Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weak and exhausted

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD (Psalm 27:14).

It was a frightening sight. Out in the river, a boy was splashing wildly, fighting to catch a breath of air. On the shore, two figures watched. One was the boy’s mother; unable to swim, all she could do was cry in fear as her son came closer and closer to drowning. Next to her stood a strong man, a stranger who had stopped to watch the unfolding drama. Repeatedly, the hysterical mother pleaded with the man to swim out and rescue her son, but all he did was stand at the edge of the water, calmly watching as the boy’s struggles gradually weakened.
Finally, the wild thrashing in the water slowed and came to a stop. The boy had exhausted himself; his body bobbed to the surface, weak and helpless. At just that moment, the man leaped leaped into the stream; swimming swiftly, he grabbed the youth and brought him safely to shore. After making sure her son was going to be okay, the now grateful woman asked, "Why didn’t you save my boy sooner?" The man replied, "Ma’am, I couldn’t save your boy as long as he struggled; he would have dragged us both to certain death. But when he grew weak and stopped struggling, it was a simple matter to save him."

There are many times in life when we get in over our heads. We ruin a wonderful relationship, we make a complete mess of our finances, we make a disastrous series of decisions that leave us boxed in with no apparent way out. Like a drowning child, our first inclination is to panic. We thrash around, looking desperately for anything we can grab onto that offers firm support and the hope of escape. But in our flailing, all we do is hurt those within our reach; we grab onto them too tightly, we demand too much from them. In our panic, we only bring pain to those who would like to help.

Many times, God does not jump right in to grab us and haul us out of trouble because we are too preoccupied trying to save ourselves. It doesn’t even occur to us to pray, let alone quietly wait for the Lord, trusting in His rescue. And so there are times that God lets us exhaust ourselves until we grow weak and helpless; then, when we can no longer impede His rescue plans by our foolish flailing about, He comes and lifts us in His loving arms and carries us to safety. All we need do is let go, and trust God to do the rest.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:12).

Christianity is like a TV soap opera.

A soap opera is all about relationships. It features a large cast of characters interconnected in a variety of ways—blood relations, friendships, business dealings, and, of course, romance. Each episode shows how people forge relationships with each other, ruin relationships by selfish behavior, and search desperately for a way to repair what they have broken.

Christianity tells a similar story. Christianity is all about relationships—our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. Christians are interconnected in a variety of ways—through blood relationships, through friendships, through business dealings, and through romance. Yet all of these relationships are in constant turmoil. Relatives argue and fight. Friends poison their relationship by taking advantage of each other. Business associates stab each other in the back in a quest for profit or promotion. Lovers split up rather than make compromises to preserve the relationship. The emotional fallout is terrible—feelings of hatred, of worthlessness, of loneliness, and a crippling fear of ever trusting again. And the question then becomes: how to patch things up?

All these relationship problems are rooted in our failed relationship with God. The Almighty made humanity to be His companions, friends forever, sharing paradise together. But we want to be in control of our relationships, insisting on having our way even if it is at the expense of others. God our Maker does not tolerate our substituting such arrogance for real love; and since we refuse to embrace God’s love in the purity of His design, there is no way that we can show true love to each other.

But God offers a solution. He wants us back as His beloved companions, so He sent Jesus as the ultimate expression of what true love is. In the love of Jesus, there is forgiveness and the healing of old hurts. In the love of Jesus, there is commitment to long term relationships. In the love of Jesus, there is a willingness to sacrifice gladly for the sake of others. In Jesus we not only see what relationships can be, we can start experiencing the relationships with God and each other that should be.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A satisfying relationship with God--how?

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. 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. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law (Romans 3:19-28).

These are words of great comfort, but they can be hard to understand if we only read them casually. Paul was a very educated man, and he constructs his arguments with the detail one would expect of a lawyer. So today, let us look at Paul’s words carefully so that we truly understand the remarkable gift God has given us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Paul begins, Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. To follow Paul’s argument, we must understand what the "law" is. What makes this tricky is that Paul uses the word "law" two different ways in Romans. If you look at verse 21, you will notice that "Law" is capitalized and is part of the phrase "the Law and the Prophets". Jesus uses the word "law" the same way in Matthew chapter 22: Jesus replied: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." When we read the phrase "the Law and the Prophets", this refers to the entire Old Testament. The Law refers to the first five books written by Moses the lawgiver, who brought the terms of God’s covenant to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. The Prophets refers to every other Old Testament writing, because anyone who is chosen by God to speak for Him is a prophet, and all the books of the Old Testament are thus by definition written by prophets. So when you see the phrase "the Law and the Prophets", this is another way to say "the Old Testament."

But most of the time, Paul speaks of "the law" in a different way. Usually Paul uses this word to refer to God’s rules by which He expects us to live. God summed up the law this way in Leviticus chapter 19: Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. The Ten Commandments were given by God as illustrations of what a holy life would look like.

But there are two problems that the law causes. One problem is that of pride. In Matthew chapter 19 we read of an example: A man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"…Jesus replied…"If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself." "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Here is an example of a man who looked at the law and thought that he could please God by keeping it perfectly; what a terrible blow to his ego to find out that his life had not been perfect, and that perfection would cost him more than he was willing to give up.

People like this young man are deluding themselves when they think that they can live a holy life pleasing to God. James writes, whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). Perfection is to be without even one tiny flaw. When God’s law tells us to be holy, it means that we are to be perfect—perfect our entire lives, from the moment of conception until the last breath that we take. Who can be perfect from womb to grave? No one. In Psalm 143 David prays, Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. This is the other problem of the law. It is impossible for anyone to keep it perfectly as God expects.

This why Paul writes: Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. The law silences every mouth because if we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we have nothing to brag to God about. We are incapable of keeping God’s law, and so we are unacceptable to God.

The next word that we need to understand is "righteousness". The root of this word is "right" which means correct, good, without crookedness or imperfection. When Paul speaks of righteousness, he speaks of how God regards us—if God sees us as righteous, He sees only perfection. Look again at Paul’s words: no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. If we want God’s blessings, love and care, we want to look righteous to Him--but since we cannot keep the law as God expects, trying to live holy lives will not result in Him declaring us righteous.

But if we cannot keep the law, what was the point in God giving it to us? Paul goes on to say, rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. The purpose of the law isn’t to get us to live perfect lives—that is impossible. Rather, the purpose of the law is to serve as a mirror, to show us what we look like. When we look in the mirror of the law, really look, we find nothing to brag about. When we look at the law honestly, we can see that our lives have been filled with lawbreaking--as we neglect giving God honor and respect by skipping church, or using His Name as a cuss word, or praying only when we want something from Him; as we show disrespect to our parents; as we get into fights; as we participate in sex outside of marriage; as we cheat on tests; as we tell lies; and as we make money and the things that it buys the focus of our attention. When we measure our lives by the yardstick of the law, we realize that we come up woefully short.

Thankfully, God has given us an alternative way to find righteousness. Paul writes, but now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. Already in the Old Testament, God offered another way for believers to find righteousness. Back in Leviticus 20:7-8, God said Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy. Notice that even back then, God did not expect that we could be successful in being holy on our own. Instead, He says I am the LORD, who makes you holy. We can only become righteous when God gives it to us as a gift.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. In the Old Testament, God’s people received mercy through the sacrifice of a spotless lamb on an altar dedicated to God; God allowed that lamb to serve as a stand-in for the one lamb whose blood could be poured out in place of ours—Jesus, the Lamb of God. Forgiveness of sins only comes through the shedding of blood; God said through Moses the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11). This is why the Son of God had to take on a human body when He was born of the virgin Mary; Jesus had to have the blood of life in Him, so that He could sacrifice that blood on the altar of the cross for our sins. If Jesus had not made a gift of His life for us, our sins would not have been atoned for and we would remain unrighteous, unacceptable to God.

Jesus’ blood has done all the work—a little further on in Romans, Paul writes the death he died, he died to sin once for all (Romans 6:10). Jesus has made full atonement for our sinfulness—there is nothing left to be done that we can assist with in any way. The only thing that we are called to do is have faith, because this gift of righteousness only comes to all who believe. But even faith is not our work—in Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul tells us it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. No wonder Paul adds no one can boast—we do absolutely nothing towards winning God’s favor—it is all God’s gift of love to us.

In his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. If you were wondering how mere animal sacrifices could forgive the sins of Old Testament believers, here is the answer—they could not. Until Jesus shed His blood on the cross, no sin was actually atoned for; in his forbearance [God] had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. Remember, we receive righteousness by faith in Christ. Righteousness for all mankind was made possible on one day 2,000 years ago. Ever since Good Friday, Christians everywhere have looked back across the years to the cross of Calvary for the promise of forgiveness. God’s people of the Old Testament also looked across time for salvation, but they looked to the future, the promise of a Redeemer who was yet to come. Using Abraham’s faith as an example, Paul records Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). Since Jesus had not died on the cross yet, the sins of the Old Testament believers like Abraham were left unpunished until the time of Paul, the time when Jesus died and rose from the dead—all the sins of the Old Testament believers, all the sins of we who live in the New Testament, all those sins were punished in the body and soul of Jesus on the cross. As a result, all people in all times who believe in Jesus and the gift of blood that He offered on your behalf and mine, stand forgiven and righteous in God’s eyes.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. The final important word that we will consider today is the word "justified." This comes from the root word "just" from which we also get the word "justice." When we think of these words together, we think of fair, legally correct, law-abiding. Now we know that all of us break God’s laws; Paul says there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22-23). But remember the word "justify"—God is the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. It is God who makes us holy; it is God who declares us righteous. When we believe in Jesus, God changes our legal status. Imagine God’s throne room as a court of law. We sit at the defendant’s table. Satan is the prosecutor; he accuses us of breaking God’s law and demands that we be sentenced to hell for punishment. But Jesus is our defense attorney. He simply approaches the bench and tells His Father that the sentence has already been served--by Him. In response, the heavenly Judge looks at us in love and declares us innocent of all charges. Even though we are truly guilty, for Jesus’ sake the Father changes our legal status from lawbreaker to law-abiding citizen—He has "justified" us, told Satan and everyone else that as far as He is concerned, we are "just". And this had absolutely nothing to do with what we have or haven’t done—but it has everything to do with what Jesus has done. We are justified only by trusting in Jesus as the defense attorney who can get for us the verdict of "not guilty."

This is the Good news that brings life. We are not saved by our prideful efforts to please God through obeying the law; we are saved when we humbly acknowledge our sins and trust in God’s loving mercy offered through His Son. May this message of God’s forgiveness and acceptance fill your heart with joy, today and every day.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Treatment for what ails you

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Christianity is like a TV medical drama.

A medical drama introduces us to a seemingly endless stream of patients, all afflicted with some sort of medical problem. Some know they are sick and will do anything to be cured. Some are so busy pursuing their goals that they ignore even the most alarming symptoms until they find themselves at death’s door. Some don’t like doctors or are scared of hospitals and so put off treatment for far too long. And some who have been given sound medical advice ignore their treatments, soon ending up in worse shape than before. But they all have this in common: without the doctor’s healing touch, they will soon experience the chilling grasp of death.

Christianity tells a similar story. We are all infected by a plague, the disease called ‘sin.’ God would love to welcome us into His magnificent home, but not if we are carrying this plague. So the Lord offers us medical treatment through His Son, the Great Physician. If we let Jesus treat us, we can enter heaven cured of sin; however, if we refuse treatment, we will spend eternity quarantined in hell.

Why would anyone refuse treatment? Some are so busy with all the things going on in their lives that they don’t notice the symptoms of sin—dysfunctional relationships, constant pursuit of pleasure with no lasting satisfaction, self-destructive behaviors, and the like. If they are too busy to see that their lives are falling apart around them, then they will not make time for treatment by the Great Physician. Others refuse treatment because they don’t like Jesus or going to church; they resent anyone—even the Lord—who dares tell them hard truths that they don’t want to hear. And there are those who have listened to Jesus but then ignored His prescribed treatments; they are having too much fun living life as they see fit, to give up those things that are hastening their spiritual death.

Thankfully, not everyone reacts this way. There are many who fear eternal quarantine and desperately want to be freed from the illness that is killing them. These are the patients who will be healed; these are the ones who will have life, and have it to the full.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Getting a make-over

Don't you know that you…are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Christianity is like a TV makeover show.

A makeover segment begins with showing us someone who needs the help of an expert. They might have a room that is a disorganized mess; maybe their house is in desperate need of repair; or maybe they have no sense for fashion. What they have in common is this—they all agree that change is needed. So the professionals swoop in and give them a makeover.

Christianity tells a similar story. It starts with a person who needs a makeover—that person is you. Maybe your life is cluttered with things that keep you busy but leave you confused, lost or uncertain of how things should be. Maybe your life is falling apart around you, and you feel vulnerable and afraid. Or maybe you just don’t know how to act when you are around other people, and you always feel awkward or foolish. Whatever the problem is, you know that change is needed.

God is the expert just waiting for you to realize that you need help. When you open the door of your heart to Him, He comes in and helps you sort through the many things cluttering your life. He gives you the ability to look at each possession and determine whether it can help you to achieve a worthwhile goal or only serves as a distraction; He guides you in sorting out which of your activities are important and which are merely wasting your time.

Jesus is a Master Carpenter. If your life seems to be collapsing like an old neglected house, the Savior can help you renovate. He will forgive you for all your mistakes that have brought you to the point of collapse; He will rebuild your life according to His blueprint, resulting in a future that is solid and secure in the face of every storm.

The Spirit of God can show you what is morally right and mentally healthy; with His wisdom giving clarity to your thinking, you can live life with confidence. Instead of feeling awkward and foolish around others, you’ll discover that God has given you an inner beauty that enables you to feel good about yourself.

God spares no expense when He gives you His makeover; after all, He desires to live in your heart, and the Lord of the universe deserves only the very best accommodations.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Your place in society

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). With these words, God took one lone man and made him part of a society.

God had never intended for Adam to be alone. "Aloneness" is an idea that is foreign to our Triune God. From eternity, God has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one God who is communicated with as three distinct Persons. How God can be one and three at the same time is a mystery our limited minds cannot understand, but what is important for us to remember is that, because God has three Persons, God has never existed in silence with no one to talk to. In Genesis 1:26, we are given ear to the Trinity speaking together: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image." Since God has never existed with no one to talk to, it is not surprising that God gave the first man someone to talk to as well. It is not good to be alone.

The Bible puts much emphasis on fellowship. When Adam and Eve are introduced to each other, the first command that God gives them is be fruitful and increase in number (Genesis 1:22); Adam and Eve were not intended to live alone on the earth. When King David looked for a place to build God’s Temple, the spot approved by God was in the capital city of Jerusalem, a major population center. After Jesus ascended into heaven and the apostles were forming churches for worship, the writer of Hebrews urged his readers, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). Throughout the Bible, we see that the people of God are always part of a society, and that each of them has responsibilities within that society.

The essential building block of any society is the family. It is within the family that a child is given life. It is within the family that a child is first introduced to God, as the parents bring him to the pastor for baptism, bring him to church and Sunday School, and read Bible stories to him at bed time. It is within the family that the child learns how to cooperate with others by learning how to share chores and how to share toys. It is within the family that a child learns how to lead and how to follow, from living under the authority of parents. All the essential skills for adulthood are learned in the family.

This is why God gave us the commandment: Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12). This Commandment means, "honor the family that gave you life and seeks to train you in the things needed to have the best possible life." Martin Luther understood this commandment to extend beyond the family as well. He wrote: "We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them." The family structure, with parents given the responsibility to care for the children, and the children having the responsibility to cooperate and mature under the guidance of their elders, is the pattern upon which society is based. All authority in society is an extension of parental authority. Teachers help parents provide education. Firemen and soldiers protect when parents cannot. The government ensures that everyone cooperates together where individual parents cannot enforce such cooperation. Society is an extension of the family, and honoring your parents, by extension, includes honoring the caring authority of your society.

So how do we violate God’s Commandment? Most obviously, we sin when we are disrespectful to our parents. When we are very young, disrespect takes the form of refusing to do our chores and yelling at our parents. As we grow up, we discover that our parents are every bit as much sinners as everyone else; and especially in our teenage years, it is tempting to dismiss what our parents say as too corrupted by sin to be worth listening to. But although our parents are sinners just like us, God still expects us to be obedient to them. Jesus was without sin, yet He submitted Himself to the authority of two sinful people as His mother and stepfather; Luke tells us in chapter 2 that Jesus was obedient to them. Paul writes, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

But just because we’ve reach adulthood ourselves, this does not give us leave to stop honoring our parents. Clearly, parents are not to run our lives as adults; speaking of marriage, Jesus says: for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). When a person gets married, he or she has committed to being leader in a new family, and takes on the responsibility that goes with it—their primary obligation shifts from following their parents to leading their own children. But that does not mean the grown children are to stop honoring their parents. We show dishonor when we cannot find time to visit our parents, listen to their troubles, or help them with their problems. Some ungrateful children have even gone so far as to take advantage of their elderly parents by stealing from them through trickery or intimidation. Such behavior angers the God who gave us life through that self-same person.

We also sin when we act irresponsibly in society. God expects us to respect those in authority and to cooperate with our peers. We sin when we show disrespect to those who have been given the responsibility of leadership. Peter writes, submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men…Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:13, 17). We are to do this because God has created the power of government to rule people for their good, just as He created the power of parenthood to rule children for their good. Paul writes, Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2). Now, just like parents, people in authority are all sinners—but that does not remove God’s expectation that we live as law-abiding citizens. Insulting a judge is a sin. Speeding is a sin. Procuring alcohol or cigarettes for someone who is underage is a sin. Refusing to pay your taxes is a sin.

We also sin when we do not do our share as members of society. Just as a child is expected to do his chores, so we as adults are to do ours. If we are called for jury duty, we are to serve. If we are called up for military service, we are to go. When elections are held, we are to study the issues and try to vote in accordance with God’s good and gracious will. English philosopher Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." God has given us a blessing few Christians in history have had—the opportunity to shape society according to God’s statutes through our ability to vote; we sin when we refrain from voting and let Satan’s followers dictate the final outcome.

Pontius Pilate is an example of someone who did not act as a responsible member of society. Pilate was appointed the job of governor over Roman-controlled Israel. It was his job to see that the people were ruled according to Roman law. When Jesus was brought before him, Pilate could find no evidence that Jesus had done anything illegal. Pilate said to the crowds hungering for Jesus’ death, "I find no basis for a charge against this man" (Luke 23:4). But the people responded, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar" (John 19:12). When Pilate saw his political future threatened, Matthew tells us: he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" (Matthew 27:24) Rather than obey the laws of the empire, Pilate allowed the greatest injustice ever done to take place by claiming that he, personally, was not responsible. Because of people who did not respect authority, Jesus was put to death—Jesus died to forgive those who do not respect authority.

Jesus always respected God and those who exercised authority. Jesus was holy and John the Baptist was not; when Jesus came to John for baptism, John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented (Matthew 3:14-15). When Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42). When Peter advised Jesus to resist arrest, Jesus told him, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54). When Pilate tried to intimidate Jesus by saying, "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above" (John 19:10-11). When the religious leaders who had demanded His crucifixion mocked Jesus, saying Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe (Mark 15:32), Jesus could have used His divine power to come down from the cross, but He did not. At no time in His life did Jesus refuse to submit to those who were in positions of authority, because by submitting to them, He was submitting to His Father’s plan to save us from our sins by becoming the punished criminal in our place. Paul writes, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

And Jesus honored His mother. As He hung upon the cross, blood dripping from the wounds in His hands and His feet, every breath a struggle as He hung in a most unnatural position, suffering God’s anger for our every sin, Jesus still thought of His mother, now widowed and soon to lose her firstborn. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).

Jesus died to forgive you for every time you yelled at your mother or father. Jesus died to forgive you for every time that you brushed them off because you were too busy with other things. Jesus died to forgive you for every time that you broke a law, were rude to a policeman, or were too preoccupied with other things to vote on a referendum. Jesus was perfectly obedient and perfectly responsible because He knew that you could not be, and He was willing to forgive you in spite of that. May our Lord’s Holy Spirit move you to repent of living as if no one else mattered, because it is not good for a man to live as if he were alone.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Christ Jesus…is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

Christianity is like a TV crime drama.

A crime drama consists of two parts. First, there is the investigation of a crime. What laws were broken? Who are the perpetrators? And why did they do it? This is followed by an arrest and trial. Are the defendants sorry for the hurt they’ve caused? What is an appropriate sentence?

Christianity tells a similar story. It starts with a crime. The crime might be anything from feeling jealous to having an affair; it could range from swearing at someone to punching them in the face. Whatever the crime, it is a breaking of God’s Laws—that you should love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Who is the perpetrator? You already know the answer—you are the one who has failed to obey God’s law in all ways and at all times. You are the one who skipped worshipping God to go to the lake; you are the one who has yelled at a parent, lied to a teacher, took something that didn’t belong to you.

Why did you do it? Maybe you resented being told what you should and should not do. Maybe you did it for a thrill. Maybe your desires overwhelmed your good sense, at least for a while. But whatever your motivation, it does not justify your crime—not in God’s eyes.

God knows you are a perpetrator, and the day of your court appearance is set—on the day you die, you will appear before the Judge of heaven for sentencing. But the final verdict will depend on your relationship with your court-appointed defense attorney. If you met with Jesus before your day in court and told Him how sorry you were for all your crimes, He will do something remarkable before sentence is passed—He will approach the bench and speak to His Father on your behalf; He will reveal the exhibit of a cross, stained with His blood, as proof that the hellish punishment earned by your crimes has already been served by the Son of God. Based on this evidence, He will move that your case be dismissed, and you will enter heaven cleared of all charges.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Looking towards the future

Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come (Matthew 24:42).

When I was young, bookstores had loads of science fiction paperbacks for sale. I love science fiction; in high school I could finish two sci-fi novels every week and not fall behind on my schoolwork. But these days, the shelves devoted to science fiction are mostly given over to fantasy; finding a good selection of my favorite type of fiction is getting hard.

I think the problem is that our world is changing so fast these days. Science fiction used to be a way for us to think about where our world is headed, what kind of future might result from the foundations we are laying today. But it is becoming increasingly hard to imagine what the world could be like even ten years from now, let alone in a hundred or beyond. I wonder if science fiction has become hard to write because unimaginable advances are being made in the fields of science and technology every year.

I don’t think that people spend much time thinking about the future anymore. When the future looks uncertain, people tend to keep their focus on the present. These days, fewer people are doing serious planning for retirement. Increasingly, people are getting married without considering what life-long partnership will truly involve. Most Americans are focused on now or tomorrow or maybe next year—but not much beyond that.

This is a problem. Bad eating habits will eventually result in health problems. Short-term investment strategies miss out on the kinds of gains that can only be realized by taking the long view. Living for the moment only results in superficial relationships and a constantly empty wallet.

But the biggest danger of ignoring the future is that people don’t think about their death or what will follow; for far too many, heaven and hell are abstract ideas that have no relevance for what’s happening in their lives today. But death could be only minutes away—today might be the last time you read my words. If Jesus summons you to stand before Him today, are you ready to face Him? Are you confident of His welcome into heaven because you and He are friends, or does hell threaten you because you and the Lord are strangers? If death knocks on your door today, are you prepared for it?

Friday, October 12, 2007


You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15).

An employee assigned the responsibility to open the store at 10:00 each morning routinely arrives at work between 10:15 to 10:20. He always fills out his time sheet as having arrived at 9:55 a.m.

The president of a major corporation overextends himself, making it impossible to keep up on the payments for his new Ferrari. He spends late nights at the office adjusting the company records so that he can take a couple million dollars for himself, and make it look as though the money was lost on the stock market.

A woman who is stuck in a low-paying job accidentally spills hot coffee on her arm while in a fast-food drive-through. When she realizes that she has received a 1st degree burn, she decides to profit from this mishap by suing the fast-food company for a quarter of a million dollars.

A high school girl has a cocaine addiction. With her wallet empty, and desperate for more of the drug, she takes money from her mother’s purse while Mom is in the kitchen cooking dinner.

These four people all have one thing in common—they are all thieves.

Put simply, stealing is taking some kind of property from someone else without their permission. Stealing is about improperly taking money or the things that money can buy from another person. But although we usually think of stealing as something obvious like purse snatching or breaking and entering, stealing can also be a subtle, sneaky sin that even people who pride themselves on honesty can find themselves guilty of.

The first example of theft that I mentioned above is the theft of time. How much time we can devote to working determines how much money we can make, and the amount of time that we invest in a project will determine its overall quality and final value. When our time is wasted, our ability to produce results is reduced. This is why we resent junk mail on our desk and spam in our e-mail; these things waste our time, time that needs to be devoted to something more important. Wasting time becomes a sin when it hurts another person financially. If a person reports late to work, takes excessively long breaks, or leaves early, but fills out his time sheet as if he kept to the schedule, he bills the company for work he did not do, and the company pays for service it did not receive. The employee has stolen from the company.

This is a form of laziness. Laziness is expecting other people to take care of you, when you are perfectly capable of caring for yourself. When you are lazy, you are stealing time from other people. A lazy child steals his parents’ time by not making his bed, leaving his dirty cloths on the floor, or by expecting his parents to help him with his homework by telling him what the correct answers are. A lazy husband or wife steals their spouse’s time by refusing to help with household chores, neglecting to provide care and discipline to the children, or by failing to promote family growth through activities like joint participation in church events or shared leisure activities. When a man or woman is saddled with a lazy spouse or child, that person has to work harder at home to compensate, and has less energy to earn a living when they are at work.

A related form of stealing is cheating. Cheating is just another way to be lazy. A college student who cheats on an exam wants a good grade and the good job offers that could follow, but without having to work for them. A cheat ends up less qualified for a job than the person who learned through diligent study; a cheat ends up cheating an employer out of profits by being less productive than the employer expected, due to his lack of proper learning.

And then there are the people who file frivolous lawsuits. This is yet one more example of being lazy. Instead of seeking more skills to earn better pay, many people in America hire a lawyer to get them easy money by accusing a business of being negligent. The most silly case I’ve heard of is the person who is sued a fast-food franchise for serving junk food that resulted in the plaintiff now being fat! But with juries constantly giving huge settlements to people who never exercised common sense or personal responsibility, there is always a lawyer ready to represent a person who wants to make a quick buck.

In a sense, all stealing boils down to two things—laziness and impatience. We do not like to work hard, and we are unwilling to wait until we have saved enough to buy what we want. We get credit cards so that we can "buy now, pay later". But for those who cannot get credit, stealing can become an alternative. And our society even honors thieves in some cases. Robin Hood was "justified" in thievery because he stole from the selfish rich and redistributed wealth to the poor. There is a certain charm to the stories of Bonnie and Clyde, Jesse James and the like, because they were people who knew what they wanted and took it. Movies like The Godfather and shows like The Sopranos reveal the American interest in getting wealthy at any price, even if the price is cheating, swindling, and stealing.

In Exodus chapter 20, God issued this simple Commandment: You shall not steal. In a more subtle fashion, Jesus reminded us not to steal when He taught us to pray, give us this day our daily breadours, not somebody else’s. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that everything that we have comes as a gift from God; when we steal, we are taking what God intended for somebody else and are making it our own. This is why stealing is a sin. Stealing is our way of telling our Lord, "God, I don’t like the way that You have distributed money in this world. I know better than You what I really need and what my neighbor really needs, so I am going to fix the mistake You made of giving him too much and me not enough".

When we steal, we show that we do not trust God to take care of our real needs. Jesus said, do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33). If we take Jesus at His word, there is no need to steal, because He has promised that God will see to our needs. Of course, it is understood that we do not expect God to fill our bellies if we are lazy; Paul writes, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Proverbs 10:4 declares: Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. This is because God blesses the hands that are busy in service to Him.

Jesus trusted God. When Jesus went 40 days without food in the desert, Satan tried to get Jesus to stop waiting on His heavenly Father and take matters into His own hands by turning stones into bread. But instead of giving in to the sins of impatience and lack of trust, Jesus instead responded: "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' " (Matthew 4:4). Because Jesus trusted His Father to provide for Him in all ways during His earthly life among us, Jesus never gave in to the temptation to steal. Nor was Jesus lazy. He worked hard, keeping long hours teaching and healing and travelling; Scripture tells us that He became tired (John 4:6). Today, we take great comfort in Jesus words, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (John 5:17). There is never a time that our risen, glorified Lord who looks down from heaven is not attentive to our needs.

St. John says this about Judas, he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:6). It was Judas who betrayed Jesus into the hands of those who wanted His death, and Judas committed this crime for the sake of money. Judas profited at Jesus’ expense; the Pharisees later referred to the 30 silver coins involved as blood money (Matthew 27:6). Jesus’ life was taken because of thieves; Jesus allowed His life to be taken in order to save thieves. By the agonizing hours of suffering on the cross culminating with His death, Jesus suffered God’s anger at every act of theft, every incident of cheating, every moment of laziness that each of us have been guilty of. Jesus died for us willingly, trusting that His loving Father would not let His Holy One see decay in the grave (Psalm 16:10), but would instead raise Him up so that He could lead all repentant believers out from their graves to follow Him into heaven.

Paul wrote near the end of his life: godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Timothy 6:6-8). If you are content with what God has chosen to give you, you will not feel the need to cheat or steal from others. If you dedicate your time and energy to doing work that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others, He has promised to see to your true needs. God never promises luxurious living. But God does promise to give you what you need so that you can serve Him faithfully with your life. Pray to the Lord for food for your stomach and work for your hands, and the Lord will give you more than enough to see you through.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two paths

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

A missionary once used the forked branch of a tree to illustrate these words of Jesus. He had grown up in the Philippines and was now speaking to the islanders about his faith, in partnership with another man. One day the two of them hiked for many hours. They climbed steep trails and crossed five streams on log bridges. Toward evening, they came to a little wooden house on the crest of a ridge. They joined the family for their humble meal of rice. Afterwards, sitting on the porch, the missionary found a forked stick on the ground and picked it up.

"There is a lesson in this stick," he said. "Like all branches, it is divided into two ways. Life is the same. There are two roads to follow. One is the path of evil; it leads to the lake of fire. One is the path of good; it leads to the home of God. All of us try to follow the good road but we keep falling off. In the past when we did wrong things, what was our practice? We butchered a chicken or pig to appease the anger of the spirits. But we never knew for certain if we had done enough to escape their anger. So we lived in fear.

"God in heaven knew about our problem. Many years ago, God came down to earth as a man. His name was Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life for us all. He walked the good road all the way. At the end of it, He sacrificed Himself. He poured out His own blood and died to pay the price for our wrongs. Now we don’t need to sacrifice chickens and pigs anymore. God sacrificed Himself once and for all, for us. Then He came back to life and went home to heaven.

"I have come here so you will know this." He traced his finger along the upward fork of the stick. "You can take this road to heaven, if you believe in Jesus, who loves you and died for you. Because of what Jesus did for you, when you die you will go home to be with Him in heaven."

That was the message of the forked stick. There is one way that goes to hell, the broad way of destruction. Many travel that road. There is also another way: the narrow road to heaven. It’s a road that you can walk, by God’s grace through Jesus.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Having enough

We didn't bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:7-9).

There’s a story about a foreign tribe that would give any person all the land he wanted, provided that he could completely circle his claim on foot between sunup and sundown. A middle-aged man, who had a comfortable home and was making a good living for his family, sold all that he had and traveled to this distant country. As the sun rose early in the morning, he headed out. He was about to walk around a beautiful farm, when he saw a glistening lake filled with fish just a short distance beyond. He adjusted his course to include the lake in his circle, but on the far side he found a woods filled with trees just perfect for logging. A golden opportunity! As he rounded the far end of the woods, he found a large pasture filled with grazing cattle; he had to have that too. Suddenly it occurred to him to check his watch. It was already past noon! According to the tribe’s offer, he could have whatever land he had walked around before the sun had set. But on the way back he came upon another tempting farm; he just couldn’t let it slip through his fingers. By now the sun was low in the sky. He started to push himself; soon, he was running. Now the sun was touching the horizon. Onlookers rooted for him as he urged each aching muscle for a final sprint to his starting point. Just as the sun set, he made it. All the people cheered. Then he seized his chest; suffering a massive heart attack, he sank to the ground and died. The tribe honored their promise and gave him all the land he could use—a plot of ground six feet by three.

This is a parable. Yet, don’t you know people just like this man, people who drive themselves to sickness and death because they always want more? They have not learned that happiness cannot be bought or won, it only comes from within. Money and possessions cannot guarantee peace or happiness; all they give your life are more things to worry about! How will my investments hold up in this economy? How can I afford the payments on my big house? Wealth and material goods can easily distract us from our Lord, who in the First Commandment tells us that He is to have first place in our lives (Exodus 20:3). In Colossians 3:5-6, Paul equates greed with idolatry, the worship of something else besides God. Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:23).

Friday, October 05, 2007


"Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other" (Mark 9:49-50).

Salt is one of the most important minerals in our lives. Americans are well aware of it’s ability to bring out the flavor in otherwise bland foods—there are many of us who can barely eat a helping of mashed potatoes or oatmeal if it has not been prepared with at least a little salt.

People who are watching their weight also know that salt in the diet causes water retention. The more salt you eat, the more water your body will hold onto. Dieters often look for products that are advertised as "low-sodium" to minimize how much "water weight" they are carrying around in their bodies.

Cooks are aware of a third property of salt; salt acts as a preservative. Since salt sterilizes bacteria, salt is used for preserving pickles, cheese, fish, potatoes and meat, without the need for refrigeration.

What most Americans don’t realize, however, is that salt is essential for human life. Salt in the diet helps the body retain water, and without water the body dehydrates and dies. Although many Americans view water retention as a nuisance, anyone living in a desert will tell you that without salt to help your body hold onto water, the dry desert will soon claim your life. No human being can survive without salt.

Because of this, history has recognized the importance of salt. Salt has been used as currency in some societies, while others levied a tax on it or even gave exclusive control of it to the government as a monopoly. Since salt is a preservative, it has become symbolic of people who will keep their promises and thus can be trusted—we call such people "salt of the earth". Our modern English word "salary" comes from the Latin word "salarium" which originally referred to the money paid to Roman soldiers for the purchase of salt so that they could stay healthy.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks of saltiness as a characteristic of Christians. He starts by saying that everyone will be salted with fire. Fire and salt have a feature in common—they both purify. Salt kills bacteria so that food is safe to eat. Fire does the same thing—cooking food over high heat kills bacteria and makes the food safe to consume. Both salt and fire kill the things that can make us sick.

Of course, Jesus is not speaking about germs here. Our Lord is warning us about the things that can make us spiritually sick—sin. God wants us to be healthy. God created mankind to live forever. But we are all sinners. We all foolishly eat things that are not good for us, things that make us sick and gradually weaken us to the point of death. We go to movies that glamorize unhealthy behaviors like smoking, drunkenness, and sex outside of marriage. We watch TV shows that emphasize relationship-destroying behaviors like insolence, disrespect, dishonesty, and divorce. We read books and magazines that claim they can tell us how we can make ourselves happy, even though they replace Jesus’ authority with a mixture of psychiatrists, nutritionists, astrologers, and mystics who cannot agree among themselves whose advice is best. Every day we are exposed to mental food that, if we take it in, tries to confuse us as to what can make us healthy and what can poison us.

We are filled with the sickness of sin, and Jesus wishes to come to our aid before the sickness kills us eternally. Jesus has been called the Great Physician—He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the paralyzed, health to the sick, and life to the dead. Jesus comes to each of us with the offer of healing—Jesus wants to save our lives before the sickness of sin takes us into the death of hell.

But healing isn’t always a comfortable thing. It hurts to lance a blister. It hurts to apply peroxide or alcohol to a festering wound. The strongest medicines usually taste awful. Fire will cauterize a wound, but it will hurt terribly for a while. Rubbing salt in a wound will sting badly as the germs are being killed.

People don’t like to feel pain, but a wise patient will put up with the temporary discomfort of medical treatment in order to regain long-term health. Our Great Physician asks us to trust Him. Sometimes His treatment of our sin hurts. We are asked to give up our drinking buddies as part of our new sober life style. We are asked to give up our pride in order to apologize and start rebuilding our marriage. We are asked to turn our backs on the sins that have given us so much comfort and pleasure, in order to grow healthy spiritually. Rejecting sin is hard and painful.

Jesus knows our pain all too well. Our Great Physician went through far worse than having salt rubbed in a wound, far worse than having an injury cauterized by fire. Our Lord Jesus was betrayed, humiliated, ridiculed, beaten and put to death because of our disease. Our Lord Jesus experienced the horror of having the love of God the Father taken away from Him as He hung upon the cross, rejected by God when by rights it is we who should be rejected.

Jesus went through that pain because destroying the sickness of sin hurts—and our Lord was the only one who could suffer the burden of our illness and come back from the grave that it put Him in. Jesus is alive again eternally—alive so that He can tend to the illness that rots us from within. Jesus treats us by forgiving us. All He asks is that we submit to His care, and He promises to bring us back from the death of our sins, just as He came back.

Any physician "worth his salt" will not only cure you, but also try to educate you in living a healthier lifestyle; our Great Physician gives us His prescription for life when He says, Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves. For us to stay spiritually healthy, we must have salt in ourselves.

That salt is the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The salt that we need to be healthy is faith in the promises of God, the assurance that when we reject sin as the way we want to live, and trust in Jesus to purify us and give us a new way to live life, God the Father will forget that we have ever done anything to make Him mad, and will send His Holy Spirit to live in us to guide us through life towards rest in heaven.

Remember the properties of salt? The first property is that it kills germs. When we have the salt of God’s Word in ourselves, we are made more resistant to the illness of sin in our lives. When we see or hear something that can sicken our soul, the Word of God gives us the ability to see through the lies and the wisdom to reject them before they lead us to make bad decisions. If we keep the saltiness of the Word of God, we better resist sin and remain spiritually healthy.

The second property of salt is that it gives food a pleasant flavor. When we have the salt of God’s Word in ourselves, it gives our lives a pleasant flavor. Lives that are full of sourness or bitterness are no fun to live, and too much sweetness can leave us feeling hungry for something with substance and meaning. The Christian life is not sour or bitter, because we have the joy of God’s forgiving love and the capacity to let go of earthly hurts and forgive as we have been forgiven. Our lives are not filled with empty sweetness, but with meaningful work in going to others in their need and applying the balm of Jesus’ holy Word to lives traumatized by sin. The life of a Christian is pleasantly flavored by usefulness and peace with God.

But the most important property of salt is that it preserves life. No one can live for long without salt. Without salt, everyone dehydrates and dies. So it is with the salt of the Word of God. Without this salt, no one can live for long; without this salt, a person will live only a few decades at most, and spend eternity in the place of death that God calls hell. Salt is a preservative. Sailing ships provisioned with salted meat could bring that meat all the way across the ocean without spoilage. Animal skins cured with salt could be made into clothing that would last a lifetime. When we are cured with the salt of God’s Word, we are assured that we can cross the ocean of life without disintegrating into decay; when we are cured by the saltiness of Christ, our coat of faith will never wear out.

Can salt lose its saltiness? The idea seems absurd, but that is just the point that our Lord wishes to make. It would be unbelievable that salt could lose it’s salty quality, but if it did, what a tragedy. What good is salt without it’s salty properties? And yet, we Christians are capable of losing our saltiness. Our Lord has cured us with the salt of His divine Word, but we can lose that quality again. We can lose our saltiness if we stay away from the Word of God by avoiding church, neglecting Bible study and Sunday School, and instead filling ourselves up on the sin-sickened messages that so often fill our theatres, our television networks, our bookstores. If we insist on filling up with the wrong things, we can end up flushing God’s salt from our system, and soon face the spectre of eternal death once more.

So have salt in yourselves. Immerse yourselves in the salt of God’s Word and avoid those things that can give you spiritual indigestion. Let Jesus purify you and preserve you, that your life might have a pleasant flavor and bring the joy of God’s salt to others.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Limping through life

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27).

There was a traveler who was taking a walking tour of Israel. He chanced upon a shepherd who was tending his flock, and soon the two men were chatting as they walked together. The visitor eventually noticed that one of the older sheep walked with a limp and always stayed close to the shepherd’s side. Curious, he asked the sheepherder about it.

The shepherd explained that the sheep was the oldest in the flock, but the animal’s prospects for long life had been doubtful at first. Soon after it was born, the sheep owner discovered that the lamb was partly deaf. Frustratingly, it kept wandering away, far beyond its ability to hear the call of the man who cared for it. Many were the times when the woolly little animal nearly met its end, before the shepherd found and rescued it. At last, seeing no other way to keep the lamb nearby so that he could care for it and protect it, the shepherd deliberately broke its leg. Ever since that day the sheep limped, but now it now stayed close to its master for guidance and protection.

Sometimes we wonder why God allows grief to darken our lives. But like the limping sheep, we were born partly deaf; we don’t hear as we should. Want proof? How many children are able to completely tune out their parents or teachers when words are spoken that they don’t want to hear? We call it selective hearing. To varying degrees, everyone tunes out God. There are times when our desire for reckless thrills leads us away from God, and because sin makes us partly deaf we don’t hear the Good Shepherd calling us back. Then we get into a terrible situation, trapped with no apparent way out.

Jesus does not want us getting into such dire straits. So sometimes He hobbles us by allowing troubles to afflict us. This is an act of loving concern; the Savior wants to keep you close by His side always so He can look after you. Maybe you are limping through life. You may have experienced sorrow, bitter disappointment, or frustration with a body that doesn’t serve you as it should. If you are afflicted with some burden that causes you to limp through life, you can be certain that in His love for you, God will use that burden to draw you close to the Shepherd’s side. You may limp, but that limp is a blessing if it keeps you close to the only One who can give you the care and protection that you desperately need.

Blog Top Sites
Blog Directory & Search engine
Blog Directory