Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blowing the lid off

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).

Opening a jar with a stuck lid is a nuisance. Often times you get sore muscles or skin burns from trying to loosen that stubborn lid. And all kinds of jars suffer from stuck lids—you can have just as much trouble opening a jar of fresh preserves as a container of spoiled mayonnaise. What they have in common is this: when pressure is applied, the smell inside is released.

This illustrates how different people respond to adversity. Our lives are filled with things that put pressure on us. You’re running late for work and get a flat tire. You’re just about done with a term paper when the computer file gets corrupted. The boss sets a sales goal that you don’t think you can meet. Your teenager starts dating someone in their twenties. You are diagnosed with cancer but don’t have health insurance.

These pressures blow your lid off. For many, the smell that comes out when this happens is very unpleasant. Some respond to the pressure with harsh words, threats or ultimatums. Others close in on themselves, refusing to talk or face the reality of their situation. Some even blame God for their misfortune.

Yet amazingly, some people smell good when pressure rips the lid from their day. They stay calm and collected; they find something positive to focus on in the midst of trouble. They thank God for protecting them from something even worse, and trust that He will see them through this crisis.

Pressure reveals what is already inside of us. For some, pressure reveals the smell of decay, evidence that the soul is slowly dying from spiritual neglect. For others, pressure reveals the sweet smell of perfume, suggesting that the soul has been cleansed and made beautiful by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pressure situations are never fun, but they are revealing. When circumstances blow the lid off your day, how do you respond, and what does that tell you about the condition of your soul? If you don’t like what pressure reveals about you, let Jesus into your heart so that He can fill your life with a pleasant fragrance, even at the worst of times.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A welcoming hug

Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar (Psalm 138:6).

In the early 1800s, Albert Thorvaldsen completed a wonderful statue of Jesus that he named Come unto me. It shows the Lord standing with arms spread wide, waiting to embrace anyone who approaches. After the sculptor’s death, this piece of art found a home in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Some years later, a well-educated scholar come to the cathedral to see this statue. As he stood looking at it, disappointment seemed to creep into his face. A little boy standing nearby said, "Sir, you must go close to Him. Kneel down before Him, and look up into His face." The scholar stepped forward and did as the little boy suggested. When he knelt and looked up into the welcoming eyes that gazed down on him, he saw beauty in that face which could not be seen when standing at a distance.

The sculptor of that statue had a good understanding of our relationship with Christ. You cannot truly appreciate the Savior’s beauty from a distance. At a distance, it is hard to see the welcome in His eyes. At a distance, it is hard to hear His words of invitation. At a distance, you miss out on His gentle touch. To really see Jesus for who He is, you must come close to Him.

Your posture is also important. If you try to stand eye to eye with Jesus as if you and He are equals, you will miss something very important. It is only when you kneel in humble submission and look up to Him that you will see Him as He really is—your Master, your protector, your source of strength, your God. To really see Jesus for who He is, you must look up to Him as greater than yourself.

The incident in that Copenhagen church tells us one thing more. It was not the scholar who figured out the best way to experience the statue’s beauty, it was the little boy. For all his education, the adult could not figure how to look at the sculpture. But the little boy simply saw someone who offered him a hug, and he responded to that obvious invitation. Don’t get so caught up in over-thinking things that Jesus seems unapproachable to you—just accept His invitation and find security in His arms.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone.' "

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: `Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.' "

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: `He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' " Jesus answered, "It says: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time (Luke 4:1-13).

Just before the events related in the verses, Jesus had come to John to be baptized in the Jordan River. Up until this point, Jesus had been growing into a mature man at home with His mother, foster father, and His half-brothers and sisters. Now at the age of 30, Jesus had reached the point in life where His countrymen would consider Him a true adult, a man who had lived enough life to have an opinion worth listening to. Now it was time for Jesus to begin His public ministry, and His baptism with the Holy Spirit set this ministry into motion.

But before Jesus would gather disciples around Himself and begin teaching and performing miracles, there was one last thing which He needed to do; Jesus had to ready Himself for His work by confronting His enemy, the devil. And Satan did not disappoint our Lord—He came and tried his hardest to trick Jesus into committing a sin, an act that would displease His heavenly Father. Satan’s reason was simple: if he could get Jesus to do just one thing wrong, Jesus would no longer be perfect—He would become a sinner like us, and as a sinner Jesus would not be able to offer a perfect life to God in place of our sin-filled lives. If Satan could get Jesus to sin even once, salvation for all mankind would be lost.

But did you realize that these three temptations are basically the same temptations that Satan uses against us as well? Hebrews 4:15 says this about Jesus: we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. The temptations that Satan brought to our Lord are the same temptations that he dangles before us every day; so it is important that we understand just what they entail.

In the first temptation Satan says, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Luke says that Jesus was hungry, because as part of His meditation He had gone without food for 40 days. Eating food can be a pleasure, and Jesus had avoided any pleasure that could distract Him even momentarily from His devotion to God and the work that His Father was giving Him to do. So Satan suggests to Jesus that our Lord use His divine power to transform a stone into a loaf of bread to eat.

How is this a temptation? Jesus’ answer tells us. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy Chapter 8 verse 3: `man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.’ Jesus makes the point that human existence is about more than the wants and needs of the body; for a human being to be truly alive, the soul needs a relationship with God just as much as the body needs food to eat. To focus on the physical more than the spiritual is to invite eternal death, not just physical death.

Satan was tempting Jesus to shift His focus from trust in God to His own needs of the moment. Jesus knew that His heavenly Father loved Him; the Father had said so out loud just 40 days ago at the Jordan River. Would the Father who loved Jesus allow Him to come to harm through starvation before His ministry had even begun? Of course not—Jesus had no doubts that God the Father would take care of His every need. To go ahead and make bread on His own initiative would demonstrate a lack of trust in the Father—and failing to trust in God’s caring love is a sin.

Basically, this is the temptation of impatience. When we become impatient, we demonstrate a lack of trust in God to give us just what we need, just when we need it. When we become impatient, it is always for earthly things—a new toy, a new car, a new house, a new job, a new relationship. When we become impatient, the focus of our attention is pulled away from God to the things of this world—things of the body, not of the soul. When we become impatient, we try to set our own goals, our own timelines. Everything in our lives takes a backseat to our impatience—even God.

But Jesus does not want us to be impatient; Jesus wants us instead to trust in Him. Jesus said, do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well (Luke 12:29-31). James adds, Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near (James 5:7-8). When we act out of impatience, it is as if we are saying that God isn’t doing a good enough job for us, so we will take matters into our own hands—"play god", in a sense. It is important that we try to resist the temptation to be our own "god", because when we do this, we break the first commandment "You shall have no other Gods." Psalm 27 tells us what God expects of us: Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

In the second temptation Satan says, if you worship me, it will all be yours. The reason that Jesus came into the world was to save humanity from sin. We are all born selfish; it is not in human nature to treat others as more important than ourselves. We might love one or two people enough to sacrifice everything for them, but we certainly wouldn’t give up everything for a total stranger, or, even worse, a person who hates us. But that is the kind of love that God expects from each of us—a love that puts the needs of the billions of people of the world ahead of our own. And because we do not love like this, we are condemned by God as cold and unloving.

But Jesus is the one who does love perfectly. He is the one who came to sacrifice His life as Son of God and Son of Man, so that the uncountable multitudes of history could be offered forgiveness for their selfishness—He is the one who put the needs of every man, woman and child before His own. But to be able to offer us that mercy, Jesus had to suffer as no one has ever suffered—suffer God’s holy wrath at the selfishness of all those men, women and children. This suffering would be so intense that in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Son of God sweated actual drops of blood just thinking about it.

And so Satan offers Jesus an alternative: take the easy way out. Don’t go to Gethsemane; don’t go to trial; don’t go to the cross; don’t die. There is another alternative. Satan offers Jesus a devil’s bargain—simply worship Satan, and the devil will stop contesting with Jesus for each human soul. Of course, this offer is only fool’s gold—the moment that Jesus worships Satan instead of God, He breaks the First Commandment and joins humanity in being condemned to hell with Satan. But Jesus replies, `Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'

Basically, this temptation is the lure of taking the easy way out. Through this temptation, Satan suggests that the end justifies the means. It is the temptation that police officers constantly face—if I bend the law a little, I could catch more criminals; but in bending the law, do I become a criminal myself? The devil wants you to wrestle with questions like these: "To get into the college I want, should I cheat on a few tests so I can get a better GPA?" "Should I lie on an application so I can get a good-paying job to support my family?" "In order to get a person to marry me, how much of myself do I keep a secret while we are dating?"

But our Lord does care about how we conduct ourselves in the pursuit of our goals. Jesus said, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching (John 14:23). James instructs us, submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). And Jesus has shown us how to resist the devil; each time that He was tempted, our Lord Jesus turned to holy Scripture for His defense—the same holy Scripture that you and I have for use in our defense against temptation.

In the final temptation, Satan himself turns to holy Scripture; from Psalm 91 verse 11 he quotes, `He will command his angels concerning you to guard you…’ Here, Satan tries another aproach. In the first temptation, he wanted Jesus to act without thinking about God; in the second temptation, he wanted Jesus to devote Himself to a different god. Now Satan wants Jesus to abuse His relationship with God. Satan suggests that Jesus can win a lot of converts easily by a splashy display of divine power—jump from the pinnacle of the Temple itself, and let God miraculously save His life in front of the religious leadership and the pilgrims filling the courtyard. Such an act will win over the people who, in three years, will otherwise be demanding that Pilate crucify Him. And such a display would be okay with God, Satan says, since God has promised to protect the faithful.

But Jesus does not accept Satan’s misuse of Scripture. It is one thing to trust in God, it is another thing to presume on God. Jesus references Isaiah chapter 7 verse 12 when He says, do not put the Lord your God to the test.

The third temptation is to commit the sin of taking God for granted. This sin is one that is unique to Christians. As Christians, we know that Jesus suffered and died to make compensation for our sinfulness. As Christians, we know that as soon as we ask Jesus to forgive us, all our sins are instantly disregarded by God, giving us a new start. But it is easy to take this undeserved gift, this grace, for granted. How many Christians have partied hard on a Saturday night, with the thought that they can go to church in the morning and be forgiven for it? How many believers have made impulsive decisions, rationalizing to themselves that God will protect them from the consequences? How many people have neglected worshipping God or reading the Bible, thinking that they’ll get serious about religion when they get older? Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this attitude towards God’s mercy "cheap grace." C. Wayne Pruitt explains, "Cheap grace is grace that is used as an "insurance policy" to continue to repeatedly commit the same sins that you were saved from and mercifully forgiven for. The reason I used the words "insurance policy" [is] because…Jesus paid the price for our sins when He died and rose… and we are insured because He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. When you knowingly and willfully continue committing the same sin relying on your "insurance policy" you cheapen the gift of grace that God has blessed you with."

God’s mercy offered through Jesus is the best gift of all. It gives us release from guilt over our mistakes. It gives us confidence to approach our Lord in prayer and thanksgiving. It gives us hope that when death ends our lives, we will find ourselves in Jesus’ arms forever. But this gift did not come cheap—it cost Jesus the sufferings of hell for every person who has ever lived. It cost the Son of God His very life! It is indeed wonderful that our Lord did this for us. It is wonderful that He has returned from death to life so He can forgive us every day. But He still bears the marks of the crucifixion—in John chapter 20 we read, Now Thomas…one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Our Lord still bears the marks of the punishment for our sins; we dare never take His love for us for granted.

Impatience with God. Taking the easy way out. Treating Jesus’ sacrifice as if it is something cheap. These are the best weapons that Satan has to bring against us. On our own, we don’t stand a chance against them. Thankfully, Jesus succeeded in resisting these temptations where we have failed. Thankfully, He forgives us for our failures. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Resist him with the Word of God, because it is only through the Word of God that we are saved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Be sure of this: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).

Are you lonely? Do you have a hard time making friends because you’re shy? Do you stay away from parties because you never know what to say or how to act? Or have you lost someone precious to you, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that can fill the hole in your heart?

Loneliness might be a new experience for you. Maybe you have always been popular, but now all your friends have died or moved away, leaving you surprised at how quiet your life has gotten. Maybe there have just been one or two important people in your life, and now that they’re gone you feel lost, unsure of what to do next. Or perhaps you and loneliness go back a long way together. Maybe you were an only child who didn’t have many opportunities to spend time with other kids. Maybe you couldn’t think fast or weren’t very coordinated, so you watched other kids play games instead of participating. Or maybe you have always been interested in different things than other people are, so you find little to talk about with your coworkers during coffee break.

The effects of loneliness can be devastating. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, God said that being alone was not a good thing. Loneliness can play tricks with your mind. When you are alone, every strange sound in the night sounds frightening. When you are alone, problems can seem overwhelming because you have no one to turn to for advice or ask for help. Worst of all, when you are alone you start to wonder if anyone loves you.

In spite of how you feel, I can assure you that you are not alone. Jesus said, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends (Revelation 3:20). Jesus is waiting to be part of your life! He knows what it is to feel lonely; when He was dying on the cross to pay for your sins, He experienced the worst isolation of all—separation from the love of God. It was at that darkest of times that the Savior cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) Jesus understands the horrors of loneliness better than anyone. That was why He endured loneliness in your place—so that you need never be separated from the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Jesus made a wonderful promise to those who love Him—I am with you always. Welcome Jesus into your life, and you will never be alone.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pain and humiliation

Wicked men…rejoice in the perverseness of evil (Proverbs 2:12-14).

Do you like drama? Do you enjoy hearing gossip and passing it along? Are your favorite jokes the kind that make fun of other people? Do you get a thrill from watching another person squirm as they try to deal with a difficult or painful situation?

Most high schools have cliques—groups of kids who make sarcastic remarks about those who don’t dress fashionably or have no athletic ability. Most neighborhoods have residents who are quick to comment on the failings of the person down the street. Late night TV comedians get laughs by telling jokes that ridicule others.

Mankind has a long history of finding pleasure in the pain of others. In ancient times, Roman citizens would cheer at the spilling of human blood when Christians were fed to wild animals. During the French Revolution, citizens would eat lunch in the city square as they watched members of the aristocracy die by having their heads chopped off. In our own day, there are people who slow down to stare at an accident scene. There are many who get a thrill from violence in their sports, whether it be a brawl at a hockey game or a bare knuckles boxing match. We even see it in our schools, where a child tears the wings from a fly and then watches it limp around, or when a crowd of kids gathers to egg on a fight between fellow students.

Of course, many of us are more civilized than that. But who doesn’t enjoy seeing someone put in their place by a snide remark? How many of you who are reading this tell ethnic jokes? When you’re bored at a party, isn’t it fun to tease someone, just to get a reaction?

Frankly, I don’t understand why we like to see others tortured physically or mentally—but I know that we do. This shows how different we are from God. Yes, He does allow bad times to come into our lives, to shake us out of our self-absorption and draw our eyes towards heaven. Yes, God does send people to hell if they reject His love as it is offered through His Son. But bringing grief to mankind is not something God takes pleasure in. He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men (Lamentations 3:33). "I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!" (Ezekiel 18:32) Jesus suffered on the cross to bring us release from suffering; far be it from us to find pleasure in the suffering of anyone for any reason!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hidden truths

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

In this passage, Paul responds to the accusation that he has been putting a veil over the Gospel of Christ. Paul was a very educated man; he could look into the Bible with the eyes of a scholar and understand things that many Christians struggle with. But when Paul wrote of these mysteries, some people complained that he was too intellectual; by writing in the way that he did, they felt that he was hiding the truths of God behind big words and advanced philosophical arguments. Some people blamed Paul’s God-given brilliance for their inability to understand God’s saving Gospel.

But Paul was not willing to accept the blame for a person’s failure to understand the Gospel. Instead, Paul points out that when people don’t understand, it is really for one of two reasons—either they don’t understand because Satan has veiled God, or because God has veiled Himself.

First, let us talk about Satan. We know that the devil is the master of deception. Jesus called him the father of lies (John 8:44). If there is anything that Satan fears, it is the truth—because Jesus said the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Paul identifies Satan as the god of this age. How has Satan succeeded in getting the majority of mankind to worship him? By telling people whatever it is that they most want to hear. Which god encourages you to look out for your own interests: the one who says "stick up for your rights!" or the God who says love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28)? Which god sounds more fun: the one who says "if it feels good, do it!" or the God who says If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24)? Which god seems to offer you the most freedom: the one who says "it’s up to you to give your life meaning" or the God who says if you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15)?

Because we are by nature sinners, we don’t enjoy being told to be submissive. Human beings are much more interested in listening to teachers who speak about empowerment, rights, and the freedom to do as we wish with our lives. But does Satan really intend to give power, rights and freedom to those who follow him? Of course not—the reason that Satan was banished from heaven is because he wanted to rule. A follower of Satan has no real power or rights or freedom—Satan ensnares such people in a web of addictions, dysfunctional relationships, and exhausting pursuit of ever-changing goals. A follower of Satan never knows any lasting satisfaction with his or her life.

If anyone looked at the devil's temptations in the clear light of day, it would be immediately obvious how empty Satan’s promises are. But Satan is the master of deception; whenever a person starts to look towards the truth, the devil immediately tries to distract him and get him to look at something else. "Don’t get up to go to church today; it’s a great morning for sleeping in." "Don’t read that Bible now; there are chores that need doing." "Don’t get involved in a prayer; the news is coming on."

If distracting us doesn’t work, Satan tries to raise doubt in our minds about God’s word. "God says that you are evil from birth? What nonsense—people only do bad things because they are victims of bad parents, bad teachers, and bad political leadership!" "God forgives you just by your asking? He doesn’t expect you to make it up to Him by offering some kind of harsh personal sacrifice? That doesn’t make sense!" It is by distracting us from paying attention to God’s word, and by making fun of what it says to us, that Satan puts a veil between us and the Gospel of life. For the unbeliever, Satan’s lies obscure God’s truths.

But God also veils His glory from us, and He does so for two reasons. The first reason is His mercy. It is true that we are all evil from birth; David wrote surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5). It is also true that God is holy, and that nothing sinful can stand before Him lest it be destroyed by the Lord’s blazing purity. Thus it is unsafe for we sinners to approach God too closely; throughout the Bible, fear is always the response of sinful men when God or one of His holy angels appear to them. As an example, when God gave evidence of His presence at Mount Sinai, the frightened Israelites told Moses speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die (Exodus 20:19).

But God does not want us to be afraid to approach Him; God wants to walk with us, hold us, speak with us and listen to us. So God had to veil His holiness in the body of a man. This man is Jesus Christ, the Son of God veiled in the form of an ordinary-looking human. Isaiah said of Him, He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus deliberately took on an appearance that would never frighten anyone away. Mark records that people were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them (Mark 10:13); Jesus’ appearance and manner were accessible and inviting to all.

Yet in spite of His ordinary appearance, Jesus was God come down to earth; Paul writes in Colossians 2:9 that in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John were permitted a brief glimpse of the glory that Jesus’ human body concealed: As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning (Luke 9:29). By hiding this glory of the divine in a human body, God made Himself safe for us to approach; in Jesus, we never need to fear that God’s holiness will destroy us for coming too close to our Lord.

The other reason that God veils His glory is to prompt our growth as Christians. God wants us to look beyond the superficial. You remember Thomas, the disciple who did not believe the others when they told him that they had seen Jesus returned to life on Easter evening. It was not until Jesus appeared to him in person, showing him the scars of His death on the cross to pay for all human sin, that Thomas joyfully called Him My Lord and my God! But Jesus responded Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:28-29).

Why does Jesus place such importance on faith in what remains unseen? Why doesn’t our Lord perform flashy miracles every now and again to get peoples’ attention? It’s because flashy miracles don’t keep people faithful to God. God visited ten horrendous plagues on Egypt, none of which harmed the Israelites held captive there; God led the Israelites to freedom from slavery through a dry tunnel carved out of the waters of the Red Sea, led them through the desert in a the form of a column of cloud by day and a column of fire by night; God fed them with bread that miraculously formed out of the dew each morning, and showed them His glory on Mount Sinai—yet after only 40 days of waiting, while Moses spoke with God on the mountain, the Israelites were asking Aaron the high priest to use their gold to make a statue of a calf that they could start worshiping as their god! Flashy miracles don’t keep people loyal to God. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. Jesus cured people who were blind, deaf and paralyzed. Jesus walked on water, and stopped a storm with a spoken command. Jesus fed in excess of 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus even raised several people from the dead. Yet, less than a week after His latest miracle of healing, the people shouted to Pilate Crucify him!

Flashy miracles can produce a superficial relationship with God, but they do not build a lasting relationship with Him. What builds a lasting relationship is faith—trust in the love and power of the Son of God to save. It is faith that accepts Jesus as the Son of God made man to die for our sins. It is faith that believes the disciples who have assured us that Jesus returned to life after our sins put Him in the grave, thus proving that He has buried our guilt where it can no longer drag us to hell. It is faith that moves us to go to Jesus for mercy, trusting that He will forgive us because John writes if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). It is faith which assures us that, even on the most depressing of days, even on days where His presence seems to be veiled from us, our Lord Jesus is at work looking out for our best interests.

Jesus commends us for having faith in what we cannot see—a sacrifice of atonement for all sin on the cross, that happened long before cameras could record the event, a living Savior who is presently unseen by our eyes. But Jesus has given us proof to bolster our faith—Paul writes For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. The proof of Jesus’ saving work is in the lives of those who believe in Him. When God’s light shines in our hearts so that we can see the truth about Jesus as our Savior, our lives are changed. The person who believes in Jesus starts to question the lies of the god of this world. It is the Christian who asks "what’s the point of defending my rights if it keeps me from reaching out to others in love?" It is the Christian who asks "why should I waste the years of my life trying to give it meaning and purpose before I die, when Jesus loves me and has worthwhile goals for me to pursue?" It is the Christian who asks "what’s the point of spending my time and money on having fun, if I end up spending eternity lonely and miserable in hell?" When a Christian begins to challenge the conventional thinking of this world, it is clear evidence that Jesus is at work within him, changing his outlook on life, death and eternity.

It is true—the gospel of Christ is veiled. Satan casts distractions and confusion into our lives to keep us from seeing God’s truths revealed in Christ. God has hidden the power of His frightening glory behind the friendly, welcoming face of His beloved Son Jesus, so that we can approach our God in joy and safety. And the majority of Jesus’ miracles are not flashy or showy, because such miracles are quickly taken for granted or forgotten. Instead, our Lord works quiet miracles in our daily lives—miracles of sins forgiven and faith nourished through Word and Sacrament; miracles of relationships healed, old hurts forgiven, and strength to face even the toughest of life’s challenges with hope for the future. The Gospel is veiled to some, but not to we who are willing to look beyond the superficial to see our Savior’s hand holding ours every day of our lives.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Your worth

We are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).

Do you feel worthless? Does it seem as if people expect more from you than you are capable of? When others put you down, do you secretly believe that they are right? Are you staying in a relationship with an abusive person because you don’t think anyone else could love you? Do you feel that you don’t deserve the good things in your life?

How did you come to have such a low opinion of yourself? Did your parents tell you that you were a disappointment to them? Did you do poorly in school? Did the kids always tease you or pick you last when choosing team members? Have the people you’ve dated humiliated you instead of treating you with respect?

Feeling worthless is terribly hurtful. If you don’t believe that you have much to contribute, it’s hard to convince a personnel manager to hire you. If you don’t think that you bring much to a relationship, you may settle for partners that have little regard for your feelings. If you don’t believe that you deserve the good things in your life, you won’t fight very hard to keep them from being taken away. If you don’t believe that you have useful skills, too much of your time will be wasted in despondent idleness.

Are you really worthless? Let’s look at things from God’s perspective. God designed you; you are a unique person with a combination of abilities that no one else has. God placed you into this world for a purpose; Ephesians says we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God designed you for a purpose—to serve Him by using the skills He has given you. It is impossible for you to be worthless if you are doing God’s will!

Notice where your worth comes from. You are important because God gave you value. But what about all those times you’ve made a total mess of things? What about all the pain you’ve caused others by your incompetence and selfishness? Since you have failed to do God’s will, does that make you worthless? Not at all. God values you—values you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. Jesus’ holy blood has made atonement for your guilt; when He forgives you, He sets you back on the path of useful service to God. You are worth a lot to Jesus—worth more to Him than His own life!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Slavery to desire

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

Are you a slave to desire? Do you stare every time you see an attractive person walking nearby? Do you find it impossible to leave a store without making a purchase? Do you have a hard time staying home from the bar or keeping out of the refrigerator? Is making money the most important thing in your life?

It is natural to feel attraction for the opposite sex; we were designed to pair up and form families. But sexual desire causes problems when it pulls your attention away from the person you’re committed to; that person will either feel betrayed or unappreciated. Left unchecked, your desire can ruin your most intimate relationships.

We all benefit from the fruits of civilization—cars get us to work faster, household appliances free up more time from chores to spend with family, television links us to the wider world around us. But filling your life with stuff can isolate you—is text messaging and watching TV really better than face to face time with loved ones? And constant spending can get in the way of saving for the future; what good is a closet full of fashionable clothes when you can’t afford needed medical care?

Sitting down to a meal with loved ones is a blessing—Jesus even pictured heaven as a banquet. Wine is an excellent beverage for fellowship with friends; Jesus even used wine as part of the Last Supper. But eating to excess can ruin your health; drinking to excess can result in comments that should never have been made.

Money is our way of getting what we need. But when making money is our greatest passion, problems follow. There is reluctance to donate to charity. There is temptation to do anything to get more money, even if it involves methods that are unethical, illegal, or immoral. Some people even measure successfulness in life by the amount of their assets, instead of by the quality of their character or the quality of their relationships.

Everything we have is ours only because of God’s generosity. God gives us what we need and more besides, and He does so purely out of love for us. It is foolishness to devote more love and attention to the gifts than to the loving God who gives them.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Afraid of God?

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:1-8b)

Have you ever felt afraid of God?

When I was quite a bit younger, my parents belonged to a church where the pastor was a fiery, gray-haired man. When he preached, his sermons reminded you of God’s anger at sins. Parents with unruly children often sat right in the front pew, because the pastor’s preaching style usually frightened noisy kids into silence! Once, when one youngster was asked who that person in the front of the church was, the child answered "God."

Clearly, that man of the cloth had the ability to convey the power of God’s authority to the congregation. That pastor knew how to preach God’s convicting Law powerfully and effectively. And the effect of God’s Law is to frighten us with the threat of condemnation for doing wrong.

But there is a danger with focusing only on God’s holy Law. When we do this, we can become so frightened of God’s anger that we actually can become afraid of God Himself! Now respectful fear is not a bad thing; the Bible tells us that it is appropriate to fear God. Psalm 111 verse 10 says, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. In Luke 12:4-5 Jesus says, I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. But notice that God rewards those who take His authority seriously; in Psalm 34:9-11 David wrote, Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. And in Psalm 103:11-14 David also wrote: as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Our fear of God should be tempered by our trust in His unfailing love for us.

Fear and love. Isaiah experienced both of these feelings towards God when he was called to be a prophet. As Isaiah shares with us his vision of the heavenly throne room, we can certainly understand his fear. First, he sees the Lord seated on a throne. A throne is a special chair reserved for rulers. When a king is seated on his throne, it means that his royal court is in session; the king is ready to make decisions of supreme importance, life or death decisions. Isaiah describes the Lord as being seated high. Earthly thrones usual rest on raised platforms, so that even when the king is seated his subjects must look up to see his face; being the highest person in the room shows that the king is due the highest respect. To exalt someone is to sing his praises, to tell everyone how wonderful this man is; when Isaiah records that the Lord is exalted in His temple, he is telling us that every voice in the room is singing of the wonderful things that the Lord has done. To exalt the Lord is to show Him honor by recognizing His mighty deeds.

Isaiah also tells us about the train of the Lord’s robe. In America, the only place you usually see a train on wedding a gown, but royal clothing often have trains to show the monarch’s wealth; only a wealthy man can afford a long train of expensive fabric. Isaiah tells us that the train of the Lord’s robe filled the entire temple—a testimony to the power of the heavenly King who wears it.

Next, Isaiah describes the Lord’s flying attendants. These particular types of angels are called seraphs, which means "burning ones." These angels are creatures of brightness, and their function is to personally attend to the Lord in His temple. Like all angels, these seraphs are pure, completely free from any sin. Yet amazingly, even these perfect creatures, set apart by God to serve in His presence, dare not look upon God with their eyes—the prophet tells us, with two wings they covered their faces.

The seraphs are the ones who are exalting God. They sing Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty. With these words, the seraphs acknowledge the mysterious glory of the Trinity—by singing holy, holy, holy we are prompted to think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three distinct holy persons who yet are miraculously united as one God. We see further evidence of this when Isaiah quotes God as saying "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" Whom shall I send shows that God is one being; who will go for us shows that God consists of three persons. The singing of the angels speaks of God as a being of incomprehensible wonder.

And this God, who we cannot truly understand, is also holy. "Holy" means to be without the slightest imperfection. Such a thing must be terrifying to behold. None of us has ever seen perfection; everything within the grasp of our five senses is tainted with impurity. To see something that is truly holy would be to see something completely alien to human nature, something frightening because of its strangeness to human eyes.

The seraphs continue their song with the words "the whole earth is full of his glory". "Glory" is what is seen by human eyes when God reveals even the merest hint of Himself. "Glory" is what we see when we look upon the divine. By saying that the whole earth is filled with His glory, the seraphs are telling Isaiah that there is evidence of God’s power and love all around us. In Psalm 19:1-4 David sings, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. The dependability of the laws of science; the complexity of earth’s ecosystem; the miracle of a baby’s birth--all these give daily testimony to the power and the careful attention of God. Creation everywhere reveals God’s glory.

What an incredible vision! Is it any wonder that Isaiah reacted in fear? He must have been overwhelmed by this vision of God’s majesty. And he must have remembered that God told Moses "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). And so Isaiah responded with words of despair: "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

What did Isaiah mean by "unclean lips"? Remember that Paul told us in Romans 10:10, "it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." God expects us to honor Him with the words that come from our mouths. Yet our mouths too often betray the evil that lurks in our hearts; Jesus observed, the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean' (Matthew 15:18-20). Isaiah recognized that he, along with everyone that he knew, had evil lurking within him, and that this evil often slipped past his lips making him unclean, unfit to stand in the presence of God. This is why Isaiah was gripped with fear.

But which person of God was Isaiah actually looking at? Jesus would later say, No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father (John 6:46). If only Jesus has seen the Father’s face, who was Isaiah looking at? The Apostle John clues us in when he writes, Isaiah…saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him (John 12:41). The reason that Isaiah was not struck dead during his heavenly vision is because the person that He was permitted to look upon in awe and wonder was not God the Father; Isaiah was allowed to look upon the Son of the living God.

This becomes even more obvious when we see how the Lord reacts to Isaiah’s fear at being in the heavenly presence. Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." This immediately makes us think of Jesus, who was sacrificed on the altar of the cross to atone for our sins so that our guilt could be taken away. When we receive the wonderful message that God offers us mercy because of Jesus’ sacrifice, it is as if we are burned with a fire—a fire that sterilizes infections, that boils away impurities. In speaking of the coming Messiah, Malachi wrote: Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come…But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire (Malachi 3:1-2). John the Baptist picked up this theme when he spoke of Jesus: I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11).

When Isaiah speaks of being touched by a live coal from God’s altar that takes away his guilt and provides atonement for his sins, we cannot help but conclude that in a sense, our Lord baptized Isaiah by this process. Isaiah was baptized with holy fire from God’s altar, the altar where the Son of God destroyed the power of sin, a sacred altar that even the angel dared not touch directly with his hand. Through this vision, our Savior purified Isaiah from his unrighteousness and made him acceptable to stand in the presence of the Almighty!

And look at the change in Isaiah’s attitude. A moment ago, the man was quaking in fear. But now when the Triune God says, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" Isaiah immediately, enthusiastically replies, "Here am I. Send me!" Gone is the fear; a man who was afraid of angering God because of his imperfection would never have the courage to suggest that he could be worth God’s time as a servant. Fear of God has been replaced with love, trust, and gratitude; having been touched by the Lord’s mercy, Isaiah wishes to express his thanks by offering his life to God’s service.

There is a story of a man in ancient Rome who attended a slave auction. A young woman was brought forward for bidding. She was made to turn and display her body, so the bidders could properly evaluate her worth as a worker. Being young and strong, the bids came quickly. But the man outbid everyone else and ended up in possession of the woman. After the auction he told her, "You are free to go." The woman looked at him in fear and confusion. The man repeated, "You’re free to go. I purchased you so that you might be free." When the young woman saw the saw the kindness on his face and heard the sincerity of his words, she fell at his feet with tears of joy. She said, "Sir, please don’t send me away! Let me serve you, not as a slave but as a friend!"

That young woman served the man who freed her, not because she feared him but because she loved him. Isaiah offered his service to the Lord who purified him from uncleanness, not because he feared God but because he loved Him. It is my prayer that you too will dedicate yourself to serving your Lord Jesus who has given you new life through the altar of the cross, not because you fear Him but because you are grateful to Him and love Him.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Worry and fear

Do not worry (Matthew 6:31).

Are you fearful? Does worry consume your thoughts? When you make plans, do you find yourself revisiting them over and over again, tweaking them and making adjustments? Do you find yourself micromanaging others by constantly telling them what to do and how to do it?

Where do these tendencies come from? Maybe you were once caught unprepared, and things went so badly that you are now obsessed with being ready for any situation that might come up. Perhaps a person you trusted implicitly betrayed you, and now you fear opening up to anyone else and getting hurt again. Maybe a natural disaster took away much of what you had, or you went through a time with little or no income; as a result, you now look at the future with caution and uncertainty.

The effects of living in fear are terrible. You can’t get a good night’s rest, since your mind is constantly trying to anticipate problems before they happen. Because you are reluctant to trust others, you feel that you have to do everything yourself, leaving you frazzled and exhausted. When you don’t feel safe opening up to others, close relationships are few and far between. The stress of constant worrying can lead to bad eating habits and other health problems as well.

Living in fear is unnecessary. You don’t have to be constantly on your guard against impending disaster. The universe is not the result of mindless evolution; the fact that you are alive is no accident. There is an Intelligence responsible for creating and sustaining all life, and that Intelligence is characterized by power, wisdom and love. That Intelligence created you for a purpose, and sent His Son to show you how to live. That Son is Jesus, and He is more than just a wise teacher; He is the Son of God. He has the wisdom to set right every disaster of your making. He has the power to provide for your every need. He has the ability to rescue you from every danger. He has promised to forgive everyone who trusts in Him, and He assures us that if we are loyal to Him, He will take care of us. He calls us His friends; He loves us so much that He was willing to die for our sins in our place, sparing us from hell. When the all-powerful Son of God is looking out for you as your Friend, there is no problem that you need to lose sleep over.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Uncontrolled anger

Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26).

Do you find yourself getting angry a lot? Do little frustrations ruin your day? Are you prone to snapping at others for no good reason? Do you spend a lot of time complaining about how bad things are? Are you jealous of what other people have?

Anger can arise from many sources. Some people are inconsiderate of your feelings. There are times when you just cannot figure out how to solve a problem; other times you are making progress on an important project and then either something goes wrong or someone interrupts you, and you lose all your momentum. It can be aggravating to read stories of government incompetence; it can be infuriating to see a criminal escape justice on a technicality.

Some people suppress their anger; they do their work in sullen silence, unwilling to let others know what’s going on inside them. But this is not a healthy way to manage anger—it leads to ulcers and sucks all enjoyment out of life. Others try to bottle up their anger; they tromp through the day red-faced and irritable. But this is not healthy either; sooner or later something happens and they explode like a volcano, spewing out dramatic emotion in all directions (pity especially the individual who unwittingly triggers the outburst). And there are those who make no effort to control their anger; their days are a never-ending litany of complaints about anything and everything. But this too is unhealthy—chronic complainers have a hard time seeing the good things in their lives.

God gets angry too—angry at the sins we commit. But unlike us, God never lets rage take control of Him. Instead, the Lord tries to resolve things constructively. Through the Bible, He tells us what behavior angers Him. Through Jesus, He offers to forgive us if we are willing to change our ways. The only time we are in danger from God is when we ignore what He has to say to us; if we fail to repent and follow Jesus, then God’s anger against us will be a terrible thing to experience.

Anger must be expressed, but in a positive way. Instead of grousing about bad government, send letters that are firm but polite, and take every opportunity to vote good people into office. Instead of hiding your anger, tell those who have hurt you how you feel and why—give them a chance to apologize. Anger is destructive; ask Jesus to help you in directing it, so that no one is needlessly harmed by your rage—including you.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Changing a life's direction

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"

"Yes, Lord," he answered.

The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."

"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."

But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:1-22).

Have you ever changed your mind about something important? I’m not talking about getting dressed for a party and then changing your clothes once or twice before you leave; I’m not talking about starting to look at the want ads by the end of your first day on a new job. I’m talking about something big, a major change in how you look at something in your life. Perhaps you were engaged to be married, but then your intended did something that completely changed the way that you looked at him/her—and suddenly marriage didn’t look very appealing anymore. Maybe you bought a home that you thought was absolutely perfect, but ten years and three children later, that perfect home was not so perfect anymore. Have you ever changed your mind about something important in your life? Have you ever wished that you had made some decisions differently?

The Greek language has a word for this. Metanoeo means "to have a change of heart." Most Bibles translate this word as ‘repent.’ "To repent" is to have a change of heart, to look at your life differently than you did before, to rearrange your priorities and regret past decisions. When you repent the past, you are showing that you are ready for something new—a new way of life with new values, new priorities, new goals. Repentance prepares a person for conversion to something different. Repentance rejects being stuck with the problems of the past; conversion embraces a new future, bright with hope.

Saul experienced a remarkable conversion. This conversion was so life-altering that God subsequently changed his name to Paul, to show that the apostle to the Gentiles was fundamentally different from the man who started his career trying to destroy Christ’s church. Saul began life a very different man than he ended it. The first mention of Saul is at the death of Stephen the martyr. Stephen was the first follower of Jesus to be killed because of his faith in the Lord, and Saul watched this execution with great interest. In Galatians 1:14 he tells us, I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. Saul took his faith in God very seriously. He believed that no one goes to heaven unless they have a healthy relationship with God; it was important to live your life in a way that obeyed God’s rules, and when you sinned, you had to offer a sacrifice of atonement to be reinstated into God’s good graces. People who didn’t live this way would be cursed to everlasting torment in hell. Saul knew his Old Testament very well—he was an exemplary Jew.

Which is why Saul hated Jesus and His followers so much. As far as Saul was concerned, Jesus was a false Messiah, a mere man who had the audacity to claim that He was God’s own Son. Saul was greatly pleased that Jesus was executed for the high crime of claiming to be God; no one should be allowed to get away with such a terrible deception. But then Jesus’ grave was found to be empty, and Jesus’ disciples were claiming that He had risen from the dead and ascended bodily into heaven! Of course, Saul didn’t accept these wild claims—like many, he believed that the disciples had moved Jesus’ body to some unknown location and were now perpetuating the lie that He was the Messiah from God. This was intolerable; the disciples were teaching people that sacrifices for sins were no longer needed, because this Jesus had offered Himself to God as a final sacrifice for every person’s sins. Because of this teaching, people were not offering sacrifices for their sins anymore—they were rejecting the method by which they could be forgiven. In Saul’s estimation, these disciples were leading good Jewish people to the gates of hell—they were servants of Satan himself!

So Saul set out to destroy this new church before more Jewish souls were put at risk. Saul organized the arrest, interrogation, and even the execution of these ‘pawns of the devil’. Saul brought holy justice against these followers of a ‘lying deceiver’. And Saul took great pride in his work on God’s behalf.

It is hard to imagine that God would show compassion to a man who, out of pride, was bringing terror and death to the faithful in Christ. But God’s compassion is often a mystery to us, and our Lord was determined to show Saul the error of his ways and bring about a new outlook on life. So Jesus appeared to Saul in a blinding light and spoke to him personally. Saul was confronted by the truth that he had turned a blind eye to for so long—that Jesus really is God, Son of the heavenly Father. And, being confronted by that truth, Saul reevaluated everything that he had believed up to that point in his life. Saul looked back at the time he could have spent learning at Jesus’ feet but did not; he reflected on the pride he had felt as he treated Jesus’ followers like criminals; and he was ashamed of those decisions. Because of his encounter with Jesus, Saul’s values, priorities and goals were seen clearly as being wrong-headed and sinful; Saul realized that when he thought he had been doing the right thing, in actuality he had been acting in opposition to God.

Although he could see just fine, Saul had been blind to how things really were—and to bring this point home, Jesus now made Saul physically blind. Saul had to be led into the city, where he sat dejected, refusing food or drink, agonizing over the mistakes of a misspent life. Saul had changed his mind about how his life should be lived; Saul had repented. Now at last, Saul was ready to listen to Jesus and pay attention to His teachings. So the Lord sent Ananias to show Saul that he was forgiven by restoring his sight. Then Saul was given the blessings that come with conversion—through baptism, he received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and membership in the kingdom of God!

The change in Saul’s life was incredible. Within a matter of days, Saul was preaching in public—preaching about Jesus, the Son of God! Saul had known the Old Testament as well as any religious scholar, and now, illumined by Jesus through his conversion, Saul could see what those Scriptures said in a whole new light. The Old Testament contains over 300 predictions about God’s promised Messiah, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Saul could see that each and every prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus! Every Jew held that the Old Testament was the true word of God, and Paul was now able to prove from those very Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Saul could see where he and his fellow Jews had been right—God does expect His people to set aside time to worship Him, and to lead morally upright lives according to His rules of conduct. It is also true that everyone is born weak, that we all anger God every day by acting selfishly. And the Jews were correct in believing that God was willing to forgive such sins if the right sacrifice was offered for them. But where Saul and people like him had gone off track was in understanding the kind of sacrifice that God wanted. In the Old Testament, God was content to accept sacrifices burned on altars of stone. But a time came when people offered sacrifices not out of sorrow over sins, but as if life were merely a game of Monopoly—for most, offering a sacrifice for sin had become no more meaningful than playing a "Get Out of Jail" card.

So God the Father sent His Son Jesus to assume the role of ultimate sacrifice. Jesus came to earth to die once for all human sin. When Jesus was slain on the wooden altar of the cross, the Old Testament system of sacrifices was brought to an end—Jesus’ life as the Son of God was worth more than all the sins that could ever be committed. And best of all, Jesus made this self-sacrifice so that forgiveness would be available to anyone—all that is needed is to ask for it, trusting that Jesus will give it.

As a result of his meeting with Jesus, Saul’s life was turned upside down. Formerly a man of pride, he later wrote in Galatians 6:14, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. When he was pursuing Christians to arrest them, Saul lived his life according to his own desires; after becoming an apostle of Christ, his lifestyle changed considerably. In 2nd Corinthians chapter eleven Paul spoke of his life as a minister of the Lord: Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. From Paul’s own lips we see fulfilled Jesus’ words: I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

But we must not misunderstand Jesus. Paul’s sufferings as an apostle had nothing to do with Jesus ‘getting even with him’ for persecuting the church. Those hardships were not Paul’s way of paying off a debt of guilt. Remember, in Jesus all sins are completely forgiven—including Paul’s crimes against Christianity. No, the reason that Paul suffered for his Savior is because every Christian suffers for his Lord. Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23). In Revelation chapter two our Lord tells us: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. Christians suffer because Satan hates God and those who speak for Him. Satan tries to stop us from speaking about Jesus by making us afraid—afraid of people making fun of us, afraid of losing friends because we act ‘too religious’, afraid of being targeted by terrorists who hate Christ and His followers. And the more active we are in Christ’s service, the harder Satan tries to distract us with troubles.

Paul took satisfaction in his sufferings because the harder that Satan tried to stop him, the more reassured he was that he was doing Jesus’ work. In addition, Paul knew that going through suffering can strengthen a Christian; in Romans 5:3-5 he wrote, we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Living a life in service to Christ gave Paul a new perspective on what a person really needs to be happy: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul was able to face suffering with patience because he looked beyond the problems of the day and concentrated on the big picture: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

The life of the apostle Paul gives us a wonderfully complete picture of what being a Christian is all about. We enter this world separated from God, hostile to His message and His leadership. But when we are introduced to Jesus, something amazing happens—when we look at our priorities, our goals and the decisions that we’ve made in pursuit of them, the light of being in our Savior’s presence allows us to look at it all in a whole new way. Jesus shows us where we’ve gone off track, and when we repent, when we have a deep-down change of heart, our Lord rearranges our lives with new priorities, new goals, and release from the guilt of past mistakes. Through holy Baptism, we are gifted with an inheritance in heaven, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Spirit of God helps us to read and hear the Holy Bible with an understanding we never had before, and enables us to convey the truth of who Jesus is to other people. Of course, Satan will try and get in our way, but we have the reassurance that any suffering we undergo as a Christian will be used by our Savior to strengthen us so that we can be a source of Christian strength to others.

Saul was far from being a perfect man. Even after he was renamed Paul, he was still sinner until the day he died—near the end of his life, Paul wrote: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16). This is the hope that we have by looking at Paul’s life—if he could be forgiven and remade as useful to God, you and I can certainly be as well.

Blog Top Sites
Blog Directory & Search engine
Blog Directory