This is the way that we find unity among Christians, unity in the body of Christ. We find unity through Jesus and His truth alone. We only find unity when we study God’s Word and ignore the voices of human reason. Human reason claims, "You can’t believe that, it doesn’t make sense." Human reason tries to convince us, "What was true 2,000 years ago in the Middle East can’t apply to your situation in America today." But we can’t apply human reason to interpreting the Bible, because Scripture warns us, There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). By the nature of human birth, no one is righteous, no one is spiritually ‘in tune’ with God. Nor can we allow trends in modern society to act as judge over the truths of God because Paul cautions us, has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20) Since the human mind is darkened by sin, how can we trust the human mind to interpret God’s pure truth? This is why Luther taught that one of the pillars of the Christian Church must be "by Scripture Alone". Human opinions can never be given the final say over the Word God.

Unity comes about through willing submission to one leader. Paul reminds us that our head is Jesus. And while it is our duty to follow His lead, sometimes we forget that the head of the body also serves another purpose. The head is what keeps the body safe from danger and cares for the body when it is sick or injured. It is the head that refuses to eat a poisonous mushroom because it knows that such food will sicken the body. It is the head that tells the body what to do to work out a muscle cramp and bring relief from suffering. This is also part of Christ’s role as head of the Church. As our head, we need to trust that Jesus will take care of our every bodily need; this is why we pray, Give us each day our daily bread. As our head, we need to trust that Jesus will keep us safe; this is why we pray, And lead us not into the hard testing, but deliver us from the Evil One. It is because we trust Jesus to be wiser than us that we submit to His leadership in our lives by praying, yet not as I want, but as You want.

The body of Christ is intended to grow in unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God; we do this by submitting to our Lord’s wisdom and leadership in our lives. This means that we study the Scriptures to reduce our misunderstandings of God’s unchanging truth. This means that we pray to God for direction in every decision that we make in our daily lives. When we live this way, with the help of the Holy Spirit living within us, we head towards spiritual maturity—we start to look a bit more like Christ. And what does Christ look like? He looks like this: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). When we look to Christ for mercy and for leadership, He gives us the gift of forgiving love—a love that moves us to forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven. It is this forgiveness that unites us to Christ our head, and it is this forgiveness that allows us to live with each other in peace.

Christ, our head, has work for we the body to do. We are to be growing in unity so that we can reach out to others and offer them the peace that unity with God brings into troubled hearts. Some would argue that all Christians should just ignore their differences and focus on where they can find agreement—but sweeping differences under the rug will never result in the true unity Christ’s Church needs to be about His work. It is only be submitting together to the whole truth of Scripture, it is only by seeking mercy from God when we stray from that truth, that we can grow towards unity with God and with our fellow Christians. May our Lord Jesus open your heart and mind to the eternal truths of God, and may that truth set you free to serve Him in unity and peace.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Revelation 3:15-16)

You can be both a moderate and a Christian. A moderate is someone who believes that taking extreme positions can be dangerous. Moderates value traditions when they help a person make sense of life, but are willing to discard traditions that have lost their usefulness. Moderates are interested in fresh ideas, but they are reluctant to change things just for the sake of change; they know that novelty never lasts for very long.

Political moderates want to retain the best of our country’s heritage while at the same time redressing the mistakes of the past. Religious moderates see God’s word as the only source of stability in an increasingly chaotic world, yet they are also interested in finding new ways to express that word in a modern context.

Moderates are cautious about change; they try to find a middle ground between hasty carelessness and rigid inflexibility. Moderates find our modern world to be a place of both challenges and opportunities, filled with times when the truth must be rigorously defended as well as times when lost souls must be gently invited to the Savior’s waiting arms.

Moderates can often be in the right. Scripture tells us to bear with one another in love; moderates try to honor this command by seeking common ground between conservatives and liberals. Moderates respect the faith of all Christians as a gift from the Savior.

And yet, moderates can also be wrong. Some people are moderates because they are afraid of taking a position; they worry that whatever decision they make might be the wrong one, so they put off making any decision at all. Other people are moderates because they just don’t care; there is no passion in their hearts to move them to take a stand. But our Lord does not want us to be timid or apathetic; He compares such people to lukewarm water. Cold beverages are good, hot beverages are good. But lukewarm beverages are completely unappealing. And so Jesus threatens to spit out, to reject those who don’t have the courage or passion to take a stand in His name. We who are moderate in today’s world must be careful to not let our fear of taking a position result in our faith life losing its passion or commitment.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

You can be both a liberal and a Christian. A liberal is someone who believes that there is always room for improvement. Liberals value fresh ideas. They are always looking for ways to improve the quality of life; they look at how the old ways are coming up short and suggest changes to make our time here on earth better for everyone. Liberals hope that tomorrow can be made better than today.

Political liberals see our society in terms of process. Things are better than they used to be, but we still have a long way to go before things will be as good as they could be; this means that laws must be constantly reviewed and updated. Religious liberals fear that the church is not reaching out to unbelievers as effectively as it could; they believe that God has something powerful to say to our modern world, and the church must be creative in finding ways to touch lives with the message of Christ.

Liberals are generally supportive of change; they fear that inflexibility leads to stagnation and atrophy. Liberals find our chaotic modern world to be an exciting place, full of new ways to introduce people to the Savior who died to give them eternal life.

Liberals can often be in the right. Scripture tells us that we are all sinners and that nothing we do is up to snuff from God’s perspective; there is always room for improvement in anything done by humans. In addition, the Bible shows us the importance of being flexible in how we reach out to others; Paul tells us that he adjusted his style of ministry depending on who he was talking to.

And yet, liberals can also be wrong. Many have looked at Jesus’ ministry and concluded that He was a revolutionary, someone who left the past behind as He tried to establish a new social order. Yet Jesus said plainly that He had not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it. The Bible urges us to change as we live life, abandoning what is sinful and embracing what is good; however, it is not up to us to decide what should be changed. We are called to humbly submit ourselves to the Spirit’s leadership and let Him lead us to the bright shining future that God has laid out. We who are liberal in today’s world must be careful to not let our enthusiasm for improvement result in foolishly heading in a different direction than the way God is leading.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Are you qualified for the job?

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: "Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying: `Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.' "

Then Amaziah said to Amos, "Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don't prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king's sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom."

Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel' (Amos 7:10-15).

There was a Chinese pastor who always instructed new converts to begin speaking of their faith to others as soon as possible. Once, upon meeting a young convert, this pastor asked him how long it had been since he had become a Christian. The man answered that he had believed in Jesus for about three months now. Then the pastor asked him how many others this young man had since introduced to Jesus. The new convert replied, "Oh, I’m only a learner." Shaking his head in disapproval, the pastor said, "Young man, the Lord doesn’t expect you to be a full-fledged preacher, but He does expect you to be a faithful witness. Tell me, when does a candle begin to shine—when it’s already half burned up?" "No, as soon as it’s lit," came the reply. "That’s right," the pastor said, "so let your light shine right away."

We are often tempted by Satan to believe that we cannot speak about Jesus to others. We make excuses like "I wouldn’t know what to say", "my friends don’t like to talk about religion", or "I get too nervous talking to strangers." When we feel that we cannot be God’s representatives to others, it is good for us to look at the life of the prophet Amos.

Amos lived in the northern kingdom of Israel. After the death of King Solomon, the builder of God’s great Temple in Jerusalem, the country broke into two nations. Political squabbling resulted in most of the northern part of the country splitting off from Jerusalem’s leadership and setting up their own capitol in the city of Bethel. This created a religious problem for the Israelites of this new kingdom. God had provided forgiveness for sins through the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Every year, sacrifices were offered on the altar at the Temple for all the people of Israel. Now that the country had split in two, the Ark of the Covenant and the altar for the sacrifice for sins was in God’s Temple in Jerusalem, and the new king did not want his people going to another country for forgiveness. So the king of the new northern nation set up his own temple in Bethel and appointed his own priests to offer sacrifices there. He had an idol of a calf made out of gold and told his subjects that they should worship it as their god. God’s people were now not only divided politically, they were also separated by the curse of false religion.

Over the next century, the northern kingdom of Israel angered God more and more as the wickedness of it’s people grew. God sent messengers to them to warn them to turn back to Him, but even great prophets like Elijah and Elisha were largely ignored. Finally, God sent Amos to the Israelites with a terrible prediction—the king would be killed and the nation taken into exile by a foreign power. These calamities were coming because the Israelites had turned their backs on God.

Who was Amos to bear such an important message from God? Amos was a nobody. Amos was not descended from anyone gifted with prophecy or trained in religion. Amos grew up a shepherd and a gardener. Nevertheless, God chose Amos to bring a message of critical importance to the nation of Israel—return to God for mercy before it was too late.

Was Amos effective? His message certainly stirred things up—the priest at the temple in Bethel got the king to try and send Amos away. Amos’ message was powerful, for all his lack of training or preparation. But Amos was pretty much ignored, and only a few decades later the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel, deported her citizens, and resettled the land with foreigners from across the empire. The descendants of the northern kingdom of Israel would never get their nation back.

Amos and his situation parallel you and your situation today. Amos lived in a country run by corrupt political leadership. Look at your country. We’ve had a president who had an extra-marital affair and lied about it, but he was not removed from office because he managed the economy well. Many congressmen are swayed by lobbyists with big wallets to vote not for what’s right but for who offers the biggest bribe. And periodically the leadership in Washington votes to give themselves raises, while cutting spending to agencies that serve the needy.

Amos also lived in a country where devotion to God and respect for morality had virtually disappeared. Look at your country. We’ve got legalized abortion, divorce on demand, and children who can successfully trump up charges of abuse against their parents for trying to teach them self-discipline. We’ve got pornography and offensive language protected as "freedom of speech", but Bibles and prayer are forbidden in schools. We have congregations all across this country where only 20 – 50% of the members show up to worship God on any given Sunday. And the fastest-growing religious bodies in America are the Muslims and the Mormons, neither of which acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only means given by God by which we can be saved from eternal condemnation.

The northern kingdom of Israel was in a state of crises, but her citizens did not see the danger that they were in. They needed to be alerted to the truth before it was too late. That is what God did through Amos. As much as God hated the corrupt society that Israel had become, He stilled loved His wayward people and He wanted them to abandon their evil ways and return to Him for forgiveness and a new start. Amos, though he spoke harshly, was God’s messenger of loving concern. It didn’t matter that Amos did not have a professional prophet’s pedigree; God can use effectively any person He has created, because Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

What is required to speak for God? Do you have to have natural talent to speak to others? When God called Moses to represent Him to Pharaoh, Moses objected, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." To this God replied, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (Exodus 4:10-12).

Do you need extensive training in religion so that you can talk about God with others? God chose David to represent Him as king over His people, but David was just a shepherd boy. Jesus selected Peter, James and John as the leaders of His disciples, but they were simple fishermen by trade. Jesus told them, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men" (Luke 5:10).

Amos had no special qualifications to be God’s prophet. By his own words, Amos was a rancher and a farmer. He was born with no particular talent for religious work, nor had he been trained for the job. Nevertheless God chose him as His representative, His messenger. One wonders: wouldn’t it have been better had God chosen a man born of privilege, a man who was well-educated and well-spoken? Perhaps that would not have been such a good thing. If a man is from an important family—say, the Kennedys—more people might listen to him, but would they be interested in the message or the messenger? Would they value what he said because the words came from God, or because they came from a famous man? And what about God using a man renowned for his wisdom and learning? Would listeners attribute his teachings to God, or would they credit his natural wisdom and the quality of his education? Would a great man’s listeners credit his teachings to God’s wisdom or to his human wisdom?

It is important that people understand that the Good News about Jesus—that He loves us and forgives us—comes from God, not from man. Peter felt compelled to write, Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20). It is for this reason that it has often pleased God to use as His representatives men and women of humble means—Paul wrote, we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul compares us to jars of clay—fragile, crude-looking containers typical of common people, not the elegant vases one would expect something valuable to be found in.

We are jars of clay, but our Lord has filled us with a magnificent treasure—the most valuable thing that any person could ever want. God has filled us with His Son, Jesus the Savior. God has filled us with the knowledge that we are imperfect jars of clay, unfit for use by our perfect God, but that He loves us anyway, loves us so much that He allowed Jesus to be put to death to atone for our imperfections. God has filled us with the wisdom to trust in that love, to despise the sins that we do every day, to ask Jesus for mercy, and trust that for His sake God forgives us and lets us start each day renewed, guilt free.

You are a jar of clay, filled by God with a wonderful treasure. It doesn’t matter if you don’t come from a family of ministers. It doesn’t matter if you never took religion classes in school. Amos didn’t come from a family of prophets; Amos’ only skills were in farming and ranching. But God used Amos so powerfully that the head of the false church was scared enough to try and get the king to shut Amos up. That was not Amos’ ability, that was clearly the power of God at work. The false high priest acknowledged as much when he called Amos you seer! The high priest saw quite clearly that the powerful words of Amos came not from a man, but from God Himself.

God desires to use you as His representative too. You live in a country that needs to hear what it is doing wrong. You live in a country that absolutely has to know that Jesus is the only means by which a man or woman can survive death and find everlasting happiness. It doesn’t matter that you don’t feel up to the job—even the great prophet Moses begged God, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it" (Exodus 4:13). But when you say "no" to God, you are saying that you don’t want to reach out to another person and offer them God’s rescue from a life of misery followed by eternity in hell. That isn’t what you really want, is it?

Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, a noted missionary, was a guest at a dinner in London. A number of socially prominent guests had been invited to the dinner. During the course of the evening a lady came up to the missionary and asked, "Dr. Grenfell, is it really true that you are a missionary?" After a moment of silence, this servant of the Lord replied, "Is it true, Madam, that you are not?" Is it possible that any of us who bear the name Christian are not witnessing for our Savior?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Carefully obey all the commands I give you. Do not add to them or subtract from them (Deuteronomy 12:32).

You can be both a conservative and a Christian. A conservative is someone who believes "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Conservatives value tradition. Traditions help guide us in living successfully; they show us what has worked well for other people in the past, which offers us security as we try to figure out how to live for today. Traditions also give us roots; they connect us to our ancestors and a way of life that gives us identity in a world where things are constantly changing.

Political conservatives don’t like seeing the Constitution reinterpreted by the Supreme Court; they believe that our Founding Fathers wrote a document that doesn’t need to be stretched or flexed to meet the needs of modern society. Religious conservatives don’t like seeing the Bible reinterpreted by church leaders to accommodate modern trends in society; they believe that God’s word is unchanging truth, a rock of stability in a world where people want the freedom to do whatever they want without being criticized.

Conservatives are generally suspicious of change; they fear that hasty decisions will result in unfortunate precedents that can never be taken back. Conservatives find our modern world a frightening place in which to live, because things change so quickly these days.

Conservatives can often be in the right. In the Bible, God tells us that He does not change. In His Book, God warns us against adding any teachings of our own to His words, or concealing any of His words by being selective in what we teach. God does not want us trying to take His unchangeable truths and massaging them to become Politically Correct. It is not God who has to change to fit into our modern world; our sin-filled world needs to return to the unchanging One who gave it life.

And yet, conservatives can also be wrong. Jesus showed the religious leaders of His day that they did not understand God’s word correctly, but they would not even consider the possibility that their traditions might be in error. Jesus was labeled a dangerous radical and was relentless persecuted until the time came for His crucifixion. We who are conservative in today’s world must be careful to not let our loyalty to the past become an inflexibility that blinds us to God’s truth.

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