Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dressed in white

Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).

Freshly fallen snow is a beautiful thing. All the drab, brown deadness of the fields is covered in white. A few inches of snow covers every hard edge with soft and gentle curves. Broken toys and muddy ground are quickly hidden when snow blankets the yard.

New snow reminds us of Christ’s righteousness. The Bible describes His righteousness like a cloak: he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). In Revelation chapter 3, the color of that cloak is revealed: He who overcomes will…be dressed in white.

Christ dresses His followers in a white cloak of His righteousness. This clothing functions like a new blanket of snow. Like the fields of winter, we are drab and lifeless—Scripture says you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But Christ covers our sins with His righteousness; clothed by Jesus, we become a brilliant, beautiful white, the color of light and life!

Our lives are filled with hard edges and jagged corners; sin makes us brittle, and when pressures come we snap easily, causing pain to all who touch us. But enough snow will round off even the most jagged edge, and when we let Christ dress us with His garment of salvation, our rough spots are covered up. Christ makes it possible for others to embrace us safely.

Our lives are characterized by filth and brokenness; as we tromp through each day, we step in the mud of sin and we break things by our poor judgment and impulsiveness. A fresh blanket of snow covers up the filth and conceals the junk in our yard. In the same way, the righteousness of Christ covers up the filth of our sins and conceals all the things left broken by our careless words and destructive behavior. When Jesus forgives us, His mercy covers up our sins and our history of mistakes, just like a white garment covers up a filthy body and conceals old scars that have never healed properly.

A coating of fresh white snow gives the world a beautiful new look; that’s exactly what Jesus offers to everyone who is willing to be dressed in His righteousness.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Good Guys and Bad Guys

The LORD is compassionate and gracious…he does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:8, 10).

Years ago, it seemed so easy to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys. During World War II, the Bad Guys were the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese; we Americans were the Good Guys. In the ‘50s and ‘60s the Bad Guys were Communists—Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, and North Vietnam; we Capitalists were the Good Guys.

But in the 1970’s, something happened; people began to question the labels of Good Guy and Bad Guy. Increasingly, Americans are realizing that every country is filled with both warmongers and those who want to raise their families in peace; in every land, greedy criminals live side by side with people who are loving and generous.

In old TV westerns and spy dramas, you knew who to root for and who could be shot without feelings of remorse. But the black and white world of 50 years ago has been replaced with a riot of confusing color, reflecting our uncertainty as to who is friend and who is foe. Sometimes we wish that we still lived in a black and white world.

Actually, the world is black and white. God tells us that everyone is evil—evil by nature. We are born selfish, and it is our instinct to do whatever it takes to get our own way—even if it involves threats, lies or violence. We are all Bad Guys, and God has every right to put us in the grave without a second thought.

But God does not want to treat us as we deserve. God is the Good Guy; He shows mercy to those who do not deserve it. He sent His Son to die in our place so that we could be forgiven. In Jesus, every Bad Guy has the opportunity to change sides and become one of the Good Guys.

This completely changes how we look at other people. By nature, everyone is a Bad Guy; everyone is our enemy. But if Jesus can recruit you to the ranks of the Good Guys, you have to see that potential in everyone else as well. There is no one we can kill without remorse, because each and every foe is someone who could become a Good Guy if he or she accepts Jesus’ gracious offer. Rather than seek their death, we should be offering them life in Jesus’ name.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Love one another

Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:31-35).

As you listen to the radio, what are most of the songs about? It is love. The vast majority of popular music is written about the search for love, the joy of love, or the heartache of love.

As you watch TV shows, what is the most common concern among the characters in the stories? It is love. Situation comedies are usually either about married life or singles looking for love. Legal dramas often investigate crimes brought about by love gone wrong. Love and family are routinely the subjects of hospital shows and movies of the week. Even action heroes find time for romance or family between car chases and shoot-outs.

Our society is saturated with talk about love and how important it is in our lives. And yet it amazes me how many people don’t really understand what love is. The high rate of divorce in our country, the huge number of abortions performed, the endless lawsuits filed by one person against another, the number of people who rarely if ever attend church--these all speak to the fact that most Americans don’t know what love truly is or where to find it.

To understand love, we must start with God. In 1st John 4:16, the disciple closest to Jesus’ heart says quite simply, God is love. God is many things—He is eternal, He is all-powerful, He is all-knowing, He is holy. But the most important thing about God is that He is love. Love is all-important. In 1st Corinthians chapter 13, Paul tells us just how important love is: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Since God is love, we can only understand what love is by looking to Him. And as we look to God, we find that true love is characterized by three things. The first is being sensitive to those around you. A person who loves is aware of what is going on in the people all around him. Mothers are famous for being in tune with the needs of their babies. A mother can distinguish between a cry of pain, a cry of hunger, and a cry of loneliness. But this is a skill that we all can cultivate. If we are truly interested in showing love in our lives, then we must make the continuing effort to be attuned to the emotional states of others. Is your mother feeling lonely? Is your wife being tempted to spend money foolishly? Is your child afraid of bullies at school? Does your best friend wonder if God really cares about her? Is your boss consumed with bitterness over his divorce? Does that checkout clerk at the store seem depressed and withdrawn? Do you notice the signs of emotional distress in others, or are you too involved in your own problems to take the time to notice?

Jesus is fully aware of our every emotional need. Jesus lived among us to experience our pain first-hand and to make it His own. Jesus struggled with temptations, just as we do—Hebrews chapter four tells us, 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. Jesus was always aware of what was going on inside each person that He met, and Jesus continues to be concerned about each and every one of you today as well. Our Lord says even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). That’s how interested Jesus is in each of you; He knows you down to the finest detail.

The second characteristic of true love is that it is willing to get involved with anyone who is in need. Americans have been sold the lie that you have to feel an emotional connection with someone in order to love them. If that is true, you cannot love a stranger and you certainly cannot love an enemy. And yet listen to the words of Jesus: If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' lend to `sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:32-36).

How can you love a stranger? How can you love an enemy? You can love them by doing acts of love for them. Love does not require that you like a person or feel close to him; love requires only that you care enough about his welfare to get involved in his life. You can love a stranger by offering a sympathetic ear; you can love an enemy by praying that Jesus would bring him to repentance for his evil acts. To love someone is to desire that her life would be the best that it could be—that she would trust in Jesus, have her sins forgiven, and receive strength from Him to avoid filling her life with sinful decisions.

Through Jesus, God has loved His enemies; through Jesus, God has shown His love to us. In Colossians chapter one Paul tells us, once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. Even though we entered life hostile to God, God chose to love us—chose to love us because He created each of us personally in our mothers’ wombs. Jesus calls us His children—children created by God’s life-giving power. Surely that alone is reason enough for us to commit to showing love to the strangers and enemies that populate our lives!

The third characteristic of true love is that it is willing to suffer discomfort. Most mothers do not look forward to 2:00 a.m. feedings, but they do it because they love their children and do not wish them to suffer from hunger alone in the dark. Love not only requires action, it often also demands personal sacrifice. Love for your father may demand that you help him with chores that you do not like doing. Love for your husband may require that you listen to him speak of his emotional pain, even when listening to his pain makes you feel uncomfortable. Love for your child frequently makes you confront him and set limits on his behavior, even when he accuses you of not loving him for treating him this way. Love for your best friend could entail the discomfort of giving away money that you need to someone who is in even greater need. Love for your boss could make it necessary that you give up an activity you had scheduled, so you can offer your help when it is needed. Love for a stranger may require that you face the fear of talking to someone you have never met and know nothing about.

Jesus lived a life of disappointment, betrayal, pain and early death, and He did it all out of love for us. Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). That is exactly how much Jesus has loved each of us. Jesus said, I have called you friends (John 15:15). And Jesus laid down His life for we, His friends. Jesus suffered the torment of hell itself, and that punishment brought an end to His life. But Jesus’ willing self-sacrifice is nothing but blessing for we who are His friends. Because Jesus suffered hell, we don’t have to—Jesus suffered all of God’s righteous anger at our sins in our place. We should love as God loves. We should be constantly sensitive to everyone around us—but we’re not. We should show loving concern for our enemies and for strangers—but we don’t. We should commit to loving others with every fiber of our beings, loving so completely that it often hurts—but we don’t. And because we don’t love as we should, we disappoint and anger our God who is above all the God who is love, and who expects that our lives be filled with His love.

Love is why Jesus came into this world. Love is why He suffered and died. Love is why He rose from the dead to live forever. Jesus wants to spare us from the torment of living under the control of sin. Jesus wants to spare us from the punishment of hell that our loveless lives have earned us. Jesus wants to be the first person that we see after we close our eyes in death, welcoming us to join Him forever in heaven where there is nothing but love, a perfect love that lives forever. God is love, and Jesus is God’s gift of love to us. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16).

Jesus says, as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. As you interact with God’s other children, take the time to look at each of them—really look. What are they feeling? Are they in need of God’s love? If they are, our Lord wants you to go to them. Show them your love, because by so doing, you show them your friend, Jesus.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The most basic of human needs

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Every human being has three basic needs. One is the need for security—each of us needs to know that we are safe. The need for security drives us to gather in communities where people look out for each other. It gives some the desire to control others as a way of making sure that their own needs will be met. The craving for security can even lead to violence if there is a shortage of food, resources, or other things necessary for a long and healthy life.

Another basic human need is for pleasure. Psychologically, we need the release of having a good time—otherwise, stress will build until it endangers your health. Unfortunately, some pleasures do more harm than good—sex outside of marriage can destroy relationships and result in venereal disease, alcohol and drugs can ruin your health, and excessive gambling can leave you impoverished.

The third basic need everyone has is for meaning. We all need to know that we are valuable, appreciated, loved. We need to know that our lives are worth something in the greater scheme of things. Regrettably, this need for meaning has led many people to embrace religions and philosophies that offer nothing but empty promises.

Christianity fulfills all three of our basic human needs. Jesus says, do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the unbelievers chase 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). In Christ, we have the security of being looked after by God himself! Fellowship with God also results in both pleasure and joy; Paul says that when God’s Spirit dwells in us, we gain love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22). In addition, we have the promise of eternal pleasures when we finally enter heaven. Most importantly, Jesus assures us that we are valuable, that our lives have purpose. In Isaiah chapter 43 God says: I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious and honored in my sight. And Ephesians chapter 2 states, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.

Security, pleasure, self-worth—all these needs are met when you belong to Jesus.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Giving credit where credit is due

Give glory to God (John 9:24).

Don’t you hate it when you work hard to reach a goal, and then someone else comes along and takes all the credit? And yet this is exactly what the human race has done to God, over and over again. We constantly try to steal God’s thunder.

All around the world, ancient mythologies have stories about mortals who successfully stole technology from the gods. In some cases it was fire; in others it was seed kernels. The point, though, is that man gained technology by his own initiative—it was not a gift from above. Of course, this ignores the words of Moses spoken in Deuteronomy chapter 8: You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

Mankind has also taken credit for the domestication of animals. Supposedly, primitive man tamed dogs, cats, horses, cattle and sheep. This despite the fact that the Bible says quite plainly that God created some animals as domestic and others as wild: God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds (Genesis 1:25).

Our modern world is full of people who take credit for what God has done. When a couple is blessed with a child, they happily claim, "we’ve made a baby." They forget Solomon’s words from Proverbs chapter 127: Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Doctors take the credit for restoring their patients to health, even though God says: There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal (Deuteronomy 32:39). Politicians seek praise for ending wars, even though Scripture says: Come and see the works of the LORD…He makes wars cease (Psalm 46:8-9).

It is nothing short of being arrogant and foolish to try and steal God’s thunder. As Paul says in Acts 17:28, in him we live and move and have our being. Without God’s active and loving involvement every day, our lives would amount to nothing but a heap of failures. So when you accomplish anything worthwhile, give God the credit that is due Him.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Purity through blood

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"

Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:9-17).

White Robes. Red blood. Great tribulation. St. John links these three things together in one sentence. But what do white robes, red blood, and great tribulation have to do with each other? And how do they relate to our membership in God’s church?

It all starts with great tribulation. What is tribulation? It comes from the root word turbulent. If you have ever been on a boat or an airplane during bad weather, you know what turbulence is. Turbulence is the rough water that knocks a boat around and threatens to sink it; turbulence is the violent wind that jolts a plane and threatens to make it crash. Turbulence is unpredictable, violent, and often very dangerous.

Even though we all treasure life, we must admit that the living of it is turbulent. The relationship between parent and child should be characterized by nurturing love from the parent and respectful love from the child—but how often do parents and children fight with each other, whether that fighting is in the form of screaming, stony silence, guilt trips or even physical abuse? The relationship between husband and wife should be defined by an attitude of self-sacrifice and a willingness to forgive—but how often are marriages rocked by selfishness, denial of personal responsibility, or an unwillingness to let the mistakes of the past remain buried? The relationship between employer and employee should be defined by the mutual goal of teamwork to make a satisfactory living—but how often do we find bosses padding their retirement accounts by paying their employees substandard wages, and how often do we find employees stealing from their bosses through absenteeism, laziness, or outright theft?

Human life is about relationships, and wherever there are relationships there is turbulence. This is because of sin. Sin is the opposite of true love. True love says "your needs first." Sin says "my needs first." And since God is defined by His love, any sin is an act that opposes the will of God, because Jesus’ command is that we love one another (John 13:34).

You can’t live life without experiencing turbulence. The sin of selfishness brings turbulence to every relationship in our lives. And this turbulence makes us miserable. People divorce and remarry, thinking that they can escape turbulence—but they can’t. People quit their jobs and take new ones, thinking that they can escape turbulence—but they can’t. Sin spoils all of our relationships; sin taints every bit of joy that we try to bring into our lives.

Which is why the blood of Christ is so necessary. God is pure love—there is no sin in Him at all (1 John 1:5). God’s priority is to free us from the turbulence of sin so that we can love Him and each other in purity, the way that He always intended us to love. So God sent His Son to live among us as both God and man, joined together in one person. That person is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. As the Son of Man, Jesus was born with flesh and blood—flesh that could suffer pain, blood that could be shed in death. As the Son of God, Jesus’ flesh had the unique ability to suffer in the place of all human suffering, and His blood had the unique ability to be poured out in place of our own. Because Jesus was both true man and true God, He could suffer God’s anger at our sin in our place; because He was both God and man in one, He could die the death that each of us has earned by our selfishness.

Jesus shed His blood to make heavenly compensation for our sins; as a result, God no longer looks at us as sinners. Even though we continue to cause turbulence every day that we live, because of the blood of Jesus, God is willing to forgive us for our sins. Scripture often describes this process as one of washing. To be dirty is to risk becoming sick. We teach children to wash their hands before wiping their eyes or putting something into their mouths because we know that dirty hands can bring infection into the body, and infection can lead to serious health problems, maybe even death. We wash to become clean; we desire to be clean so that we can stay healthy.

Sin is like dirt; it makes us unclean, and infects us with a terrible disease that inevitably results in death. To be healthy, we must be clean. And so our loving Lord washes us. He washes us through holy Baptism, where the water empowered by God’s own words washes away our sin and promises eternal life to the faithful. In Acts 22:16 we read, be baptized and wash your sins away. But that is only the beginning; once we belong to Jesus, He continues to wash our sins away by cleansing us with His holy blood shed on the cross. Hebrews 9:14 tells us, the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

How do we gain access to this cleansing? It is ours for the asking. When we look at ourselves in disgust for what we are and ask Jesus for mercy, He forgives us for being filled with sin—it’s just that simple. Peter writes, Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18). The price of your sin has already been paid—Jesus died for all sins on that first Good Friday. Freedom from guilt has been won—you simply need to ask Jesus for it! Jesus’ blood, the blood of a man who was and is also God, is available in infinite supply to wash away your every sin, along with the sins of all who come to Him for cleansing.

Which brings us to the white robes. It sounds silly, washing clothing in red blood and having it come out white. But white is the color of purity; white is the color of holiness, righteousness, and blessedness. There is only one way for sinners to become white—we must be washed clean of our sin. And the only substance that can remove the guilt of our sin is the blood of Christ crucified. Christ’s red blood washes us and makes us pure, makes us white, so that we can come before our perfect God, the God of holy love.

The tribulation of life made it necessary for Jesus to shed His blood for us, so that we could be made clean. Being clean, we are freed of the infection that results in eternal death in hell. Jesus performed the ultimate act of love; He suffered the torments of hell itself upon the cross, so that we would not have to suffer them when we die. Jesus died and was laid in a grave because of His love for us, a love that accepted our graves as His own. But God the Father looked upon His Son in the grave and saw perfection—and so He raised His Son from the dead to live in perfection forever. In the same way, when we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, our God will look upon us when we die and see only the purity of white—and just as He raised Jesus from the dead, so will He give us eternal life in Paradise with Him. There we will join uncountable others who are also dressed in white, singing Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.

This is why it is traditional in many Christian churches for young people to wear white gowns with red flowers when they finish Christian instruction. The white gown symbolizes Jesus’ work in washing away our sins; the red flower reminds us that our purity is only by the blood that Jesus died to give. But what about the great tribulation? Where is that represented? My friends, the great tribulation is everywhere. It is the constant desire within each of us to say "me first" and not "you first." The great tribulation is a fact of daily life, just as much as Jesus’ blood and righteousness is a fact of daily life for we who believe in Him.

Which is why Christian instruction is a never ending process. Far too many people think that once they've finished a membership class, their need for religion in their lives is over. They treat their confirmation like a heavenly insurance policy whose premium is completely paid up. But tribulation is a daily part of our lives; we do not escape it until we are welcomed into heaven. If tribulation is a daily part of our lives, then Jesus’ blood must be a daily part as well, lest we become sick with sin again and die from it eternally. To stay physically healthy, one must wash every day; to remain spiritually healthy, we must seek Jesus’ washing by His blood every day. We do this by praying. We do this by reading devotions. We do this by studying the Bible, alone or as part of a group. We do this by worshipping God in His house. All of these activities are ways by which we seek Jesus’ washing, so that we might stay clean and healthy—healthy enough to live forever together with Him.

John records the angel as saying: These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is in heaven when the tribulation ends; it is in heaven where you remain white forever. Until that day comes, may you always be washing your robe and making it white in the blood of the Lamb.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger? (Matthew 25:44)

We live in a mobile society. Our communities are constantly fluctuating as people we’ve known for years move away and are replaced with strangers. For some long-time residents, the passage of time can make you feel like a stranger in your own neighborhood. But these changes are actually opportunities provided by God.

Strangers at work and down the street—these individuals can bring improvements to your life. What skills do they have to share with the community? Everyone is a creation of God, uniquely gifted by the Lord to carry out a duty of His design. You’ll never find out what a newcomer can bring to the table if you don’t get to know him.

Even more importantly, each new face in town presents a fresh opportunity for the church. Sure, you can put money in the collection plate to support a missionary in some far away place. But that’s so antiseptic and impersonal. There is nothing more exciting than the opportunity to share your faith in Christ with someone who has never heard the Gospel before. When you meet a stranger, it is a golden opportunity for you to personally carry out the Great Commission: make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). In America, every community is a hodgepodge of many nations, all within convenient reach of your hands and voice.

No matter where you live or work, there are strangers all around you. What wonderful possibilities they present! Why should you be content with a small circle of old friends when your life could be enriched by adding someone new and interesting? Every stranger you meet offers such potential. And don’t forget that God tells us to reach out to strangers, because by loving them we show our love for Him: Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home…I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you were doing it to me!' (Matthew 25:34-40) And listen to what Hebrews chapter 13 tells us: Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Each stranger in your life is a potential blessing—don’t let a single one pass you by.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

Why are we Americans so fixated on privacy? We won’t let phone directories publish our numbers. Hospital staff are prevented from sharing any information about a patient’s health with visitors.

I realize the importance of protecting financial information so that criminals cannot misuse it. I understand wanting to avoid the annoying calls of telemarketers. But look at the problems caused by having an unlisted phone number—old friends may have no way of finding you after years of separation. And how can a doctor or hospital reach you in an emergency if they are treating a loved one who is unconscious?

All of us are interconnected with others—our family members, the people we work with, the members of our church. We support them and they depend on us. You have a responsibility to the other people on your bowling team. You have a responsibility to your booster club. Life is a network of connections between people who depend on each other.

Excessive privacy can break down these lines of mutual support. If no one knows that you are sick, how can they pray for you or visit you in the hospital? If you can’t be contacted by phone, how will your friends let you know that a game has been rescheduled? Even worse, there are times when we want to hide from our responsibilities, and privacy makes such hiding possible. How many people avoid unwanted calls by getting a cell phone and not giving out their number?

Thankfully, God does not hide Himself from us. He knows that we depend on Him constantly, whether we realize it or not. And so He is always attentive to our needs—Jesus said, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working (John 5:17). God makes Himself available to us 24/7. We can pray to Him any time, any where; we can receive His Words of promise, reassurance, and hope whenever we open a copy of His Bible.

Don’t let a desire for privacy isolate you from others. Remember that God said, it is not good for the man to be alone.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Honoring the Lord

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine (Proverbs 3:9-10).

How can you tell the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian? St. Paul writes, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17) But how does becoming a Christian change the way that a person lives his life? Is it possible to see a difference between how a Christian lives life, and how a non-Christian lives life?

The believer in Jesus knows that Christ made payment for all of his sins by suffering on the cross, and because of this God the Father is willing to forgive us for every way in which we anger Him; the non-Christian knows nothing of this. Through faith, the Christian is a child of God; the unbeliever is not. The Christian receives God’s loving guidance and care, along with the promise that God will cause all the events of life to result in benefits to those who love Him; the non-Christian has no promise of wisdom, protection, or good outcomes. When he or she dies, the Christian will be carried by angels to heaven; the unbeliever will be sent to hell. There are many fundamental differences between Christians and non-Christians, and these differences will show themselves in how each type of person lives their lives—especially in terms of how they handle their money and property.

God gave Solomon greater wisdom than any other man who has ever lived. Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, using this wisdom from God, and it is here that we read Honor the LORD with your wealth. Both Christians and non-Christians have wealth, whether it is in the form of cash, investments, equity or possessions. God allows the sun to shine on both the good and the evil, on Christians and non-Christians alike. There are times when the unbelievers have more money or possessions than we Christians have. There is no great difference here: everyone has possessions. The difference lies in each group’s attitude toward their possessions, and how they put them to use.

Unbelievers do not honor the Lord with their money and property. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the younger child blew all his money on wild living. This is the way of those who see no other purpose for life than to satisfy their every impulse and desire. Our modern world is filled with people who have no savings because all their money is spent on alcohol, tobacco or gambling. There are many people who have burdened themselves with massive credit card debt because they are constantly shopping. Their attitude towards money results in a lifestyle in which there is nothing left to give to anyone.

In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man spent his money only on himself. He built himself a beautiful house, furnished it with only the best, ate well and kept his closet filled with the newest fashions—and he ignored the physical and spiritual needs of his fellow man. Our modern world is filled with people whose top priorities include having a large house, frequently eating out, owning several cars/trucks/recreational vehicles, and having an expensive hobby on the side. These kinds of people might occasionally make a donation to a charity in order to receive a tax break; they might even join a church and put one, two or even three percent of their income into the collection plate in an effort to appease their conscience over spending so selfishly. But notice that when this kind of person gives, it is to satisfy himself—to get a financial benefit or to buy off his conscience. Such a person knows nothing about honoring the Lord with his wealth.

The Christian is quite different. He realizes that God is his Maker and the Giver of everything that he possesses. He knows that he is a sinner and that Jesus is his Savior. He believes that Jesus freed him from the curse of sin at a tremendous cost, and that the blood of God’s Son frees him from the power of sin and the guilt of being a sinner. He knows that it is only by the effort of God’s Holy Spirit that he is a believer, and that whatever good he manages to do with his life is a result of the Spirit working within him. When the Christian remembers that all this is God’s gift, and that we in no way deserve any of it, he cannot help but be completely overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

Do you feel overwhelmed by God’s love? Take a careful look at the Apostles' Creed. The first article speaks of how wonderfully you were created, and how generous God the Father is in providing for you every day. The second article discusses Jesus’ incomparable love in His willing suffering and death on your behalf; in Him there is rescue from sin and death for all who trust in Him. The third article speaks of the Holy Spirit, of His desire to bring all people to faith in Jesus, and how He strives to help you to live your life, not for the devil’s amusement, but to honor God.

Do you understand the significance of all this for your life? Do you see how this impacts you personally? I hope that this God News as caused you to give your life over to Christ. When we so dedicate ourselves, we commit everything about us to God, including the fruits of our labors.

When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is consecrated to God for His use, and so is his or her wealth. The Christian doesn’t dedicate 5, 10 or 15 percent of his money to God, any more than he dedicates 5, 10 or 15 percent of himself. Instead, he makes up his mind that all of his money and all of his possessions must serve God…either directly or indirectly. The offerings which the Christian brings to church serve God directly, by supporting the preaching of His Word and the bringing of the Good News to all who are still living in ignorance. The money which the Christian uses for food, clothing, housing and education serves God indirectly. Ideally, he buys food and provides shelter so that he and his family might continue to live, and by continuing to live, have ongoing opportunities to serve Jesus. The Christian wants to remain healthy and strong so that he can make more money with which to support Christ’s church. This was St. Paul’s perspective on life when he wrote, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

There is the noticeable difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. It is the question "Why do you live the way that you do? Why do you spend money the way that you spend it?" The non-Christian spends money to honor himself and satisfy his desires; the Christian spends money to honor God and extend His kingdom.

Solomon said, Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops. Notice that the Christian is urged not only to honor God with his possessions, but to do this by bringing Him the first-fruits of his possessions. In the Old Testament, believers did this by bringing the first bushel of grain from the field or the first newborn animal of the herd to the house of God. If there were 20 new animals born, they brought the first two delivered; if there were 100 bushels of grain, they brought the first 10 harvested. God received the first 10th, and the believers lived on what was left.

The unbelievers have reversed this. They use the first portion of their income to buy their food, make their house and car payments, buy a new DVD player, get a carton of cigarettes, a case of beer, and dog food. Then, if they have anything left over, they might bring it to church or donate it to a charity. I am not saying that it is wrong to have a DVD player or a pet, but when a person places all these things first and brings God a gift for church work out of what is left over, then such a person is following the way of the unbeliever, not the way of the Christian! Through Solomon, God says Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.

Do you give the first portion of your income for church work? We are Christian people—yet our sinful flesh is still weak. We would certainly like to put God first in our lives all the time, yet before we know it, we with our many toys have pushed God to the back of the line again. Because of that tendency, it is good to set yourself a goal for how much you will routinely give. In the Old Testament, believers were instructed to bring first fruits representing at least 10% of their income. While there is no stated percentage demanded of Christians in the New Testament, the fact that God expected 10% from the people under the Old Covenant has set a precedent which we would do well to imitate or surpass.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops. Even unbelievers might give from their leftovers. Christians honor God with the first portion of their income. There is an obvious difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.

Returning to Proverbs, we read: then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. Human arithmetic and God’s arithmetic don’t agree. Human arithmetic says that the more you give away, the less you have. The more that you give to the church, the longer it will take to pay off your mortgage; the more you give, the less you will have to buy happiness for yourself. That’s cold, logical, human math. The only thing wrong with it is that it ignores God and God’s promises.

Take a look at God’s arithmetic. When God’s people were finally allowed to return home after 70 years of exile in Babylonia, they kept most of their resources for rebuilding their homesteads; only a little was given for the reconstruction of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. God explained their continuing poverty this way: "These people say, `The time has not yet come for the LORD's house to be built’…is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?…Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it" (Haggai 1:2-6). A purse or wallet with holes doesn’t hold much money; keeping most of their wealth for themselves made the people poor, not rich.

On the other hand, the Bible makes it clear that generous giving does not lead to poverty, but ultimately to riches. Proverbs 22 tells us, A generous man will himself be blessed. In Malachi chapter three God says, Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…Test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. And in 2nd Corinthians we read, Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. These promises of God contradict all cold logic and instead argue that when you give bountifully, you will be blessed in the same way.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. You can’t earn anything through your giving, or through the performance of any kind of good work. Even when we have served God to the best of our abilities, we must remember the words of Jesus: when you have done everything you were told to do, [you] should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty' (Luke 17:10). God never owes us anything. Yet God is so gracious that He not only forgives us for all our sinfulness, He also blesses us for everything that we do in His Name. Whether it be taking a glass of lemonade to a farmer sweating in the field, helping your congregation to keep the doors open and the lights on, or sending money to support a missionary overseas, whatever you give of yourself to serving the Lord will be more than repaid—that is God’s promise to you. Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. Trust in the generosity of your God, and give as He gives to you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reaching out

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

Our society is becoming terrified of personal contact. Some people won’t shake hands because they fear germs. Some won’t offer a compliment because they fear being accused of sexual harassment. There are people who avoid talking to strangers because they worry about being attacked. Others fiercely guard their privacy out of concern over identity theft.

I don’t deny that the world is a dangerous place, filled with criminals of every stripe. I understand the need to teach our children to be cautious with strangers, and for women who are alone to be aware of their surroundings. But frankly, I think that Americans are becoming too paranoid. Everywhere you look there are surveillance cameras. Do they make you feel more secure, or do they just stir up worry about why someone thought they were necessary?

Jesus warned His followers to live cautiously: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men (Matthew 10:16-17). But we must not let caution raise barriers between us. Jesus has given every believer an important task—we are to share His love with others. How can we share the love of Christ if we are afraid to talk with strangers? How can we demonstrate His love if we are constantly on the defensive?

When we let fear isolate us from each other, the devil smiles—he is pleased because He knows that we are not trusting Christ to protect us. Psalm 46 illustrates the kind of trust God looks for in our hearts: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.

Jesus has given us work to do—reach out and offer His love to others. Certainly He will support us in doing His will! So don’t be afraid to talk with strangers. Don’t pull back from offering a hand to someone in need. Be willing to open up and share how Jesus has freed you from guilt and depression and fear. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid—that stranger standing nearby might one day thank you in heaven for reaching out to him now.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Relationships at a distance

Jesus came and touched them (Matthew 17:7).

Television. Cell phones. The Internet. These three forms of technology are uniting the world, yet at the same time they are isolating us from each other. Reporters can show you live what is happening in an isolated African village. By going online, you can enter a chat room and communicate with people who live in several different countries, all at the same time. With so many people having cell phones, you don’t even need to know where somebody is in order to speak with them. Yet this technology also has a drawback—increasingly, it is replacing face-to-face contact between people.

There are many who are shy. For them, telecommunication can become a safety blanket. It is much easier to watch TV than to go out on a date. You can log on to a chat room and read what other people are saying without revealing anything about yourself, or you can assume a fake identity with no one being the wiser. Modern technology allows shy people to stay comfortably trapped in their isolation.

But it isn’t only the shy who are affected—the frantic pace of modern life is making it harder for families and friends to spend time together in the same room. Telecommunication allows parents to talk to children they never eat with, and share gossip with friends who work different shifts or have moved far away. Modern technology allows busy people to fit their relationships into their hectic schedules.

But how can this be healthy? Is text messaging really superior to a comforting hug? Don’t we demonstrate how much family and friends mean to us by arranging our schedule around them, instead of giving them a few minutes on the cell phone while we are in the supermarket? Jesus wasn’t content to just watch us from heaven—He came here to walk with us, eat with us, hold us in His arms. When He returned to His Father’s side after dying for our sins, He left us the Church—a group of people who gather in His name to support each other.

Don’t use your television or cell phone or Internet connection to satisfy your need for human contact. Use the TV for getting the news. Reserve your cell phone for emergencies. Use the Internet to do research. But make time in your schedule for the people you love. Jesus did not phone in His love for you.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

What does Jesus look like?

John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." (Revelation 1:4-18)

What does Jesus look like? In particular, what does He look like today? This question has fascinated Christians for nearly two thousand years. You need only visit a Christian bookstore to see a wide selection of paintings and illustrations that offer different opinions on this subject.

But of Jesus’ looks, the Gospels remain silent. In Isaiah chapter 53, we are only told He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. According to this prediction, Jesus was going to be an ordinary looking man; no wonder, then, that when Pilate interviewed Jesus on Good Friday, he was surprised that such an unremarkable looking man was seen by the Jewish leaders as such a threat. "You are the king of the Jews?"

Jesus’ appearance did not change after He rose from the dead, save in one respect: His body now permanently bears the marks of the crucifixion. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, 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" (John 20:27). Jesus looked no different than He did before; followers like Mary Magdalene only had trouble recognizing Him because they were not expecting to see Him alive again.

And then we have this vision given to John. By the power of the Holy Spirit, John is given a glimpse of Jesus, of heaven, and of what the future is going to bring to the churches of Christ. But our interest today is in John’s description of Jesus. What does this vision tell us about our Lord and Savior?

First of all, it does not tell us what He looks like! Jesus does not have a sword for a tongue any more than a two-faced woman actually has two faces. A person who speaks with a forked tongue doesn’t really have the tongue of a snake, nor does a beady-eyed man have black marbles for eyes. These are figures of speech which tell us more about what a person is like on the inside than about how he looks on the outside. And so when John describes Jesus in Revelation, we must understand that the apostle is describing Jesus using figurative language.

But what does it mean?

The vision of Jesus begins with seven golden lampstands. A Jewish reader would immediately think of the seven-branched lampstand that God instructed Moses to place in the tabernacle. That lampstand represented God’s chosen people. A little further on in Revelation, Jesus tells John that the seven lampstands are the seven churches that are listed in the beginning of the vision. Each church is a lampstand. Jesus is the light; in John chapter 8 our Lord says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The Church is the bearer of that light. This recalls Jesus’ words from Matthew chapter five where He says, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." God gives us the gift of Jesus as the lamp that drives away the darkness of evil; we are called to hold that wonderful Light out to all those who are lost in the darkness of their sins.

Jesus is the light of the church. Now John goes on to describe Him as someone "like a son of man." A Jew hearing this would immediately think of the prophet Daniel, who had a vision of someone "like a son of man." In Daniel chapter seven we are told, In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel’s vision was of Jesus—Jesus was the one who looked like a Son of Man, He approached the throne of the eternal God (the Ancient of Days), He was given everlasting rulership over the universe, and He is worshipped by people the world over.

Jesus’ followers knew that He often referred to Himself as "The Son of Man." Jesus became human so that He could suffer and die to pay off our sins. God cannot die, so the Son of God must also be the Son of Man. When Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, it is to call attention to the need for Him to suffer on our behalf; we read one example from Matthew chapter 17: When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life." Jesus became the Son of Man to save us from sin and everlasting death.

John goes on to speak of the Lord as being dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet. This robe calls to mind the robe worn by Aaron the High Priest when he served God in the Tabernacle. The job of the High Priest is to offer sacrifices to God so that the sins of the people might be forgiven. Jesus is the great and final High Priest. He sacrificed Himself so that all who believe in Him might be forgiven. Hebrews chapter 13 tells us, The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

John also notes that there was a golden sash around his chest. A golden belt symbolizes royalty, the right to govern and the right to judge. Jesus earned this sash. Gold only reaches purity by being smelted with fire; only by passing through hard testing does anything reveal its full glory. So it was with the Son of Man; even though He was without sin, Jesus too had to go through testing to be proved worthy to stand as judge over all mankind. That testing was His devotion to you and me that nailed Him to the cross. Hebrews chapter five tells us, Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once he had brought everything to perfect completion, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest.

His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. In eastern countries, white hair commands respect and suggests wisdom that can only come with age. Proverbs 16 compares such hair to a crown: Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life. The oldest and wisest being in the universe is the Ancient of Days; in a vision, Daniel describes Him this way: "As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool" (Daniel 7:9). In the Revelation to John, this white hair, the symbol of divine wisdom which commands our respect, is now attributed to Jesus. This is consistent with Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians 1:24--Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Next, John tells us his eyes were like blazing fire. This harkens back to another vision Daniel had of a heavenly being, which is described this way: I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude (Daniel 10:5-6). Fire is God’s way of removing sin; John the Baptist said of Jesus, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). When John compares Jesus’ eyes to blazing fire, we are made to think of eyes that can see every hidden sin, and the desire that burns within our Lord to extinguish our sins forever.

His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace. In the ancient world, a king would often demonstrate his victory in battle by placing his foot on the head of the defeated king lying in the dust before him. Paul uses such imagery of the victorious Christ in 1st Corinthians chapter 15: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Thus, the reference to Jesus’ bronzed feet speaks of His glorious triumph over everyone who opposes Him.

His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. John had this vision on the Isle of Patmos. The surging waters along the shore made a sound of transcendent depth and power. This is the effect that hearing Jesus’ voice had on John. The Word of God is powerful and irresistible. In a different vision of the Lord, Ezekiel wrote similar words: I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters (Ezekiel 43:2).

John notes that in his right hand he held seven stars. Later in Revelation, Jesus explains: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). The right hand is the hand of love; Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, the place reserved for those who are most beloved. At the Lord’s Supper, the disciple whom Jesus loved most dearly of all reclined to the right of Jesus. When He separates the redeemed from the lost on the Last Day, we will be on His right side, as Jesus spells out in Matthew chapter 25: Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. In His loving right hand, Jesus holds seven angels, one for each of the churches. This is further evidence of Jesus’ love for us; He has appointed His angels, which the Bible often compares to stars, to keep watch over His churches here on earth.

Out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. This image reveals an important truth about the Word of God—it can cut two ways. For the unbeliever, the Word of God is judgment; it is the Word of condemnation that kills and sends to hell. But for the believer, the Word of God is a scalpel that cuts away the infection of sin and preserves life; it is the Word of forgiveness that welcomes to heaven. Hebrews 4:12 says, the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Finishing up His description of Jesus, John says His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. John reminds us of his first look at Jesus’ face in all it’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:1-2). The light shining from Jesus’ face gives witness to His divinity as the Son of God.

Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega…I am the First and the Last." It is important to remember that this vision of John was originally written in Greek. In the Greek alphabet, the first letter is alpha and the last letter is omega; had Jesus given this vision to an American He might have said, "I am the A and the Z, the first and the last."

Why does Jesus refer to Himself in terms of the alphabet? Remember that according to John, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John chapter one). Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. God does everything by His spoken Word. God spoke and the universe was created. Jesus spoke, and the sick were healed, the dead were raised, and sinners were forgiven. The Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts through the speaking of God’s holy words. Our Lord will speak on Judgment Day, and His words will condemn to hell or welcome to heaven. God acts through speech, and Jesus is the spoken will of God made manifest in a human body. So when Jesus says that He is the entire alphabet, He is telling us that He represents every spoken desire of God; to listen to Jesus is to hear everything that God has to say to us.

What, then, does Jesus look like? He looks like the Son of Man. He looks like the Son of God. He looks like our resurrected Savior.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The worst thing that could ever happen to you

We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

What’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you? Having you car stolen? Losing your job? Having a storm flatten your house? No—as difficult as these situations would be to go through, such losses can be replaced.

What’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you? Going through divorce? Burying the person you married? Having your children move so far away that you never get to see them? No—as painful as these changes can be, there are still people all around who can fill your life with love.

What’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you? Being diagnosed with cancer? Going blind? Losing control of your body due to multiple sclerosis or a stroke? Losing your memory to Alzheimer’s disease? No—as terrible as such conditions are, there is always hope for medical breakthroughs to bring relief.

What’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you? It’s living without faith in Jesus. It’s dying without having your sins forgiven. It’s spending eternity in darkness without the faintest glimmer of light, where the only sounds are screams of pain and terror and anguish. It’s an endless existence with no love, no companionship, no joy, and worst of all, no hope that things will ever get better. The worst thing that can happen to you is hell.

This worst of all things can be avoided, but only for a time. You have until the day of your death to tell Jesus that you are sorry for ignoring Him. You have until the hour of your last breath to accept His invitation and let Him fill your heart with His love. But this offer of a new start ends when you die; to avoid hell, you must be one of Jesus’ friends before life flees your body.

How much time do you have to think about it? I don’t know—and neither do you. You might have 40 years or 40 minutes before your time is up. So don’t put Jesus off thinking that you have plenty of time to think about religion—today might be your final opportunity to avoid the worst thing that could ever happen to you.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you (Acts 13:38).

What is so special about Christianity? What does it offer that makes it so different from every other world religion? Why should you embrace a relationship with Jesus?

It’s all about forgiveness. Christianity brings a lot of good things to the table, but chief among them is the blessing of forgiveness. Now I’ll grant you that forgiveness is not found exclusively among Christians. All over the world there are people who try very hard to forgive others when they have been wronged. But what’s their motive in offering forgiveness? Do they forgive on a quid pro quo basis? For example, does a husband forgive his wife for having an affair, knowing that he’ll need forgiveness when she finds out about his mistress? Or do they offer forgiveness because it will help them out when they die? Do they show kindness to others in this life, hoping to reduce the bad effects of entering the next life with too much negative spiritual energy? Either way, such forgiveness is ultimately self-serving.

The forgiveness of Christ is completely different. The forgiveness offered by God’s Son is an expression of His unselfish love for us. Jesus doesn’t benefit from forgiving us—in fact, bringing us the offer of mercy cost Him terribly as He suffered on the cross and died. Jesus endured agony beyond our conception for one reason only—He wanted to forgive us. He suffered the divine punishment you and I and everyone else deserves for being selfish and unloving, suffered so that you can escape the consequences of your wrongdoing just by saying, "Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Jesus demands nothing in exchange for His mercy. We don’t have to make right everything we’ve messed up. We don’t have to perform a certain number of good deeds to earn admission into heaven. All Jesus asks is that we cling to Him alone as most important in our lives. When we do this, He fills our hearts with His forgiving love, and that love spills out onto the people who surround us. Guided by Jesus, we begin to offer mercy unselfishly; like Him, we start forgiving others just because love moves us to.

Forgiveness: it comes to us from God through the cross of Christ. That forgiveness is what frees hearts from the burden of guilt and fills them instead with hope and joy. Forgiveness—it’s what Christianity is all about.

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