Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mountaintop experiences

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Last week, we saw about how God took Joseph from the life of a shepherd boy and made him second in command over the country of Egypt. We read how Joseph forgave his brothers who had sold him into slavery, and invited all of his relatives to live with him in Egypt. God blessed Joseph’s relatives, giving them the best land in Egypt and large numbers of children. Over the following 400 years, Joseph’s relations grew so large in number that the king of Egypt started getting nervous. Pharaoh was afraid of the power so many Israelites could have, living in his country.

This new king didn’t know anything about Joseph or Joseph’s God. So he came up with a simple way to limit population growth among the Hebrews. He ordered the midwives to kill every male Jewish baby that they delivered. And when the midwives disobeyed him, Pharaoh ordered the parents to kill their male children by throwing them into the Nile River.

It was around this time that Moses was born. His parents feared God, and they tried to hide the boy as best they could to keep him alive. But after three months, keeping the secret became impossible. So they built a little bassinet, waterproofed it, and released Moses into the river, praying that God would protect their infant son.

Miriam, Moses’ sister, walked along the riverbank, watching to see what would happen to her brother. She came to a spot where Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the river. The princess found Moses in his little ark, and his crying touched her heart. When it was clear that Moses would not be killed, Miriam approached the princess and asked if she would like her to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. With the princess’ blessing, Miriam ran home and brought her mother to care for Moses. Right from the beginning, God took care of Moses—not only did He protect the baby’s life, He even arranged for Moses’ mother to be paid by the princess to raise her own son!

The boy grew, was taken into the royal court, and received the best education the world could give. But he never forgot where his loyalties lay. He was deeply disturbed when Pharaoh forced the Israelites into hard labor as slaves. He even went so far as to kill an Egyptian taskmaster who was abusing a slave. This crime forced Moses to flee and live in the wilderness for many years. But in all this, God was preparing Moses for the greatest work of his life. Moses knew Egyptian politics. Moses knew how to survive in the wilderness. God would use these skills to free the Israelites from their slavery and guide them through the wilderness to a land He was giving them as their own.

Moses was involved in many spectacular events. On God’s authority, he brought ten horrific plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would finally free the Israelites. By God’s power, he opened a dry path through the Reed Sea so that the people could escape Egypt’s pursuing army. But the highest points in Moses’ life occurred on mountains in the wilderness—Mount Sinai, Mount Rephidim, and Mount Nebo. More than any other man, Moses had true "mountaintop" experiences.

The first mountain in Moses’ life is Mount Sinai, the place where God revealed Himself to Moses. For 40 days, God spoke with Moses on the mountain heights, while the mountain smoked, the earth shook, and thunder rolled from the clouds. It was here that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as the blueprint for living a godly life.

It is important to remember that the law was brought down from the mountain by Moses, but God was the author. The law came from God; Moses was only His agent. This is why no human being has any right to disregard or amend the laws of God.

The news is constantly telling us about people who break the law. It is obvious that humans need laws in order to live together peacefully. Without rules, families fall apart, chaos disrupts schools, and crime victimizes those too weak to defend themselves.

God gave the Ten Commandments as basic rules to live by for groups of any size—families, communities, states or even nations. Where these laws are ignored, people get hurt. To be sure, the laws of God show us our sins—that is one reason why people resent the Commandments. They don’t want to see that what they are doing is wrong, or that they need a Savior from sin. Yet the Commandments do much more—they give us a guide by which to live in harmony and happiness. Take any of the commandments—for example, "you shall not give false testimony." Life is so much better in a home where truth is honored and lying is not tolerated. It's the same with every commandment—showing respect, honoring the covenant of marriage, avoiding envy. All of the commandments of God are given so that we might experience peace and happiness in our lives. That is why we impress them on our children. For Moses, being given the law was a tremendous blessing—he held in his hands the secret to a happy home and a peaceful society.

Another mountain in Moses’ life was Mount Rephidim, the place where Moses prayed for the people. One of the first obstacles blocking the way to the Promised Land was the tribe of the Amalekites. This tribe was determined to prevent the Israelites from crossing through their territory. Moses instructed Joshua to gather a force of men and turn back the attack of the Amalekites; while Joshua was doing this, Moses climbed Mount Rephidim to pray for the Lord’s assistance in battle. While he prayed, Moses held his hands raised towards heaven, and as long as he prayed this way, the Israelites prevailed. But when Moses’ arms grew tired and began to drop, the Amalekites rallied. When they realized what was happening, Aaron and another man supported Moses’ arms as he prayed, until God granted Joshua the victory.

Think how many victories God’s people could win in our time, if we upheld each other more in prayer. James tells us the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16). But many people do not think to offer a pray before dealing with a problem, let alone ask for the support of others in praying for them. Another problem is that we often do not take sin and the devil as seriously as we should, and so we become lazy in asking Jesus for help. On Mount Rephidim, Moses learned the wonderful lesson that God does great things when we support each other in His name.

The final mountain that Moses climbed was Mount Nebo, the mountain where God brought Moses into eternal joy. Moses had spent 40 years in the royal court of Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, and 40 years leading the Israelites through that same wilderness. For 120 years, Moses had received awesome responsibilities, crushing disappointments, and glorious visitations from our Lord. Eventually he was not only gray, but tired. He was glad that he need not live in this sinful world forever.

God summoned Moses, alone, to the top of Mount Nebo. Behind him, the people of Israel in their hundreds of thousands, eager to finally enter the land that God had promised them. Below him, the Jordan River and the Salt Sea. Beyond this final barrier, he could see Jericho with its palm and banana trees; he could see the sleepy little caravan town of Bethlehem; he could see the mountains covered with olive groves that would one day be crowned with Jerusalem, God’s Temple, and a place of sacrifice called Calvary. It was a magnificent sight—a land which, at that time, was described as a land flowing with milk and honey. There was a touch of sadness in that moment, as Moses would not be permitted to enter that land. Like all of us, Moses was a sinner, and he had disobeyed God’s direct orders during his leadership of the Israelites. Although he was forgiven, he would not live to cross the Jordan River.

But on Mount Nebo, Moses was permitted to enter a far better Promised Land. Moses entered a land where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, the land where the residents live with God and His angels in never-ending pleasure. Our Lord took Moses into this country from Mount Nebo, not because of what Moses had done, but because of his dedication to God. Like Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Joseph, Moses believed that God would keep His promise and send a Savior from heaven, who would rescue the people from their sins. In his final speech to the nation, Moses said, The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him (Deuteronomy 18:15). In Acts chapter 3, Peter makes it clear that Moses was speaking about Jesus. Moses had saving faith in the promise of the Christ, the Son of God who would die in our place for our sins. Because of this faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a few brief years on earth. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his ultimate reward. Because of this faith in the promised Savior, God took Moses from Mount Nebo into the Promised Land of heaven.

All those who dedicate themselves to Christ will find a Mount Nebo at the end of their lives. It is true that we are all sinful people. Like Moses, we have disobeyed God and angered Him. But also like Moses, we have a Savior in Jesus. Our Lord Himself gives this assurance: I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).

Like Moses, the world is testing your loyalty to God. Living a life dedicated to Jesus is a constant upward struggle. Do you want to live the easy life and stay in the valley of the shadow of death, where it is easy to become lost in the darkness and lose sight of God? Or will you climb mountains at our Lord’s invitation, seeking the places where God’s will is revealed, where prayer is offered and answered, where sinful distractions are left behind because they make the climb too difficult? Our Lord is there on the mountain heights to help you in your ascent. When you dedicate yourself to serving Christ, your life can be a series of mountaintop experiences, as it was for Moses. You can live from peak experience to peak experience until Jesus Himself takes you to Mount Nebo, the mountain leading to Paradise.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Your word is truth (John 17:17).

I was doing a search on the Internet a while back, when I stumbled across a forum where college students were discussing morality. One person said that he believed that morals don’t come from religion, it is up to each person to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong.

I thought about that for a while, and frankly the idea puzzles me. How can a society exist if each individual decides for himself what is allowable and what is not? How could you convict anyone of a crime, when each person put on trial could say that he was simply acting according to his convictions? After all, there are people in this world who believe it is okay to kill other people; there are some individuals who have no problem with children working as prostitutes; there are many who believe you should be able to say whatever you want, without restriction or fear of consequences.

I suppose you could gather like-minded people together and enforce the rule of the majority; however, I don’t see how you could govern a large country in this way. Every community or geographical area could have laws very different from its neighbors, a sure recipe for conflict—just look at the history of Europe or the state of affairs in the Middle East. No, I just don’t see how you could guarantee peace and quality of life in a society where everyone decides for himself what is right and what is wrong.

When you were a child and had a question, you expected your parents and teachers to tell you the truth, not their personal opinion. You wanted information that you could be sure about; no one wants to make important decisions based on speculation. Human beings hunger for truth; we need it to feel secure. A world built on nothing but personal opinion is a place of ever-shifting uncertainty, a sure recipe for nagging stress and crippling depression.

Thankfully, right and wrong are not subject to human whim; God is the creator of the universe and every living thing—it is His divine right to set codes of conduct for we His creatures. He reveals His code of conduct through the Bible—the one source of absolute truth that you can depend on in a world of constantly shifting morals and public opinion.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11).

What does the word ‘sacrifice’ mean? It means you want something so badly that you are willing to give up something precious in exchange. For example, a man who wants to marry the love of his life must be willing to sacrifice dating other women for the rest of his days. A woman must sacrifice shopping for trendy fashions and eating out with her friends if she wants to save up the money needed to purchase a new car. Making a sacrifice involves some personal discomfort, but that pain is willingly accepted in exchange for something of great value.

In Bible times, people brought sacrifices to God’s temple. God’s house was the place where an important exchange took place—people offered the lives of animals in exchange for God forgiving their sins. God’s forgiveness is the most valuable thing there is—without it, our sins weigh us down in life, and drag us to the depths of hell when we die. God is willing to forgive sins, but He demands something in exchange—a sacrifice of blood. For those living under the Old Covenant, God allowed the blood of selected animals to stand in for the blood of sinners. Naturally, this was a financial sacrifice for the people, giving up an animal that could be sold or eaten. But the real sacrifice wasn’t made by the people; the ultimate sacrifice was made by the animal that lost its life so a human’s sins could be forgiven.

This changed when Jesus came. The Son of God was born into our world in a human body so that He would have blood that could be given as a sacrifice. But Jesus’ blood is the blood of both man and God, infinite in what it can accomplish. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He sacrificed Himself, gave up the most precious thing in all the universe—the life of God’s own Son! Jesus’ blood was offered as a substitute for our blood, His suffering for our suffering, His life for our life. In exchange, God gives us the priceless gift of His mercy, freeing us from the weight of sin so we can stand upright with joy and rise to heaven when we die.

Why did Jesus do it? He knew that we had nothing that we could give to God in exchange for His forgiveness—that’s why He offered to be our sacrifice. Because of this, we have received God’s offer of mercy; the only sacrifice we are asked to make is to abandon our love for sin and cling to Jesus as the most important Person in our lives. All things considered, that’s not really much of a sacrifice, is it?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Things can get better, if you trust God's promises

But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

To call someone a daydreamer is no compliment. A daydreamer is regarded as someone who wastes time in flights of fancy, someone who cannot concentrate on getting important things done.

But Joseph, son of Jacob, was no ordinary dreamer. Joseph dreamed dreams that came from God. In his time, there was no written Bible through which God could speak to men. So instead God spoke through dreams, visions, and direct confrontations. The dreams sent by God were quite a different thing from the dreams that come to people who go to bed with confused minds or sour stomachs.

In his first dream, young Joseph saw twelve bundles of wheat. His bundle stood upright, while the bundles belonging to his eleven brothers bowed down to it. In his second dream, Joseph saw the sun and the moon and eleven stars; all of these bowed down to him as well. Joseph shared these dreams with his family, and everyone immediately knew what they meant—that some day Joseph’s eleven brothers would bow to him in respectful submission, and even his parents would do the same.

As you can imagine, these dreams did not sit well with Joseph’s brothers, ten of whom were older than him. Joseph was the second youngest—why should they treat him like the first-born? This, along with the fact that Joseph was his father’s obvious favorite, caused jealousy to grow in their hearts. When Jacob had a fancy coat made for his favorite son to parade around in, jealousy became outright hatred.

The family business was sheep herding, and as the boys grazed their flock, they would be away from home for weeks at a time. One day, father Jacob wondered how his sons were faring with the herd, so he sent Joseph to go find them and report back. Joseph, wearing his coat of many colors, went to the valley of Hebron to find them, but discovered that they had moved on. He continued to the valley of Shechem, but again he found that he had missed them. Several days and 75 miles later, Joseph finally caught up to his brothers near Dothan in the valley of Esdraelon.

The brothers could not fail to see Joseph coming, what with him dressed so colorfully. They muttered to each other, Here comes that dreamer! (Genesis 37:19) Filled with envy and hatred, they discussed how they could be rid of him. Most wanted to just kill him and be done with it. Imagine it—brothers plotting murder, brothers who had been raised together in a godly home by a man and woman who revered the Lord! Just goes to show what envy and hatred can do to anyone, even a Christian!

Joseph arrived at a scene of harsh betrayal. No words of welcome. No questions as to how their father was doing. Instead, they ripped the fancy coat from him and threw him into a dry well, where they left him while they decided how to kill him. But as they discussed the matter, they saw a caravan of traders journeying down to Egypt. Brother Judah said, What can we gain by killing our brother? That would just give us a guilty conscience. Let's sell Joseph to those…traders. Let's not be responsible for his death; after all, he is our brother! (Genesis 37:26-27) So they sold Joseph into slavery for 20 silver coins.

How Joseph’s heart must have ached as he walked off in chains, hearing his brothers sneer, "now let’s see what the future holds for this boy with big dreams!" How Joseph must have yearned for the freedom to run to his loving father as the miles took him further and further from home. But the Bible gives no indication that Joseph ever gave in to despair or lost his faith in God; he had received his dreams from God, and he believed that those dreams would come true.

You and I will likely never receive a prophetic dream from God like Joseph did; that is because the Holy Spirit has caused the Bible to be written for us. Peter tells us, Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). All of the promises of God—His willingness to forgive your sins because of Jesus, His offer of loving care and guidance, and His invitation to join Him in heaven—all of these promises are guaranteed, by God’s own dictated words, to be true. Jesus, the Word of God made man, offers us comfort and hope in these sacred Scriptures: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12)…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11)I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26)…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6)…I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). Unlike Joseph, you don’t need to dream dreams to hear the Lord’s promises. You have His word, printed in a book that you can pick up and read any time. God caused His Word to be published so that you can be assured that He has not forgotten what He has promised; like Joseph, you can depend on God to honor His commitments. And because of this, like Joseph, you can face the bad times with confidence, not despair.

In Joseph’s day, Egypt was a mighty country. It had fertile farmland, a thriving economy, advanced culture and military might. When the caravan arrived they had no problem selling their slaves, and Joseph ended up in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the guard. A slave for life—this was probably worse than any unpleasant life you could imagine, whether it be living with an alcoholic, being stuck in a school or a job that you don’t like, being married to a person who repeatedly disappoints you, or serving in a military hot zone overseas. Slavery was hardly Joseph’s choice. Yet, being a child of God, instead of whining or sulking, he made up his mind to live his life for his Lord, and be an honest and faithful slave.

Joseph is a model for all of us. Whatever your situation, Joseph says by his example: quit feeling sorry for yourself! Does your life seem miserable? Change it, if you can. But if you cannot, make up your mind to live your life for God, just as it is—be the best student, housewife, or employee that you can. Remember that, as a Christian, our Lord has control of your situation, so use your life to honor Him.

Joseph served his master faithfully and cheerfully; soon he was rewarded with a promotion. Potiphar made Joseph manager of all his slaves as well as his possessions. To benefit Joseph, God blessed Potiphar and his household. Joseph was well liked by everyone in the house, and secretly desired by Potiphar’s wife. She propositioned Joseph—not just once, but day after day as he faithfully worked for her husband.

Like salesmen on the road, students at college, or servicemen overseas, Joseph was miles away from his home and his place of worship. It would be easy to give in to temptation and enjoy a night of raw lust. But he knew that God was there with him—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God held in such high esteem by his parents as the God who loved and cared. Armed with a family background of dedication to the Lord, Joseph had the determination to tell Potiphar’s wife, How…could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9) Here, parents may see the value of religious training, of reading Bible stories to their children at bedtime, of insisting that they attend Sunday School, of worshipping the Lord together as a family in church every week. Here is the payoff of showing youth that time with God is more important than time playing ball or hunting or shopping. Joseph stayed true to God because his parents had equipped him with the shield of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

But it is said that "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." With her overtures of sinful love rejected, Potiphar’s wife became filled with rage, and she falsely accused Joseph of trying to rape her. You can hardly blame Potiphar for reacting violently to such a charge—he promptly had Joseph thrown into prison. Yet there sat poor Joseph—an honorable young man who had obeyed God rather than men—and he was the one punished for doing right. How unfair! While sitting in the darkness of the dungeon, he must have wondered if it paid to be honest and upright. Where was his God? What of the promises of his dreams? Time in that dungeon must have been dark, but Joseph had at least a little light—the light of God’s approval for doing the right thing, regardless of the cost.

Even during his years in prison, Joseph did not give in to despair or bitterness. He continued to serve God as his situation permitted. And so the Lord saw that he received another promotion; Joseph was made chief among the prisoners. But while this was going on, the Lord set in motion events that would free Joseph from confinement. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was sent a dream. In the dream, Pharaoh saw seven fat cows and seven starved cows; amazingly, the starved cows overcame and ate the healthy cows. Next, the king saw seven ripened ears of corn and seven ears of sun-scorched corn; again, the dry and desiccated ears destroyed the healthy full ears. Pharaoh consulted every wise man in the country, but no one could interpret the dream. Then Pharaoh’s butler, who had for a time been in the prison with Joseph, suggested that the king consult this man who had successfully interpreted the butler’s dreams years earlier. Joseph was brought to the king, and by God’s power was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. They simply meant that Egypt would have seven years of bountiful harvests, which would be followed by seven years of terrible famine. Joseph followed this interpretation with some advice; he recommended that Pharaoh appoint a wise man to set aside 20% of each years’ harvest, so that when famine came the people would not starve.

Pharaoh was so impressed by everything Joseph said that he immediately appointed Joseph as the man in charge of this project. The king dressed Joseph in finery, and made him second in command of Egypt, answering only to Pharaoh himself. He gave orders that whenever anyone came before Joseph, they were to bow in respect and submission. Joseph had gone from being a shepherd boy to a slave, from being a slave to a convict, and now from being a convict to a prince!

The famine came as predicted, and it spread even to Joseph’s homeland. From all over, people traveled to Egypt for food as their own crops withered and died. Joseph’s family came as well. You can imagine the horrible shock his brothers felt when they realized that their lives, and the lives of their parents, lay in the hands of the brother they had treated so poorly! They bowed before him, out of abject terror, just as Joseph’s dreams had foretold.

But if Joseph showed great character in adversity, he showed even greater character in prosperity. With all his power, it would have been easy to get even with those who had hurt him. But Joseph’s God was the God of love and forgiveness, the God who would one day send His holy Son to die on our behalf so that our sins could be forgiven. Joseph knew what he must do. He forgave his brothers out of the same merciful love that God shows to all who bow before Him. And that love moved Joseph to do even more. He gave his brothers and their families all the food they needed, and, with Pharaoh’s permission, granted them land to live on in Egypt—some of the richest land in the country!

Joseph summed up his evaluation of his life in these words which he spoke to his brothers: Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. Joseph realized that God had the power and the wisdom to take any circumstance in life and bring something good out of it. This is a thought that Paul reiterates in Romans 8:28--we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. This is the same promise that Jesus made to us when He told us that if we first seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, everything else that we need will be given to us as well (Matthew 6:33).

The question, then, is this: do you trust God to make good on His promise to take care of you, as Joseph did? Do you love God enough to put Him first in your life, as Joseph did? Joseph held on to the promise that God had given him, and God brought him through adversity to the fulfillment of that promise. If you make commitment to God the most important thing in your life, He will give you everything that you need and cause things to work out in your best interests. Riches and poverty, health and sickness, even mistreatment from others can be turned by God to benefit you. That is God’s eternal promise.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Incomprehensible love

Christ suffered for you (1 Peter 2:21).

Bob and Jim were brothers who liked to horse around. They were always running, playing catch, or wrestling with each other. Frequently their mother had to shoo them out of the house so that their antics would not result in something getting broken.

One day the boys were chasing each other around the house. Suddenly there was a loud crash—then silence. Alarmed, their mom rushed into the living room, where she found her sons chalk white and glass all over the floor. Looking behind them, she saw the source of the shattered glass—the new large screen TV would never play again.

Seeing no cuts or other signs of injury on the boys, her face turned red with anger. Barely in control of herself, she demanded "who did this?" Jim shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other; just when it seemed as if he was going to open his mouth, his older brother looked their mom straight in the eyes and said, "it’s my fault."

That evening was an unpleasant one for everyone in the family, and Bob received more than just a lecture from his parents when Dad got home from work. Bob’s punishment was carefully thought out and lasted a long time; his parents wanted to impress on both boys how important it is to be careful and responsible, even when playing.

Several years went by; Jim entered high school while Bob left for college. One evening, while the younger son and his mother were working in the garden, their conversation drifted back to the day the television set was broken. After some hesitation, Jim said softly, "You know, Bob didn’t break that TV—I did." Astonished, his mother asked, "Why did Bob take the blame for you? You know the punishment he got as a result!" Jim replied, "that night when we went to bed, I asked Bob the same thing. He told me that he knew you and Dad would be really, really mad, and he just didn’t want me to have to face all that anger. He said that he was older, and he could handle it better than me."

When we sin, we make God our Father very angry, angry enough to punish us in hell. But Jesus cares for us like an older brother, and He accepted His Father’s punishment in our place. When He suffered on the cross, He endured the hell your actions deserved. Jesus did this because He loves us—loves us with such complete devotion that we can scarcely understand it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Having fun

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Some religions say that playing cards is sinful. Some forbid dancing. There are people who believe that most types of music are evil—rock & roll, country, and rap, to name a few. Others won’t let their children watch TV or go to the movies, let alone play video games.

How do you decide what kinds of entertainment are God-pleasing and what kinds are not? The measuring stick to use is the Bible; Paul says whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Whether it is dancing or playing games or watching a show, the first question should always be: does this activity serve God in some way? Let’s consider a couple of examples.

In the Bible, people danced—they danced a lot. So when does dancing become inappropriate behavior? If you dance because you are happy, there’s nothing wrong with that—after all, God wants us to enjoy life. In the Bible, God’s people frequently danced as a way to show how happy they were because of God’s blessings. But dancing can take on another character; it can be a way to show off, which is selfish and can stimulate unhealthy sexual appetites in others. Such dancing does not give glory to God, and should be avoided.

What about playing sports? The Bible sometimes refers to athletic competition as a way to teach us about training for life. Sports can develop muscles and coordination; this is good, because we need healthy bodies to serve God to the best of our abilities. Team sports also teach cooperation, a skill that every person needs. But sports can get ugly when winning becomes the chief objective. When competition gets out of control, you get problems like steroid abuse and gambling; you get players who brag and teammates who are consumed with jealousy. A drive to win at all costs does not give glory to God.

Recreational activities can be a way to share with others the joy that God has given us. Leisure pursuits can also be a release when we are feeling stressed by the pressures of life, a way to blow off steam in an appropriate way. Having fun only becomes a problem when we let it distract us from God-pleasing behavior.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend (James 2:23).

Some people enjoy going to church—others don’t. Some enjoy taking time to pray—others don’t. The reason for these differences is simple—some people are friends of God, some are not. We don’t visit the home of a person we barely know; we don’t make regular phone calls to someone we don’t feel close to--but we do enjoy calling and visiting a good friend. That’s why some like to approach God while others stay away.

The Bible tells us that Abraham was called God’s friend. He thought of God as his friend because Abraham believed God; Abraham was a man of faith. Chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us, It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith--for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent…It was by faith that Abraham…was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac…Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again.

Abraham’s life is held out to us as an example of faith. But we sometimes forget that the people of the Bible were flawed human beings like we are, that they also faced challenges that made it hard for them to believe in God and place their trust in Him. Abraham’s life was full of challenges to his faith.

Abraham’s first test came when he was still a young man living in the city of Ur (which was near modern day Baghdad). One day the Lord told Abraham, leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you (Genesis 12:1). We don’t like to leave our home, our relatives, or our friends. Before we pack up our families, we not only want to know where we’re going, but also how we will make a living when we’ve arrived. Abraham didn’t have an answer to either question. The Lord simply told him, "come, I’ll give you a land that I will show you." Abraham packed up and left, trusting that God would keep His promise and take care of him.

The Lord first lead him northwest to the city of Haran, which was located in modern-day Turkey; then Abraham and his wife, servants and cattle walked south through Syria, crossing deserts and fertile plains along their way. After a cattle-drive of nearly 1,000 miles, he reached the land of Canaan, which we know today as Palestine. The Lord told him, "this is it—the land I am giving to you and your descendants." Abraham looked around him. As far as he could see, there were low mountains and rugged hills. Most of the people lived in tents. It did not have the advanced culture, economy or services that he had enjoyed back home. We can imagine some of the servants grousing, "What a forsaken place. Let’s go back to civilization." But Abraham trusted God. He voiced no word of complaint. Instead, he built an altar and thanked God for this gift.

God’s intentions are often shrouded in mystery, but they are always good. Our Lord has a plan for each of our lives just as He had for Abraham. He knows where He wants us to live and how He wants us to invest our time and energy—whether we are to be an administrator, teacher, housewife, farmer, manager or truck driver. Sometimes our plans for our lives do not agree with His. When we insist on our own priorities, things don’t go very smoothly until we remember who it is that leads us, and that His ways are always good. It is important that we always try to discover what God wants us to be doing, and willingly follow wherever He leads.

Abraham’s next test of faith was a challenge to his generosity. Abraham had a nephew named Lot, whom he had invited to come on the trip with him. God had blessed Abraham and Lot, so that both ended up with large herds of animals. But these large herds strained the ability of the land to support them all; the herdsmen began to quarrel over grazing and water rights. We can imagine that some of Abraham’s servants muttered, "Lot had no business being here in the first place; Abraham brought him along as a favor. God gave the land to Abraham, not Lot."

But Abraham sat down with Lot to talk things over. Notice the faith and generosity of Abraham. He said, Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want that area over there, then I'll stay here. If you want to stay in this area, then I'll move on to another place (Genesis 13:9). Abraham believed that God loves those who work for peace, and trusted that God would take care of him even if he lived on poorer land.

God wants us to trust Him, and thus be able to practice generosity and love. Instead of standing up for our rights, like Abraham we are to yield to our brother and let him have the better deal. Think of all the squabbling over inheritances that could be avoided. Think of all the time and money that could be saved by avoiding court fights. Our generosity is directly tied to our trust in God. He who trusts God only a little, fears to share; he who trusts God strongly, is confident that he can share much. Abraham trusted God.

Lot chose to settle in the fertile valley near Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s third test of faith came when several warlords banded together, raided Sodom, and took Lot and his family along as slaves. Some of Abraham’s servants probably smirked, "serves him right. Why did he have to have the rich plains near Sodom? Besides, we’re only a group of herders—we’re no match for the combined army of these four warlords."

But Abraham took his 318 men and pursued the army. With God’s help he defeated the warlords, freed Lot, and brought him home safely, along with his family and stolen possessions. Abraham trusted God to help him, and God gave him victory in spite of unfavorable odds.

Do some of your tasks look impossible? Are you afraid that you’ll never get your grades up at school? Do you worry that you don’t have what it takes to be a good husband, wife or parent? Does your boss demand more than you can give? When a pastor urges you to tell others about Jesus, are you afraid that you’ll just make a fool of yourself? If God has given you something to do, trust God and set yourself to the task. God helped Abraham get through a tough situation, just as He helps all who put their trust in Him. With God’s help, we can do anything He asks of us; nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Abraham’s fourth test was a test of his willingness to give to the Lord. Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, met Abraham and blessed him. An offering to God was certainly in order—but how much? Being a man like us, Abraham was doubtless tempted to give little or nothing. No matter how much one has, there is always a desire to hoard it away for possible future need. But Abraham gave the tithe, a full tenth of all that he had, trusting that God would bring him more joy with 90% of his assets than with 100% of them. He who trusts God to care for him is generous also in the support of Christ’s church.

But Abraham did not pass all of his tests. A drought struck Palestine. The cattle and sheep began to starve. Because of this, Abraham moved south to Egypt, another land where he didn’t know anyone. Since his wife Sarah was beautiful, Abraham feared that he might be murdered and his wife taken. So Abraham told the lie, "she is my sister."

Even a man like Abraham did not have perfect confidence in God. To maintain his family and his happiness, he decided that it was best that he deceive others. This in spite of the fact that God tells us that we should never lie. Of course, Abraham’s lie caused grief and was soon exposed.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you ever feel that a little dishonesty will help you to get ahead? Do you ever lie to your spouse or your parents because you believe it is the easiest way to keep the peace? Do you ever play fast and loose with the truth to make yourself look good? If so, then like Abraham you have sinned; you have not trusted God as you should.

But the greatest test of faith was still to come. Abraham and Sarah had, until now, been childless, yet God had promised them a Savior from sin and death, who would be their descendant. Even though Abraham was in his 90s and Sarah was well past the age of child bearing, he still believed that the Lord would keep His promise. And in due time, the Lord gave the couple the joy of a son they named Isaac, whose name means "laughter." He was the pride and joy of Abraham’s life—not just because he was the first-born son, but also because, through his lineage, the Savior would be born into the world.

Life was good—a loving wife, good land, wealth, and now a wonderful son. What a shock, then, to one day hear this command from God: Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about (Genesis chapter 22). This was the supreme test of faith. What would Sarah say? What would Isaac say? Abraham would gladly have given up anything else—his land rights, his money, his herd—but God wanted his son.

Early in the morning, Abraham saddled a donkey and headed into an uncertain future with Isaac and two servants. How his heart must have ached as he watched his son kiss his mother goodbye! The journey dragged on for two long days—Abraham must have prayed as he had never prayed before. On the third day, God pointed out the designated mountain. Leaving the servants behind, Abraham began his ascent, with Isaac carrying the wood for the burnt offering (just as Jesus would, one day, carry the wooden cross to the place where He would be sacrificed). At one point, Isaac realized they were missing something: "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Knowing that Isaac was to be the offering, Abraham replied: God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son, and you can be sure that Abraham was praying hard that He would.

At the designated place, Abraham built an altar, with Isaac cheerfully helping to arrange the wood. Finally, the moment came--the boy must be told. Then Abraham laid Isaac on the altar, and raised the knife for the fatal blow. He was ready to do what God had commanded, even though he couldn’t understand why. What a faith! Abraham trusted that if need be, God could keep His promise to him by afterwards raising Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).

But at the moment when Abraham fully committed himself to God’s will, the Son of God, appearing as an angel, said: Do not lay a hand on the boy…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. And, directing his gaze to a thicket, He showed Abraham a ram caught by its horns, a sacrificial offering provided by the Lord, just as Abraham had hoped. Abraham took this male sheep and sacrificed it there in Isaac’s place, just as centuries later, God the Father would sacrifice His only Son, the Lamb of God, who died in our place to provide us with a new lease on life. And when Abraham had made his sacred offering, the Angel of the Lord spoke again: I will…make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. Because Abraham had believed God and trusted Him, he was blessed not only with the life of his son, but with the assurance that the whole world would be blessed through his descendent Jesus.

What gave Abraham such faith in God? The Bible says that when he lived on the plains of Moreh, he built an altar to God. When he lived on the plains of Mamre, he built an altar to God. When he lived near Bethel, he built an altar to God. Wherever he went, he built altars and worshipped the Lord. That was the secret of his enduring faith—he spent so much time with God that he really got to know Him, and knowing God so well, he knew that he could trust Him.

Too many people today have no more than a passing acquaintance with God, because they spend so little time with Him. They don’t really know Him, and so they don’t really trust Him. How much time do you spend with God? How much time do you invest making sure that your children or grandchildren know Him? Have you been in the habit of building an altar to Him wherever you live, a place set aside for regular Bible reading, devotion and prayer? How much is worship and Bible study a part of your week? A faith like Abraham’s only comes to those who invest their time in fellowship with God. It was Jesus Himself who said, Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An awful place

The Lord will rescue me (2 Timothy 4:18).

I’d like you to imagine a place where the weather is never agreeable. It’s always too hot or too cold. You never see the sun because every day is heavily overcast. When it is hot, the air is thick with humidity and there is not a puff of breeze to give a moment’s relief. When it’s cold, the wind tears at you mercilessly, making your skin raw. When it rains, it is always a heavy rain that soaks you to the skin and leaves you feeling chilled. When it snows, every storm is a blizzard, stranding you in deep snowdrifts with no visibility. To make matters worse, this is a primitive place—there are no buildings to take shelter in, no gas or electricity or running water to make life comfortable.

I’d like you to imagine a place with no health care. When you feel sick, there are no doctors to see, no medicines to take; there is nothing available to relieve your suffering. There are no eyeglasses or hearing aids or wheelchairs; whatever your disability, there are no supports or services to be had.

I’d like you to imagine a place where everybody is unfriendly and distant. Try to speak with them and you quickly find out that they are desperately unhappy and completely focused on their own misery; they have nothing to spare you except some harsh words or a punch to the gut.

I’d like you to imagine a place where there is no way to contact loved ones—there is no Internet access, there are no phones; not even mail service exists. Your loved ones might be somewhere in this miserable place with you, but you have no way of finding them.

I’d like you to imagine a place called hell.

Admittedly, I don’t know exactly what hell is like. The Bible speaks of it as a gloomy prison and as a lake of fire, a place where people suffer from burns and decay but never escape the pain by dying. Jesus speaks of hell as a place of constant crying, and people grinding their teeth in frustration over how hopeless their situation is. But I think that the place I’ve helped you imagine gives at least a taste of what hell is like.

Frankly, that taste was more than enough for me. I’d do anything to avoid being stranded in such a place. Thankfully, avoiding that fate is actually pretty simple. Believe in Jesus, ask Him to forgive your sins, and you will never have to experience hell for yourself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7).

Are there consequences for your actions? Many Americans don’t seem to think so. Our court system is choked with cases where people are filing law suites instead of taking responsibility for their own foolish behavior. For example, not long ago a man who is overweight went to court and filed suite against a fast food diner, claiming that the restaurant was responsible for making him fat.

But there are times when you can’t escape the consequences of your actions. Suppose a mother lets her little girl play unsupervised in the yard. The child wanders into the street and is killed by a motorist who doesn’t see her in time to stop. The grieving mother can sue the driver’s pants off, but no court decision will change the consequence of a bad decision—the little girl is dead because her mother’s attention was someplace else.

We tend to make decisions as if nothing bad could come as a result. Spent all your money foolishly? No problem—just file for bankruptcy. Don’t like to work? Get on government support. Get caught committing a crime? With good legal advice, you can probably get off with little more than a slap on the wrist.

But there are consequences to your actions, consequences that are unavoidable. Although you cannot see Him, God can see you. He hears every time you insult someone or tell a lie. He sees every time you cheat on your taxes or on your spouse. God knows everything you think, say and do, and when you die you will have to face Him, knowing that He will accept no excuses from your lips because He knows the truth about you. God will punish you for every way you have bent and broken His laws; the consequence of sin is everlasting pain in hell.

There is just one way to escape the consequences of your actions. You must let Jesus take charge of your life before it is too late. God’s Son accepted the consequences of your sinful behavior; He suffered and died in your place. He did this out of love for you; He wants to spare you from eternity in the devil’s prison. But you must accept responsibility for your actions and tell Jesus how sorry you are; to be free from the consequences of your misdeeds, you need to stop making excuses and trust in Jesus’ mercy.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Standing alone

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7).

Most people know that Adam had two sons, Cain and Abel. Most people are aware that at some point during their adulthood, Cain became jealous of his brother and killed him, committing the first murder in human history. As a consequence of his sin and his unrepentant heart, God banished Cain from the community of God’s people. From early on, there was a divide between those who followed God and those who did not.

What most people don’t realize is how quickly Adam and Eve and their children populated the earth. By the time of Noah, there were likely millions of people living on the earth. But over the intervening centuries, the people had grown away from the Lord. Although God had commanded His followers to only start families with fellow believers, Genesis tells us that men married whomever they desired, regardless of their wives’ beliefs. By the time that Noah was 500 years old, things had degraded to the point that, out of the entirety of humanity, only Noah and his family still believed in the true God. The situation was so bad that God regretted ever creating mankind.

That’s when God told Noah of the judgment to come. I will wipe mankind…from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them (Genesis 6:7). But in evidence of His merciful nature, the Lord set the date for the flood 120 years in the future, in the hope that some additional men and women would heed the visible warning of the ark as it neared completion, and turn from their selfish ways back to God.

Just as God warned Noah of a coming judgment, so has Jesus warned us of an approaching judgment. This day of reckoning will not bring destruction by water; God created the beauty of the rainbow as a pledge that He will never again destroy the earth by flood. This coming judgment will be characterized by consuming, purifying fire. In the days of Noah, the Lord gave 120 years for the people to repent and return to Him; how long He will wait patiently this time we do not know. In the days of Noah, the destruction was limited to the people and the things living upon the earth; in the Final Judgment everything will be destroyed, as we are told in 2nd Peter: the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Noah took the Lord seriously; he prepared for the judgment. The Lord gave specific instructions on how get ready for that day: using gopher wood, he was to build an ark 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high, with three decks, and seal it with pitch inside and out. Noah did not question or change the plans; instead, he got to work. Hebrews tells us, By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.

I wonder how the people treated Noah when he started building this huge boat on dry land. Some probably pitied him as being delusional. Others wondered why he had become such a religious fanatic. Still others likely made fun of him. But regardless of pity, scorn or laughter, Noah kept right on building. Even though no one else took the Lord seriously, Noah and his family cut gopher wood, planed it, and continued building the ark by which God would preserve their lives.

But let’s be clear—it wasn’t the ark that saved Noah. Without the blessing of the Lord, that ark would never have been built, and Noah would never have boarded it. Noah was saved because of his relationship with the Lord. Hebrews says, By faith Noah…built an ark…and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Like his ancestor Enoch, Noah knew the promise of a Savior which God have given to Adam and Eve to give them hope as they were banished from paradise for their sins. Noah was convinced that God was first and foremost a God of love, a God who was willing to forgive sins, a God who could be trusted and relied upon. Every great man of the Old Testament was great only because he believed in the promises of God, and it was such belief that made Noah great and saved him.

Noah’s faith in God revealed itself in many different ways. Genesis tells us that, just like Enoch, Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9). Above all else, this means that he was a friend of God. Children often walk home from school together in pairs of two. Why? Because they like each other. Noah walked with God because he liked God. He regarded God as his Maker, his Protector, his Redeemer—the one being in all the universe who cared for and loved him perfectly. Noah liked God. If Noah were alive with us here today, one of his favorite hymns might be "what a friend we have in Jesus."

Turn on the news any day and you will be distressed at the condition of our world. Rampant greed, racial and religious discrimination, abuse and neglect of the weak and defenseless, dishonesty in business and corruption in government. But in Noah’s day things were even worse. In describing worldwide conditions, Genesis 6:11 tells us, the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. But of Noah we read, Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time (Genesis 6:9). If Noah were living today, he would give an employer an honest day’s work for his wages. He would treat everyone he met fairly, whether they were white or black, hispanic or native american or oriental. He would stand up for the rights of the unborn, the disabled, and the aged. He would be ethical in all his dealings, whether in business or in serving the public.

Noah was obedient among a crowd of the disobedient. There are many today who have little respect for God’s commandments; some don’t even want them displayed at our courthouses. But it was far worse in Noah’s day. Today, sinners try to excuse their behavior with statements like "I had a lapse in judgment." In Noah’s day, doing evil wasn’t a lapse in judgment, it was a full-time occupation. But of Noah we read, Noah did everything just as God commanded him (Genesis 6:22). It’s not all that hard to follow God’s rules some of the time, but to live your life by His standards continually, that’s the test of discipleship. If Noah were living today, he would take very seriously the Almighty’s command to raise children in the fear and love of the Lord. He would pray with his children every day, read the Bible with them frequently, and be with them at worship every Lord’s Day. Noah did what was needed to ensure the safety of his family, and it all hinged on their relationship with God.

Noah was steadfast and immovable even when he had to stand alone. Noah lived 600 years before the flood, and 350 years after it. He saw a lot of life. Imagine how far back 600 years would take you. You would have been alive before the birth of Martin Luther or the European discovery of America. 600 years is a long time to remain loyal to God when everyone else has turned to money-making and partying. Imagine that every church stood empty, there were no religious programs on TV or the radio, and not a single blogger wrote about Christ. Would you keep devoting yourself to God’s worship?

When Noah was a teen, there were places to go that should be avoided, there were things to do that were dangerous and wrong. All the young men and women were attracted to these thrills—but Noah stood alone. When he was a young married man, the adults surrounding him were concerned about eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, and nothing more. But keeping his focus on God’s kingdom and His righteousness, Noah stood alone. In his later life, when God warned of the coming judgment and execution by flood, no one else prepared for it. Noah stood alone.

It takes courage to stand alone. It takes courage for a youth to say to the group, "this isn’t right—let’s not do it." It takes courage for a struggling married couple to make devotion, prayer and worship their first priority, when there is so much pressure to work overtime, run the kids to another game, or collapse into bed, exhausted. It takes courage to come to church alone, when no one in your family wants to come with you. It takes courage to give up earthly pleasures in anticipation of heaven, when the television tells you to "just do it."

For almost 600 years, Noah stood alone. He had the courage to do so, because he knew that he was not alone. He walked with God, and God walked with him. He didn’t need the approval of anyone else; having God on your side puts you in the only majority that matters.

Noah was concerned about saving others. 2nd Peter 2:5 calls Noah a preacher of righteousness. The man’s entire life was a sermon. The building of the ark was a sermon. Throughout the years of construction, Noah must have explained why he was building it, how important it was that the people repent of their hard-heartedness and return to God for mercy. He certainly tried to remind them of God’s promise to send His representative from heaven, who, although mortally wounded by the devil’s bite, would ultimately live to crush the head of our enemy and offer forgiveness to everyone who places their trust in Him. Noah was a preacher who held out the gift of the Righteous One of God. But he converted no one. What would you think of a pastor if he, in 120 years, converted not a single person? You’d probably conclude that the pastor was a failure. Noah wasn’t a failure; he was faithful to God—it was the people that disregarded his words who were failures.

It was a day like any other day. The sun rose. The people went to work. A few may have noticed that Noah wasn’t around and the door into the ark was shut. Then, the rain began to fall. Water fell in torrents from the sky, and geysers of water erupted from the ground. For 40 days and nights God poured out His judgment. Some probably screamed for help and pounded on the door of the ark. Others tried to climb mountains and find safety, but were surrounded by terrified wild animals who were also seeking sanctuary. Family members blamed each other for not taking Noah’s warnings seriously. Genesis simply says, Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark (Genesis 7:23).

Jesus said, As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:37). The sun will rise that morning. People will be driving along the highway. Some will be praying. Some will be in bed, or at work, or out golfing or fishing or hunting. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, the Son of Man will appear in all His holy glory, accompanied by countless angels. This will be the final judgment.

What a great and wonderful day for the people who belong to Jesus! Like Noah was lifted free of the sinful earth in the ark, so will all believers be lifted up in angels’ hands and carried to eternal joy. But all the rest—all those who didn’t have the time for Jesus, all who didn’t believe that they needed Him, all those who said that they would think about spiritual things when they were older—all of them will feel the cleansing fire that will end sin forever.

Are you ready? Are you building a spiritual ark to save yourself and your children? The Bible is the blue print—Jesus says, Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15) The Lord Jesus, who died for your sins, who rose on the third day to open heaven to you, and who will return to judge who will be invited in, reminds you to keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come (Matthew 24:42).

Early diagnosis

Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved (Psalm 80:3).

In our home, Dad always took care of the cars. He drove one, Mom and I shared the other. The mechanics class offered in high school was optional, and I wasn’t interested enough to take it. I didn’t even own a car until I got married after college graduation. Basically, I knew nothing about car maintenance. Then one summer when my folks were visiting, Dad was shocked to find out that I only added oil when the little red light came on. But until then, no one had taught me a thing about automotive maintenance.

Farmers are always fixing things; equipment seems to break down during the busiest times of the year. So farmers are keenly aware of when a tractor or truck or combine isn’t running as it should; as soon as they notice an odd vibration or hear a strange noise, they are checking to find out the cause. A person who relies on machinery to make a living knows that it is faster and cheaper to fix something early on instead of waiting for it to become a major problem. This is a lesson I have learned as well.

Oddly enough, most people neglect the single most important thing they have—the health of their souls. Many go through one day after another, ignoring the warning signs that something isn’t right. They have a hard time dragging themselves out of bed; they eat too much or have no appetite at all; they snap at people they love or just stop talking to them altogether; they cry unexpectedly for little or no reason; they stop doing things that used to be a source of enjoyment. These are the soul’s equivalent of a mysterious vibration or a strange cluncking sound. Yet instead of investigating the problem, most just continue with their usual routine, hoping that things will get better on their own. Of course, any mechanic will tell you that problems don’t get better on their own; left unattended, a minor problem can become a major one in short order.

Jesus is the mechanic that you need to see for problems with your soul. He knows the cause for the problems you’re experiencing—sin is causing a breakdown. Sin can make you selfish and unloving; sin can make you bitter and hostile; sin can make you terrified of new situations or failure; sin can make you feel as if everything is hopeless. And Jesus can do more than just diagnose your problem. He can forgive your sins and move you to be more loving, more trusting, and more generous; He can fill you with hope that as bad as things might seem right now, He can keep you safe and make you happy. Jesus has an opening to see you right now; don’t wait for a complete breakdown to go to Him for help.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Clogged arteries and pipes

I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities (Isaiah 1:25).

Like many of you, I have elevated cholesterol. The doctors tell me that cholesterol is a fatty substance that sticks to the inside of blood vessels, clogging them; this makes the heart work hard to pump blood throughout the body. If left untreated, high cholesterol can lead to heart attacks or strokes.

I have lived in some houses that must have had elevated cholesterol. Many of these homes are older than I am, with plumbing lines prone to getting clogged up. Years of sticky waste coat the inside of the pipes, sometimes causing sinks and bathtubs to drain slowly. Even with the use of drain cleaners, there are times when the flow of water stops completely, requiring a call to the plumber for help.

Sin is like the cholesterol that clogs your blood vessels and the sticky waste that clogs your plumbing. Sin is something that you cannot completely avoid. No matter how carefully you eat, cholesterol is always laying deposits in your arteries; there will always be garbage that goes down the drain and gets stuck in a pipe somewhere. And no matter how hard you try, you sin every day—you let opportunities to do good slip away unused, you speak words that are needlessly hurtful, you neglect praying to God and studying His word because you let other activities use up your time.

And the effects of sin are deadly. Clogged pipes prevent you from washing clothes, taking a shower, and flushing waste away—clogged pipes make your home an unhealthy place to live. Clogged arteries are even more dangerous—a stroke can leave you helpless and unable to communicate, while a heart attack can kill you. But sin is the deadliest problem of all—it chokes the life from your soul, and results in a hellish afterlife.

You can treat cholesterol through diet and medication. A plumber can tear out old pipelines and replace them with new ones. And there is an effective treatment for sin as well. Jesus can flood your soul with spiritual health, no matter how badly sin has clogged things up. Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross of atonement, can free you from old, clinging sins and fill your inner self with a new vitality. Don’t put off treating your condition a moment longer; pray to Jesus for spiritual health before sin chokes all life from you.

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