Saturday, May 31, 2008

Walking with God

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

Enoch was the great grandfather of Noah. Enoch was a man of God; he was so much a man of God that in chapter 5 of Genesis we are told, Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. Enoch was so close to God that he became one of only two men in history who God took directly to heaven without first enduring death. To walk with God—what an honor!

When a presidental candidate comes to town, people will travel a considerable distance to participate in the event. When an athlete returns home with an Olympic medal, many fans seek an autograph. When a celebrity is known to frequent a certain night spot, all sorts of people start showing up, hoping to be seen as part of the "in" crowd. Power, money and fame attract people like a bright light attracts moths.

We have to wonder: why is it that so many want to be seen with the notable people of this world, but are so reluctant to walk with God as Enoch did? How can anyone consider it a greater honor to walk in the company of men than in the company of God? Have they lost sight of who God is? Is there anyone greater than the God who gives life and health, loving relationships, fulfilling careers, even life beyond death? Is there anyone greater than He who, out of love, gave His only Son into death so that everyone could have the opportunity to rediscover Paradise?

Some of those that the world thinks of as "great" don’t care to be associated with the likes of us. But, wonder of wonders, God does. The great God of all creation wants us to call Him our Father (Matthew 6:9). His Son, who has been made ruler of the universe and judge over all mankind, tells us I have called you friends (John 15:15). We even have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit of God. The Triune God who made us, redeemed us and sanctifies us, wants a close, personal relationship with us. We are this world’s most honored people. We may not be children of a president, or a multimillionaire or a celebrity, but we are children of God! Walking with God—what an honor!

But those who walk with honor must conduct themselves decently. You can't associate with great people and act like a degenerate. When children misbehave, it reflects upon their parents. When members of the president’s cabinet indulge in corruption, it reflects upon the Commander in Chief. When people who call themselves Christians live in unrepentant sin, it reflects upon God. Therefore, walking with God carries with it a great responsibility.

The Old Testament prophet Amos asks this question: Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? (Amos 3:3) Walking with God means walking according to His will and His commandments. That’s what Enoch did. He didn’t stray from God’s path. He didn’t get in God’s way. Rather, with every step he took, he tried to walk at God’s side.

Then, as now, there were many people who felt no need for God. As long as they were making a good living, they agreed with the man who wrote "Let God take care of heaven. We can take care of ourselves." But Enoch knew that food, clothing, shelter, strength, health, wife, children, rain, sunshine—all things—come from God. By asking the Lord in prayer to care for his needs and thanking Him for every blessing, Enoch walked with God.

Then, as now, many lived in rebellion against God’s commandments. They agreed with people like Hugh Hefner that all rules are relative, that society in every age must decide for itself what is moral and acceptable behavior. For example: they knew that God did not want His believers getting married to people who did not worship the true God—yet Genesis tells us that they went ahead with such marriages anyway. But Enoch respected God’s wishes; he prayed for and found a woman who trusted in the Lord, and together they raised children who also honored the Almighty. Enoch wanted to please God with every decision he made. He knew that God is love, and that all of His rules were designed to bring about happiness for people everywhere. By trusting that following God’s commandments would result in a happy and satisfying life, Enoch walked with God.

Then, as now, many felt no need for a Savior. Arrogant disregard for God’s plan of salvation offered through His Son did not start with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. There have always been people who have acted like Pharisees—people who felt that they were just as good or a little better than everyone else, and therefore had no need to seek forgiveness from God. But Enoch knew that he fell far short of God’s standards—far short of always being kind, far short of always loving others more than himself, far short of always submitting himself to God’s laws. His only hope was the promise which God had given to Adam and Eve, the promise that one day a Savior would come from heaven and free God’s people from the guilt of constantly falling short of the Almighty’s expectations. By putting his faith in God’s promise to forgive him through the coming Messiah, Enoch walked with God.

In every age, there have been people who have desired to walk with God. And their reason? They had first walked with Jesus down the dusty streets of Jerusalem and up a steep path to a place called Calvary. Anyone who has taken that walk with an open and contrite heart, deeply aware that the agony Jesus endured at the end of that walk was to release us from our load of damning sin, feels a deep desire to walk with God as Enoch did.

Johann Dannecker was both a Christian and a sculptor. When he was asked to sculpt the head of Christ, he felt from the very beginning that this would have to be his masterpiece. After eight long years of effort, he produced a religious work of art that made his name immortal. His depiction of the face of Jesus reveals the Lord’s love and concern so intimately that many who have looked at it have been moved to tears.

Some of Dannecker’s countrymen had for years wanted a statue of Venus, the goddess of sensuality and lust. When they saw Dannecker’s newly completed masterpiece, they urged him to immediately carve a likeness of Venus for them. They even offered to let him set his own price. But without hesitation, Dannecker replied, "How can I look upon Venus, after looking into the face of Christ for eight years?"

Christ, the God of true love, and Venus, the false goddess of sin-distorted love, exclude each other just as Christianity and godlessness exclude each other. We, who have looked into the face of Jesus and seen His warmth and love, can no longer walk in the ways of the sinful flesh. Like Enoch, we desire to walk with God.

Before we take a walk with anyone, it’s a good idea to ask him where he’s going. Since Enoch walked with God, there was never any question where his journey would end. Genesis puts it concisely: Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. The writer to the Hebrews explains more fully when he says, By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

Do you know what is at the end of a rainbow? Absolutely nothing. Those who spend their lives chasing rainbows will end up with nothing. But Enoch ended up with God in heaven; that was his journey’s end. One day, as he was walking with God, God began lengthening His stride, and before Enoch could say goodbye to anyone, they were no longer running but flying—flying up to the glories of heaven! Just as God would later take Elijah up to heaven bodily without first tasting death, so He took Enoch. For days they searched for Enoch’s body, but they never found it, for God had taken him body and soul from earth to His kingdom beyond the skies.

Heaven is the journey’s end for all who walk with God. When our earthly tasks are completed, God will take our souls to heaven, and on the day of Final Judgment, He will raise our bodies and unite them with our souls once more to be with God forever, as Enoch is.

Maybe you are thinking, "Well, that all sounds wonderful; but I can’t be like Enoch; I have tried to walk with God, but I constantly get confused and lost. With all the stupid things I’ve done, I have spent more time walking apart from God than walking with Him."

Let me reassure you: Enoch had his problems too. Enoch wasn’t perfect; he wasn’t taken to heaven because of the quality of his life or the wonderful things that he did. The writer to the Hebrews says by faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death. Whether it is in the Old Testament or the New Testament, whether it is in the near east or in America, the only way that people reach the glories of heaven is through faith in Jesus, the Son of God who was crucified for our sins. The first step in walking with God is having faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God or to walk with Him (Hebrews 11:6).

A missionary was preaching to a tribe of Native Americans in the north country. It wasn’t long before the chief got up, come forward and laid his tomahawk at the missionary’s feet with the words, "Chief gives tomahawk to Jesus Christ." The missionary continued preaching, talking about how God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believed in Him could have everlasting life (John 3:16). The chief came forward again and took his beautiful blanket off his shoulders with the words, "Chief gives blanket to Jesus Christ." The missionary continued preaching, speaking of the tremendous sacrifice that Jesus made, not for His own sins, but for the sins of the whole world. The chief rose and walked out, shortly returning with his most prized possession—a beautiful white pony. With deep emotion he said, "Chief gives pony to Jesus Christ." But the missionary continued preaching, pointing out that Jesus came into the world for every individual, and that no matter the blackness of his past deeds, in Christ they were completely and totally forgiven. The chief came forward once more, but this time his knees seemed shaky; he knelt before the missionary and said, "Chief gives himself to Jesus Christ." Only then were God and His missionary satisfied.

God isn’t satisfied with anything that we bring to Him, until we first give ourselves to Jesus in faith. Our walk with God begins on our knees at the foot of the cross. Like a baby, we must begin by crawling on our knees as we ask for forgiveness, before we can stand and walk beside our God.

One of our hymns says, "in faith and life to walk with God, in the way that Enoch trod." I pray that is your desire, as you look forward to your journey’s end--the Paradise that can follow death. As you leave your computer and go out the door, our Lord awaits you—will you walk with Him?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The impact of your actions

Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).

If you don’t hurt anyone else, does it really matter how you live your life? What difference does it make if you choose to ride a motorcycle without a helmet? Who does it hurt if you want to live together instead of getting married? What’s the harm in telling a white lie if it spares someone’s feelings?

We would like to think that our actions don’t affect other people. The truth, however, is that everything we think, say and do has an impact on others. If you don’t wear a helmet while cycling, others who see you will be encouraged to imitate your behavior, putting them at increased risk for head injury in a crash; furthermore, if you are involved in an accident, the higher cost to treat your head injury will raise insurance rates for everyone insured by your company. If you choose to ‘live together’ instead of getting married, your risk for breaking up instead of lasting as a permanent couple rises by 50%, and if that break up does happen, both you and your partner will have a harder time investing in future relationships. White lies backfire when your friends realize that you are willing to bend the truth; they will be hesitant to trust what you are saying, and you will always wonder how many of them are feeding you lies in order to spare your feelings.

Some don’t think that viewing pornography hurts anyone; but supporting the industry encourages the performers to trade their dignity for money and risk contracting a variety of dangerous diseases; further, the person viewing the pornography is tempted to think of others as sex toys instead of individuals with feelings, which will certainly hurt intimacy in the bedroom. Some don’t think that there’s anything wrong with fibbing on a job application; but when there is a crisis at work and you fail to carry your weight because you don’t have the skills you claimed you did, the company will suffer financial loss, and all of the employees will see the effects in their paychecks.

God did not make up the Ten Commandments just because He’s God and wants things done His way. His rules are designed to build healthy relationships. The Commandments show us how to treat God with the respect He deserves, and how to deal with other people in a way that benefits everyone. Everything we do has an impact on others; we need God’s help to conduct ourselves responsibly at all times.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Look upon my suffering and deliver me (Psalm 119:153).

"I can stop whenever I want." How many times have you heard these words? Alcoholics say them. Smokers say them. A woman having an affair tells herself that she can break it off whenever she wants; a man who loves gambling feels the same way about his betting. But dieters are rarely successful at losing weight on their own; smokers need nicotine patches and alcoholics need support groups. And even with professional help, a great many people eventually relapse into the behaviors they fought so hard to escape.

We are all addicts—each of us is addicted to sin. Some love spending money, even when it results in massive debt. Some love to gossip. Some love being the center of attention, and will do anything to make that happen. Some love sex so much that they can’t wait for marriage to get it. Some love to feel powerful by pushing others around or ignoring the rules.

All such behavior is unhealthy and destructive. Addictive behavior makes us willing to hurt others, if necessary, in order to feel good. This is the essence of sin. God tells us to love Him and respect Him, and to love each other as equals. But sin demands first place for us and what we want; God and everyone else had better be willing to take a back seat when we’re in the mood to have a good time.

If you think that you can stop your addictive behavior anytime you want, you’re kidding yourself. Sin is more addictive than alcohol, nicotine or heroin. And sin does greater harm—it doesn’t just destroy your liver, fill your lungs with cancer, or fry your nervous system—sin kills you and locks you in hell with Satan for a cell mate! Sin is much more than a monkey on your back; it is an 800 pound gorilla that refuses to let go.

But there is an effective treatment option. Jesus offers to be your buddy in the face of temptation. You can call Him any time by praying for help; His words of encouragement come to you through the Bible. And He is the medication that can reduce your cravings; you are always welcome to join your fellow addicts in church, where Jesus distributes His body and blood through Holy Communion. If you let Jesus treat you, you can survive your addiction to sin and be freed of it forever in heaven.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Separated by language, united in Christ

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel--because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:1-9).

It can be scary going on a trip to another country. There are all sorts of things to worry about, like hoping that your passport is in order, your luggage is with you, and that you don’t get lost. But the scariest part of the trip is in talking to strangers, especially when they don’t speak English. When no one around you speaks a language that you can understand, it is easy to panic. You wonder how you can get help, how you can order food, how you can get transportation.

Language is a barrier here in America too. Maybe you have placed a phone order with someone who didn’t speak English very well. After you hung up the phone, did you worry that maybe the person didn’t get your order right? Maybe you have been out shopping, and heard two strangers talking and laughing in another language. Did you wonder if they were laughing at you?

When we don’t understand what another person is saying, it makes us feel scared and alone. We worry that if an emergency comes up, we won’t be able to ask for help. We worry that other people will take advantage of us, and we have no way of protecting ourselves. When we can’t communicate with the people around us, we feel helpless.

On the other hand, when we are with people who we can understand, it is easier to feel like we belong. When we have good communication with others, we can join forces and do things that would be impossible for one person to do alone. When we are part of a group that understands each other, we can talk about our dreams and work together to make them a reality. Communication makes it possible for us to feel that we belong together.

In Genesis chapter 11, we are taken back to a time after the Great Flood when everybody still spoke the same language. Because they were united in one group, the people felt sure that they could dream big and build big. They decided to build the world’s first skyscraper. Genesis tells us that the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, came down and took a careful look at what was going on. But God did not like what He saw. He heard the people give this reason for building the skyscraper: so that we may make a name for ourselves.

Did you hear the pride in their voices? These people wanted to do something that they could brag about. They weren’t planning to build a YMCA. They weren’t planning to build a homeless shelter. They weren’t planning to build a hospital. They wanted to build a monument to themselves, to show how great they were.

We know that God hates prideful behavior. The Bible says "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). The reason that God hates the proud is because they do not think that they need God. People who are full of pride do not ask God for help or advice, because they think that they already have all the answers.

There's a popular hymn that begins with these words: "with the Lord begin thy task." Sinful people are humble; we know that sin spoils everything we think, everything we say, everything we do. Because of this, we always ask Jesus to help us make good decisions, and help us to put our time and money into things that serve God. But the people of Babel never asked God if they should build a skyscraper. They never asked God to bless the work of their hands. Because of their pride, they just went ahead without thinking about God.

This concerned God very much. He said, if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. God was concerned that the people would become so confident in their own abilities that they would never feel the need to ask God to be involved in their lives. Their pride would lead them to abandon having a relationship with God, and people who die without such a relationship go to hell.

God did not want the people to end their relationship with Him and end up damned, so He took action to end their pride. The Triune God caused the people to begin speaking in a number of different languages. Suddenly, everything was complete confusion. People couldn’t understand what the person next to them was saying. People couldn’t read the building plans designed by the architects and engineers. Pride had been replaced by the fear of feeling all alone.

Of course, the people were not all alone. Slowly, they gathered into groups that spoke the same language, and they set out to build small towns where all the residents could understand each other. But more importantly, they could still talk to God. In fact, now that they were broken up into little groups, worry and fear would cause them to start praying to God again. When pride is defeated, we start remembering that we need God’s help and love every day.

God introduced different languages into the world because He loves us, and did not want the human race lost forever in arrogant pride. But having many languages causes many problems. Often, people who speak different languages go to war with each other because they cannot understand each other. Being split up into many small groups often results in conflicts. God does not want us fighting with each other. God does not want us to ignore the needs of others, even though we cannot talk to them. God does not want fear and loneliness to make us miserable, any more than He wants pride to keep us away from Him.

So God sent Jesus into the world to bring us Good News. The Good News is that God loves everyone. The Good News is that God sent His Son Jesus to rescue us from the power of sin that leads to conflict and death. The Good News is that Jesus paid the price for all our sins by dying on the cross, and that everyone who believes this will live forever with Him.

But in a world of many languages, how can the Good News be shared? The followers of Jesus could speak the languages of the Jews and the Romans, but how could they tell the Good News to people from Africa, the East, or Europe? The miracle of Pentecost is God’s answer to that problem. The Holy Spirit came into each of Jesus’ followers, and gave them the ability to speak in other languages. So equipped, these people went out into the city and talked about how Jesus is the Son of God, how Jesus suffered in our place for our sins, and how He rose from the dead to be our living Savior forever. As a result of this miracle, 3,000 people became Christians that day! (Acts 2:1-11)

When building started on the Tower of Babel, the people were united—they were united in the sin of pride. Out of loving concern, God broke up their unity by confusing their language. On Pentecost, God gave unity back to us. But our unity is not unity in the sin of pride. Our unity is in our relationship with Jesus. Paul speaks of this unity in chapter 2 of Ephesians: you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. In Jesus, we are all built together into a holy city, the New Jerusalem. This is a community that does not raise up skyscrapers of pride, but looks up to a blood-stained cross in humility.

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day. All across our nation, people are remembering the sacrifice of loved ones who died to preserve our peace. There is no better way to honor their memories than by bringing the Good News of Jesus to those who do not speak our language. There is no better way to build and preserve peace than with an invitation to be united with us in the kingdom of Christ. Pray for our enemies, that God might disrupt their prideful unity. Support mission workers who risk their lives to bring Christ to the nations. And the next time that you hear someone speaking in a foreign language, go up to them and say "hi." We cannot share the Good News if we don’t try to communicate.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Never enough time

The LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end (Isaiah 60:20).

Any more, I regard clocks as the enemy. They are relentless as they take away minutes I can never get back. Clocks don’t care if I need more time to get something done; they won’t slow down to let me enjoy times of happiness for a little bit longer.

Time makes slaves of us. If you are late for work, the boss gets mad. If you miss an important deadline, it could cost you your job. Showing up late for your wedding could have disastrous consequences!

Time often drives us into rushing things that we shouldn’t. Every day, trying to beat the clock results in speeding tickets. To meet launch dates, computer programmers release applications that have not been thoroughly tested for bugs and need considerable patching.

Time urges us to multitask when some things need our undivided attention. How often do children have to compete with work for their parents’ attention? How often do you have so many projects going on that you get confused, forget where you are, or miss critical details?
Time even limits our fun. People leave ball games early to avoid being delayed by heavy traffic. In the rush to get intimate, lovers don’t take the time to enjoy holding hands and watch a beautiful sunset together.

But most of all, time is the enemy that steals life. Every tick of the clock brings us closer to the moment when death will stare us in the face. Of course, we fight hard to avoid it. Some people try to extend their lives through diet and exercise. Others try to disguise the passing of time with makeup, hair coloring or plastic surgery. But time permits no escape—all must eventually die.

Thankfully, Jesus exists outside of time. He is eternal, and if we accept His invitation, He will take us to His home, a place that has no deadlines, no rushing, no multitasking, no aging, no limits on how long we can be happy. In God’s kingdom there is no death—only love that lingers like a sun that never sets.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him (John 2:11).

In His days walking the dusty roads of Palestine, Jesus was known for two things—His teachings and His miracles. But Jesus’ miracles are often misunderstood. Certainly He did incredible things. A storm went away at His command. He fed thousands of people from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. He cured diseases and corrected birth defects. He even raised the dead. But the Bible calls these actions miraculous signs. In what way were Jesus’ miracles signs?

Our lives are filled with signs. Traffic signs point us in the right direction. Signs on buildings tell us what we can find inside. Computers and cell phones are filled with signs, simple little icons connected to large and complex computer programs.

Jesus’ miracles are like traffic signs. They point us in the right direction—to Jesus, who is the only source of truth and everlasting life.

Jesus’ miracles are like the sign on a building—they reveal what can be found inside. Only God can suspend the laws of nature; the fact that Jesus can do such things shows that hidden within His ordinary looking human body is the actual Son of God.

Jesus’ miracles are like the icons displayed on a computer screen. Through icons, complex applications are simplified for us; in the same way, the miracles of Jesus reveal a hint of God’s majesty in terms that we can understand. No sinful human can look at God and live, but in Jesus God is revealed to us in such a way that we are not overwhelmed by His glory.

The miracles of Jesus are signs—evidence of who He is and how important He is to us. His miracles command our attention so that we might open our ears and listen to him. And we need to listen, because the greatest of Jesus’ miracles are not about suspending the laws of nature or restoring health to the ailing—His greatest miracle is the one that reaches to the very core of your being and caresses your soul. The greatest miracle of all happens when Jesus says, "Friend, your sins are forgiven" (Luke 5:20).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Even a casual reading of the Bible will reveal two truths about God: first that there is only one God, and second that there are three unique Persons that together comprise the godhead. In the Old Testament, Moses made it clear to Israel that there is only one God; in Deuteronomy 6:4 he says, Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! Through the prophet Isaiah, God Himself makes this claim: Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one (Isaiah 44:8). Yet when man is created in Genesis, God speaks as if there is more than one Person involved in this act of creation; He is quoted as saying, Let us make man in our image (Genesis 1:26).

In John 14:26, Jesus clarifies just who the "we" represents; the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. It is these three Persons together, forming one God, whom we approach for new life in holy baptism, because Jesus commanded go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

So God is one, yet He is made of three Persons. So what? Why do we need to know something that we can’t understand, a concept that makes our heads hurt if we think too much about it? The hymn "Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices" (by Johann Mentzer) does a nice job explaining the role each Person of the godhead plays in our lives, and why we can be joyfully grateful to have the Triune God as our God.

Verses 2 through 4 speak of the three Persons of the Trinity. Verse 2 addresses itself to God the Father: Dear Father, endless praise I render for soul and body, strangely joined; I praise Thee, Guardian kind and tender, for all the noble joys I find so richly spread on every side, and freely for my use supplied. The hymn writer suggests that we experience God’s goodness through the Father in at least three ways.

First he speaks about soul and body, strangely joined; this is a poetic way of speaking about the miracle of birth. Scientists can explain how the DNA strands of a mother and a father get spliced together to form a unique new human being; what they cannot explain is how that human being gains a sense of self, of individuality and self-awareness. Scientists cannot explain where our souls come from, or how they become attached to our bodies. This is the miracle of conception—and it only happens because of the Father’s mysterious power. David praises God for this in Psalm 139:13--you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

The second benefit we claim from the Father is found in the words Guardian, kind and tender. The Father created us, and the Father also acts to preserve we His creations from destruction. How many times have you escaped a brush with death? Have you narrowly missed being hit by a car while walking across a street? Have you survived hitting a deer? Have you recovered from a heart attack? Are you in remission from cancer? If God the Father were not constantly looking out for us, it is likely that none of us would still be alive today. In Psalm 18:2, David speaks of the Father this way: He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge.

The third benefit is found in the words all the noble joys I find so richly spread on every side, and freely for my use supplied. God the Father not only made us, not only protects us, but He also lavishes His gifts upon us throughout our lives. Martin Luther listed these many blessings this way: food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property, a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government, seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor, good friends and faithful neighbors. These good things do not come into our lives by accident; James reminds us that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17). And God gives these gifts to us for free; you cannot purchase a religious spouse or good children; you cannot buy seasonable weather or honor or peace.

Verse 3 speaks of the blessings we receive from Jesus, the Son of God the Father: I praise Thee, Savior, whose compassion did bring Thee down to ransom me; Thy pitying heart sought my salvation, though keenest woes were heaped on Thee. Brought me from bondage full release, made me Thine own, and gave me peace. Jesus came down from the glories of heaven to live among the filthy evils of our sinful world. He did this for one reason only—His great compassion for us. Everything in this world is tainted with sin. Everything that we do is tainted with sin. When we make love and create children, our love is tainted by sin and the children conceived of that love are tainted with sin as well. We were all conceived in sin. We all grew up surrounded by sin and filled with sin. Selfish desires, evil impulses, thoughtless words and loveless actions were all that we knew about how life should be. For we sinners, life is an endless struggle as we compete with each other to see who wins the booby prize for being the most miserably self-centered human being.

Jesus’ pity for us moved Him to come to us and teach us a better way. He taught us that It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). He taught us that we can lead lives filled with peace and joy if we follow two simple principles: `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself' (Luke 10:27).

But our Lord knew that even with the wisdom of His teachings we could never live the life of giving love that God expects of us, so Jesus offered Himself to the Father to take the punishment for our sins. He ransomed us; He bought us freedom from the evil domination of sin by giving up His own precious, holy blood in exchange. By dying on the cross as our heavenly substitute, Jesus has made us His own, and has secured for us a peaceful relationship with God. In Colossians 1:19-20, Paul affirms: God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Verse 4 speaks of the Holy Spirit: Glory and praise, still onward reaching, be Thine, O Spirit of all grace, whose holy power and faithful teaching, give me among Thy saints a place. Whate’er of good by me is done, is wrought by grace divine alone. The hymn writer lists two ways by which the Spirit changes our lives.

The first is summed up in the phrase, whose holy power and faithful teaching, give me among Thy saints a place. The only way that we can have a saving relationship with Jesus is through the gift of faith given us by the Holy Spirit. Paul says it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). And the way that the Spirit gives us this gift is through preaching and teaching from the Scriptures; Romans 10:17 tells us faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. When we are immersed in the Word of God through preaching and Bible study, the Spirit builds faith in us and this faith connects us with Jesus, who offers us salvation and a place with the saints who are with Him in heaven.

The other way the Spirit impacts our lives is this: Whate’er of good by me is done, is wrought by grace divine alone. On our own, we are unable to do anything that pleases God; Paul says those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (Romans 8:8). But when the Spirit of God takes up residence within us, things change. Philippians chapter 2 explains how we are able, as Christians, to start loving each other as God desires: it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. When we speak loving words, when we perform acts of Christian charity, we are being motivated and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.

Given birth, protection, and blessings. Given rebirth into a life where sin and death are not the controlling factors. Being connected to God by faith, and enabled to act as God’s representatives while still here on earth. These are the blessings that come to those who know and trust in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we add up all these wonderful blessings, we have to agree with the hymn writer, who enthuses: Oh, that I had a thousand voices, to praise my God with thousand tongues! My heart, which in the Lord rejoices, would then proclaim in grateful songs to all, wherever I might be, what great things God hath done for me (verse 1).
Shall I not, then, be filled with gladness? Shall I not praise Thee evermore, and triumph over fear and sadness, e’en when my cup of woe runs o’er? Though heaven and earth shall pass away, Thy loving-kindness stands for aye (verse 5).

Thursday, May 15, 2008


If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us (1 John 1:9).

Tom knew he was in for it. He knew he shouldn’t have done it. He had taken the family car for a joy ride with several of his friends while his parents were out of town on a short trip. They had trusted him to stay home by himself, their only request being that he not use the car while they were gone. He had promised that he wouldn’t, but the temptation proved too strong. He didn’t think a short drive would hurt. Besides, how would his parents find out? But that was before the accident. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the car didn’t fare as well. The body shop gave him an estimate of several thousand dollars to get everything repaired. Tom was frightened. What was he going to do? He couldn’t hide the damage; he would have to admit to his parents what he’d done.

The next day his folks came home to an empty garage. When Tom walked in the door after school, his father was waiting for him. Tom told his father the whole story. He said that he was sorry for what he had done in betraying his parents’ trust. He couldn’t stop the tears of shame that stained his face. But Tom was surprised by his father’s response. There was no yelling, no preaching, no anger. His father only said, "Son, I am just glad that you and your friends are all right. I forgive you."

Our heavenly Father has given us rules to live by—do not kill, cheat, lie or steal; love God and treat your parents respectfully. But since we cannot see God, it is easy to behave as if He is far away, unaware of what we’re up to. So we are tempted to disobey—but when we do, accidents happen. We hurt people with words that should never have been spoken, or by taking advantage of them. We waste the resources God has given us, leaving us with nothing of lasting value. We only wanted to have fun; it never occurred to us that something bad might come of it.

Eventually, it dawns on us that God knows what we’ve done—He is God, after all. And then we begin to panic—what will God do to us for disobeying Him? What kind of awful punishment can we expect? But our heavenly Father surprises us with His response—if we are friends of his Son Jesus, He simply forgives us. He forgives us because when His Son died on the cross, Jesus paid for all the damage caused by our joyrides; He paid the bill we incurred with His own precious blood. Our heavenly Father will forgive you anything, so long as you take responsibility and want to feel His love once more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Are you special?

I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

What makes you special? Are you special because you were voted Most Valuable Player or Employee of the Year? Are you special because you are part of a wonderful family or have a circle of great friends? Are you special because you have an excellent reputation and are often asked for advice? Or are you special because you have met all the goals in life that you set for yourself?

But what if some disability makes it impossible for you to work? What if death steals away your loved ones? What if malicious gossip destroys your reputation? What if a natural disaster destroys your home, or a criminal takes away all that you’ve worked for? Do you stop being special if your achievements turn to ash?

You are special—but not for any of the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Your worth is not based on your skills, achievements or assets. Your worth does not even depend on your relationships with other people. You are special because God gives you worth.

You are special because God took the time to make you different from everybody else. In Detroit, there is nothing special about the 99th new car rolling off the production line. At a fast food diner, the first burger served at lunch is no more special than the last one sold just before closing. You, however, are a hand-crafted original. God makes each of us personally, as we read in Psalm 139: you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

You are special because God loves you. And the devil knows how much God loves you. Since the devil cannot hope to win a fight with God, he chooses instead to hurt God by going after you. Satan does everything in his power to get you to sin, knowing that God cannot stand evil and condemns it to hell. But God loves you with such care and commitment that He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross. Jesus took upon Himself the punishment your sins deserve. He suffered so that you need not go to hell; He died so that you can face death unafraid, confident that you have a place in heaven.

You are special. You are special because God made you, He loves you, and He has sent His Son to take you in His arms. Nothing else matters.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Graduation and promotion

The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

The LORD will extend Your mighty scepter from Zion; You will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on Your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn You will receive the dew of Your youth.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at Your right hand; He will crush kings on the day of His wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook beside the way; therefore He will lift up his head (Psalm 110).

When you read this Psalm, you probably wondered what it meant. In order to understand this Psalm, we will need to take a look at two verses in particular. The first is The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The second is The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." Both of these sentences speak specifically about Jesus.

King David wrote this Psalm by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When David writes The LORD says to my Lord, he mentions two Lords, both of whom are greater than himself, even though he is the king of the Israelites. Because of the way this verse has been translated into English, what was clear in the original Hebrew sounds confusing to us. The first "LORD" is actually Yahweh, the personal name of God, which in literal English translates as I AM. But in the centuries after King David wrote this Psalm, the Jews became reluctant to speak God’s personal name out loud. They took God very seriously when He commanded, You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God (Exodus 20:7). So the Jews made a change to their Old Testaments; whenever God’s name Yahweh appeared, in the margin they spelled His name in a different way—they mixed together the consonants of Yahweh with the vowels of the word Lord. When they would read the Scriptures out loud during worship, instead of saying the holy name of God, they spoke a word made up of both Yahweh and Lord—which in English sounds like Jehovah. Most English translations of the Bible have honored this ancient tradition, either translating Yahweh as LORD or as Jehovah, but almost never as I AM.

David’s sentence sounds a bit less confusing when we read the words as he wrote them: Yahweh says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The first LORD refers to the great I AM. But who is the second Lord? For the answer, we must look to Jesus’ words in the New Testament. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus explains the meaning of this verse: While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" "The son of David," they replied. He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him `Lord'? For he says, `The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." Jesus makes it clear that He is the Lord that David was speaking about in Psalm 110. Knowing this, we could rephrase King David’s sentence this way: The God named Yahweh says to my Lord Jesus Christ: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

Spoken this way, it becomes clear that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, David was allowed to hear God the Father issue an invitation to His Son Jesus Christ. But when would this invitation be fulfilled? When would the Son come and sit at the Father’s right hand? It happened when Jesus ascended back into heaven, 40 days after He rose from the dead on Easter. Mark 16:19 tells us, After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.

We know that in the Bible, to be at someone’s right side is to be in the ultimate place of honor, respect, and trust. That God the Father invited His Son to sit at His right hand shows how greatly our God esteems Jesus for who He is and for what He has done to save us from our sins. Jesus is the Son of God, the royal heir of the kingdom of heaven! Yet this prince, the Prince of Peace, lowered Himself to the place of a servant. Jesus came into our world dressed in the rags of humanity. He left the riches of heaven for a life on the road where a thief held the money purse. He left the honors of heaven to be ridiculed and spat upon. He left the comforts of heaven for the brutality of whipping and crucifixion. He left the fellowship He had with His Father so that He could be rejected by God for our sins. He did this because He loved us and wanted to free us from sin. He did this because He trusted in His heavenly Father, trusted Him that through this terrible sacrifice we could be redeemed from sin and death. And because Jesus had such love for us, because He had such complete trust in His Father’s love, Yahweh the great I AM raised His Son from the dead and invited Him to sit as His own right hand forever.

But is Jesus’ work done? Is He eternally at rest at the right hand of God? The answer can be found as we consider our second sentence from the Psalm: The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." Jesus is a priest forever—but Melchizedek was a very special kind of priest, and so is our Lord.

Melchizedek only appears briefly in Genesis. His name means "king of righteousness". In chapter 14 we are told of how four cities launched a raid against their neighbors, and how Abram’s nephew Lot was taken as one of the captives. Abram, who was by now wealthy and powerful, mounted a rescue operation and freed his nephew. When he returned victorious, we read the following words: Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

That is all that Genesis has to say about Melchizedek. But consider what we are told. First of all, Melchizedek was the king of Salem. Salem means "peace"; by being the king of Salem, Melchizedek was rightly called the "king of peace." Salem was the city that king David would one day conquer and turn into his capital Jerusalem. David’s son Solomon would build God’s great Temple in Jerusalem. And our Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace, would die as the final sacrifice for all human sin on Jerusalem’s hill.

Furthermore, Melchizedek had a unique job description. He was both king of Salem and priest of God Most High. This was very unusual; ordinarily, kings were not allowed to perform the duties of priests, and priests did not rule as kings. Moses led the Israelites as God’s representative, but his brother Aaron served in the office of High Priest. King Solomon built the great Temple, but Zadok was the priest who offered sacrifices to God for the peoples’ sins upon its altar. When Jerusalem was rebuilt after the Babylonian Captivity, Nehemiah served as governor while Ezra had the responsibilities of the priesthood.

Through almost all of the Bible, kings and priests had different areas of responsibility. Kings protected the people physically; they enforced the laws and led the army to defend the nation. They shed blood to keep the peace and protect the people. But because the king was responsible for spilling human blood, he was not fit to stand before God’s altar as high priest. The job of the priest was to protect the people spiritually; he announced God’s Law and offered the blood of sacrifices upon the altar to gain forgiveness for the people for breaking those laws. The priests shed blood to keep the peace between man and God, and protect the people from the punishment of God.

Listen to what Hebrews chapter five has to say about Jesus and Melchizedek. During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once everything was brought to perfect completion, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Like Melchizedek, Jesus has two job descriptions. As He sits at His Father’s right hand, Jesus is active as both priest and king. As high priest, Jesus offered the best blood of all—His own holy blood—on the altar of the cross. By shedding that blood for us, Jesus has secured the Father’s pardon for when we break His commandments. And as we anger God with our sins each day, Jesus continues to speak to His Father on our behalf; John tells us we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).

And our Lord also reigns as king. Through His divine power, He keeps our sin-infested world from crumbling into dust; Paul says in Colossians 1:17 that in Him all things hold together. Jesus exerts His rule through the appointing of earthly authorities who are assigned to protect people on His behalf; in Revelation chapter one, John says Jesus Christ…is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Jesus also governs the activities of His Church; Paul goes on to say and He is the head of the body, the church. Of course, the people put in positions of leadership by Christ are themselves all flawed by sin, so we do not experience the blessing of perfect protection through perfect rulers; but the day is coming when Jesus promises to return and put all evil to an end personally, once and for all.

So in answer to the question "what does Jesus do at the right hand of God", the answer is this—like Melchizedek, our Lord works continually to protect us from evil, and to make sure that when we ask Him for mercy, our sins are all forgiven. He offers us bread and wine, like Melchizedek offered bread and wine to Abram—but Jesus’ bread and wine are so much more, because they bring us His own body and blood, sacrificed on the altar of the cross to bring us closer to God. As a priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus cares for both our bodies and our souls.

We are in the season of high school graduations. Many youth look upon this time as the point where they can finally do whatever they want, the point where they have ascended into adulthood. But I suggest that we all look to the ascended Christ as an example of how to live as adults. Jesus finished the great work given to Him by His Father of dying for our sins and rising to end death’s hold over us. But He has not stopped working for His Father or for us. Every day, Jesus works to protect us from the attacks of evil that seek to hurt us. Every day, Jesus makes forgiveness and our unity with the Father His first priority. I urge everyone who is graduating or has graduated to make this the focus of your adulthood as well—to devote all your efforts to serving the needs of others by caring for the needs of their bodies and caring for the needs of their souls. Forgive. Protect. Tell people about your Lord. Make Jesus your reason for everything that you say and do as you live your life.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


The fear of the LORD leads to life: then one rests content, untouched by trouble (Proverbs 19:23).

When was the last time you felt content? And how long did that feeling last?

Contentment is when you don’t feel as if you need anything. You’re not particularly hungry or thirsty. You aren’t in any pain or discomfort. You aren’t worrying about problems looming in the future. You aren’t feeling angry, sad or lonely. When you are content, you are living in a moment of peace.

So I’ll ask you again—when was the last time you felt content? And how long did that feeling last? For most Americans, contentment is a rare commodity. Our culture constantly tells us that we need more—more success, more love, more good times. There is continual pressure to make more money, buy the newest stuff, get involved in more activities. If you aren’t constantly trying to achieve a new sales record, the boss will think you’re losing your drive. You are out of date if you are wearing last year’s fashions or drive a high-mileage car. Whether you play sports or a game of cards, you don’t just play for fun, you should play to win. Under these conditions, who can possibly be content?

Few understand the satisfaction that comes from working in a garden. Many are in such a rush that they can’t lose themselves in the pages of a good book. And who makes time to study the clouds, watch sunsets, or gaze at the stars? Increasingly, people have forgotten how to live in the moment.

Contentment is a gift from God; only He can make sure that our needs are met so that we are free to experience peace. People wonder what heaven will be like; I think that, with all of our needs met by Jesus, the afterlife will be like ‘living in the moment’ forever. But our Master gives us glimpses of contentment even in this life—you only need to consider the words of St. Paul, written while in prison: 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 4:12-13). Even during difficult times, Paul was able to live in the moment, trusting in Jesus to care for his needs. When you are sheltered in Jesus’ arms, you too can find contentment.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Cats, humans, and love

I have called you friends (John 15:15).

I like cats. I’ve had them as indoor pets for most of my life. The cats I’ve owned have been affectionate, playful, and good-natured. I enjoy having one sit in my lap while I read or watch TV. And I appreciate the fact that you don’t have to train them to use the litter box or take them for walks!

I know that some cats can be difficult. Some get destructive when they are mad. Others will treat delicate things as toys, losing some and breaking others. Some cats are moody or standoffish. Some act as if you only exist to keep them happy, while others ignore every rule you try to set for indoor behavior.

Obstinate cats are not so very different from obstinate humans. We get destructive when we are mad, snarling hurtful words and lashing out with bursts of violence. We damage God’s property, carelessly polluting the environment and wasting natural resources. We get moody and can be difficult to live with. We act as if everyone else exists only to make us happy—even God!

Sometimes I’ve been so mad at a cat that I just wanted to throw it across the room. What stopped me was love—I knew that treating the cat that way could seriously injure it, maybe even kill it. Of course, that didn’t stop me from giving it a swat—sometimes the only way you can get a cat’s attention and change its behavior is to cause it some pain.

So it is with God. We say and do things that invite His punishment. Thankfully, God loves us—loves us so much that He does not punish us as we deserve. That punishment He inflicted on His Son Jesus Christ, who died in our place to shield us from the consequences of our bad behavior. But God does give us swats occasionally; sometimes it’s the only thing that gets our attention and motivates us to respect God’s laws.

Of course, no emotional connection you have with a pet can hold a candle to the deep relationship you have with your child or a best friend. Nor does God look at us as mere pets; He loves us as His own dear children, treats us as honored friends of His Son. That is why Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with these words—Our Father…

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Peace amid war

Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

"All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

"You heard me say, `I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe" (John 14:23-29).

Peace is very much on the minds of most Americans these days. There seems to be so little peace in the world right now. Conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Acts of terrorism by Al-Qaeda. Sporadic threats from the leader of North Korea.

But the need for peace isn’t just overseas. All across our country, marriages are dissolving due to conflict. Violence in schools and in workplaces make both young and old fear for their safety. Whole neighborhoods lock their doors at night because of gang violence and drive-by shootings.

Peace is something that we need desperately, and yet peace is something very hard to come by. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus promises to give us peace. But He is careful to qualify that promise—He says I do not give to you as the world gives. What does our Lord mean? What makes His peace different than the peace that the world offers?

Let’s start with considering just what peace really is. Peace is what we experience when we are free of stress. Conflict is stressful; peace comes when conflict is ended. Being angry at someone is stressful; peace comes when we let go of anger. Being afraid of getting hurt is stressful; peace comes when we stop worrying about the future. When we are under stress, we experience anger or fear; when we are freed of these emotions, that is when we feel at peace.

Human effort can bring limited peace. A truce can bring about a cease-fire between two countries at war. A marriage counselor can help a couple to reconcile through mutual compromise. Management and labor can end a strike or a lock out through arbitration. There are thousands of people who are trained as negotiators, counselors, and peace envoys.

But such efforts offer only limited success. Truces end and wars resume. People who have divorced and remarried often end up divorcing again. Employers soon ask for concessions from their staff, and employees soon demand increased benefits from management. In spite of human efforts to bring about peace, conflict soon rears its ugly head again, bringing anger and fear back into our lives. Human efforts at peace-making never offer a permanent solution.

The other way in which human peacemakers fail us is that they cannot negotiate a truce between us and God. The ugly fact of the matter is that we all enter life at war with God, and most people alive today are waging war with Him even as we speak. In Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us, the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. Notice Paul’s choice of words: the sinful mind does not submit to God's law. That is the heart of the problem. The apostle John puts it this way: Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).

It is not in our sinful nature to willingly submit to anyone, let alone God. Isaiah said we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). God has clear expectations for us, summarized neatly in the Ten Commandments, but we chafe at having anyone tell us what we should do. So we rebel; we make decisions that please us, even though at the same time we are angering God. And the result is that we declare ourselves to be opposed to God’s will. By our rebellious choices in life, we announce ourselves as God’s enemies.

Which, in all honesty, is a very foolish thing to do. God created the universe. God gave each of us life. God can end our lives at any moment. God can send our souls to hell, if He so chooses. God is all-powerful. How arrogant, how foolish to think that we can go against Him and somehow get away with it? In a war with God, we can’t expect to win, we can’t even hope to negotiate a non-aggression treaty. In a conflict with the King of creation, all we can expect is to meet utter defeat and an eternity locked away in the prison camp of hell.

Thankfully, our almighty God is also a loving and merciful God. God created the universe as a place for mankind to live. God created mankind to populate His kingdom—to love Him and each other in peace forever. So even though we have declared war against God by our selfishness, God has sent us a peace envoy—God has sent us His Son, Jesus the Messiah. The Messiah’s job was to offer us terms for peace, thus ending our war with God. The terms of that peace are simply this: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). Believe that Jesus is God’s only Son, encased in a human body. Believe that when Jesus speaks, He represents His Father’s wishes. Believe that when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He suffered His Father’s punishment for our lawbreaking. Believe that Jesus has risen from the grave our sins put Him in. Believe that when we admit that we have done wrong and ask for another chance to live a life that honors God, He will give us that opportunity for Jesus’ sake.

This is an offer of peace that the world cannot give us. Only God’s chosen representative can bring us an offer of peace with the almighty King of the universe—and that representative is Jesus. Peter says, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Furthermore, only Jesus can arrange a peace that is permanent; our Lord promised, though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed (Isaiah 54:10). A covenant is like a peace treaty; through our relationship with His emissary Jesus, God offers us an everlasting treaty of peace.

We have heard the terms of the treaty--Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. But what are the benefits? What kind of peace does our Lord offer to us through His beloved Son? The benefit is this—we are freed of the stress of having God angry with us. We are freed of the fear that God will punish us for the things we do wrong. We are reassured that when things get desperate in our lives, we are not left alone on our own because we know that God cares about us, listens to us, and promises to support us through thick and thin. And we are spared the terror of facing death, because we know that Jesus has defeated the hold of the grave and He lives to pull us out of our graves as well. Because Jesus has triumphed over sin and death, we need not stress over God’s anger in life or His eternal punishment—and being freed of that stress results in peace.

Which is not to say that the Christian has no stress in life. Quite the contrary. By accepting Jesus’ terms of peace, we have become law-abiding citizens in God’s eternal kingdom—but God’s kingdom is a kingdom that is at war. God’s Kingdom—our kingdom—is under constant attack by the forces of evil, lead by the devil himself. Satan’s forces commit acts of atrocity against God’s people—acts of spiritual terrorism, designed to make us lose confidence in God’s ability to protect us. And so we, as citizens of the kingdom of God, are called upon to arm ourselves for warfare. In Ephesians chapter six Paul instructs us, Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes…Stand firm…with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Isaiah called Jesus the Prince of Peace. But the peace that Jesus brings is not earthly peace. Jesus does not bring temporary peace—His peace is an everlasting peace. And Jesus does not give us peace with those who are aligned with Satan—those who reject Jesus will also come after we who stand with Him, and Jesus expects us to stand firm in the faith even when such loyalty results in earthly conflict. Jesus does not bring us peace with sin or those who embrace sinful behavior, but peace with God. And this is a peace that we are expected to show to others as well. God’s peace comes from faith in Jesus; we are to spread that peace by telling everyone we can about the peace envoy from God named Jesus the Messiah. God’s peace is characterized by forgiveness; we are to demonstrate the beauty of that peace by apologizing to and forgiving each other when our sinful behaviors result in hurts. God’s peace is about the love of God that reaches into our lives to encourage, uplift and help; we are to live lives that build peace by nurturing and assisting each other in times of need. While such actions will not end all stress and conflict in this world, it will make it a better place for us all to live until Jesus returns to end misery forever.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. To this, I can only add the words of St. Paul from Philippians chapter four: the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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