Thursday, July 31, 2008


Your word is truth (John 17:17).

People want the truth. We hold trials to find out if an accused person is guilty or innocent. Congress has hearings to find out the truth behind public scandals. News organizations employ fact checkers to make sure that errors do not creep into their reporting. School boards want to be sure that student textbooks are accurate and trustworthy in presenting the truth.

People want the truth. Life is full of important decisions, and we don’t want to rely on faulty or misleading information lest we make a mistake of monumental proportions. But sometimes we want something so badly that we lose sight of the truth. In the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy was on a crusade for truth—but he was so convinced that America was filled with communist sympathizers that his quest for truth turned into a witch-hunt instead. People who want to believe in evolution are willing to overlook any number of scientific findings that don’t support their theory of how life came to be. When called to meet with the principal over disciplinary problems at school, many parents wave aside the facts and angrily respond, "My child would never do that!"

People want the truth, but we don’t always embrace it when it comes along. Some truths are uncomfortable or challenge the way we look at the world around us. When we don’t like the truth, we are tempted to ignore it or reinterpret it in a different light. Because people behave this way, some now believe that truth is an illusion, that what is true for you isn’t necessarily true for me. Of course if truth doesn’t really exist, then trials and congressional hearings and fact checkers are pointless. If there is nothing you can rely upon, then science is an illusion because it is supposed to be founded on scientific truths.

People want the truth. And truth does exist, even though we sometimes disregard it or twist it to suit our fancy. People may lie while under oath, but hiding the truth does not change the truth. People may get their facts wrong or jump to incorrect conclusions, but in spite of that the truth remains waiting to be discovered.

Where can you find the truth, undistorted by human failings? Look in the Bible. Listen to Jesus. Trust in the Son of God who said, everyone on the side of truth listens to me (John 18:37).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105).

Encyclopedias: there was a time when most families bought a set if they could afford to. Parents wanted to do everything they could to prepare their children for a successful future, and it was hoped that kids would browse through these books and be fascinated by the wealth of knowledge available to them.

I remember flipping through our encyclopedias every once in a while when I was bored, but mainly I used them for working on school projects. When you consider how much an encyclopedia set cost—several hundred dollars at least—I really wonder if a set at home was worth the investment. After all, every school and public library had sets you could use for free. And these books became outdated so quickly—you needed to keep buying yearbooks to keep up on current events and scientific advancements.

Of course, the age of the computer has change encyclopedias tremendously. Now you can buy one on CD for less than a hundred dollars and get updates by the Internet. But even though encyclopedias have gone high tech with video clips, sound bites and animated graphics, I still don’t see kids browsing knowledge just for the fun of it—encyclopedias are still used mainly to complete class projects.

Most people treat the Bible this way as well. Have you ever opened God’s Book to read it, just because you wanted to find out what you could learn? If you have, that’s wonderful! But most people treat the Bible like an encyclopedia—they only consult it when they have a problem they need help solving. They turn to God’s word when they are sad or confused or at their wit’s end; they open the Bible looking for answers.

Don’t get me wrong—God wants us going to Him for help when we are facing difficult problems and need good advice. But it is a sad thing to see a Bible collecting dust on a shelf. The Word of God is so many things—epic history, intimate stories of failure and success, inspirational poetry, as well as a guidebook for successful living. But most important of all, the Bible is a love letter from God, where He speaks of His commitment to you and describes the wonderful future He has planned for you. No matter what kind of day you are having, God’s Book has something to say that is relevant and interesting.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

God is near

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it" (Genesis 28:16).

As human beings born with limitations, we have a hard time understanding our God since He has no limits. Since we don’t know everything, it is hard for us to accept that God knows everything, even the deepest secrets hidden in our hearts. Since we are sometimes unwilling to forgive, it is difficult for us to understand how God can forgive us over and over again. It is also hard for us to believe that God is present everywhere. Since we can only be one place at a time, we tend to think of God as being restricted in the same way. We tend to treat God as if His presence is restricted to certain places or certain times of the week.

Usually, we are aware of the fact that God is present in church. But are we aware of His presence outside those walls? Are we always aware that our Lord is present with us in our living rooms, our kitchens and our bedrooms? Do we remember that He is next to us when we speak to our spouses, discipline our children, or do business with our neighbors? Do we remember that God is with us where we work and play?

This was Jacob’s mistake. He forgot that God is present everywhere with His merciful love. Looking back, Jacob exclaimed "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." Jacob didn’t realize that wherever you are, God is always present.

Jacob had a brother named Esau. Esau was the elder brother, and for that reason he was owed the birthright. The birthright was both a gift and a responsibility; the son who received the birthright from his dying father got a double share of the inheritance, and was also given the responsibility of leadership over his brothers and sisters as the new head of the family. But Esau didn’t give much thought to the future; one day, when Esau came in hungry from unsuccessful hunting, Jacob took advantage of the situation to swindle him out of the birthright in exchange for a delicious meal. I doubt that Jacob would have done such a thing if he and his brother were standing at the altar of God; but in his home, Jacob forgot that God was present and therefore resorted to trickery to get what he wanted.

Later, as their father Isaac lay nearly blind on his deathbed, Jacob again stooped to deception. He knew that his father planned to give his blessing to Esau, but Jacob wanted the blessing of the dying man for himself. So when Esau went out hunting in order to serve Isaac his favorite cut of meat, Jacob quickly prepared a meal of his own, disguised himself as his brother, and brought his meal to the dying man. Notice how boldly Jacob lies to his father; Genesis chapter 27 records their conversation as follows: He went to his father and said, "My father." "Yes, my son," he answered. "Who is it?" Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing." Isaac asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" "The LORD your God gave me success," he replied. Jacob even used God’s name to give credibility to his lie! Again, I doubt that Jacob would have done such a thing if he were standing before the altar of God, or if he had remembered that God was present there in the room with him.

Forgetting that God was aware of everything that was going on, Jacob sinned and his sins got him into trouble. Esau vowed to kill his cheating younger brother. Jacob must have felt very alone as he wandered by himself through Palestine to find refuge with his uncle Laban far to the north. He was separated from his mother, separated from his brother, and even separated from God because of his sins. How isolated and lonely he must have felt as he lay on the ground to sleep, using a rock for a pillow?

But while Jacob was sleeping, he had a dream. Not just an ordinary dream. Before the days when the books of the Bible were written, God frequently made Himself known to His people in this way. In his dream, Jacob saw a long stairway reaching all the way from earth to heaven. Multitudes of angels were ascending and descending this lstairway. But this wasn’t the most important part of the dream. Above the ladder was God—and, to Jacob’s surprise, this was not an angry God, not a God who yelled or threatened, but a God who knew that Jacob regretted his sinful deeds. This God spoke to him in words of tender, forgiving love: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:13-15).

In this way, God promised Jacob two things; He promised Jacob the land of Palestine as an inheritance for his descendants, and He promised that from those same descendants would be born the Savior of the world who had been promised to Adam, Abraham, and Isaac before him. God promised Jacob a Savior whose death would free every repentant sinner in history from their guilt, including the sins that Jacob had committed in cheating his older brother. No wonder that Jacob exclaimed as he awoke, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

From this point on, Jacob was a changed man. No longer a man who acted like a believer just when he was at God’s altar, but a man who believed that God was present with him in love wherever he was, whatever he was doing. This conviction changed his whole life. Confident in God’s continual loving presence, Jacob no longer felt the need to get anything through lying or cheating.

Let’s look at this new man as he deals with his unscrupulous uncle Laban. Laban had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel and promised to work for Laban for seven years to gain her hand in marriage. But when the seven years of service were up, Laban cheated him by giving him Leah instead; only now did Laban insist that, by local custom, the eldest daughter must be married first. How would you have reacted? But remembering that God was with him and loved him, Jacob trusted that the Lord would cause things to work out for the best; Jacob gave another seven years of service to Laban in exchange for permission to marry Rachel.

Consider also how Jacob sought reconciliation with his brother Esau. When he eventually returned to his homeland with two wives, over a dozen children, a large herd of animals and many servants, he did not meet his brother with armed men ready to protect him or to force negotiations for peace. Instead, Jacob sent his brother gifts. Instead of scheming or plotting, Jacob knelt to God in sincere prayer, saying: I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau (Genesis 32:10-11). Truly, Jacob was a changed man.

And God blessed this new Jacob. Over the many years that Jacob worked for Laban, his uncle changed how his nephew was to be paid ten times, hoping by such maneuvering to keep most of the wealth for himself. Yet no matter what Laban tried, God insured that Jacob always came out ahead. At one point, Jacob was allowed to keep for himself any goats born with spots; subsequently, most of the newborn were spotted. When the terms were changed to allow Jacob to claim calves born with streaked coats, most of the newborn calves were streaked.

But the greatest blessing came to Jacob one night as he slept alone by the Jabbok River. That night, a strange man wrestled with Jacob until morning, even causing Jacob’s hip to become dislocated to see if Jacob would give up or resort to dirty fighting. But in spite of exhaustion and pain, Jacob would not admit defeat, nor did he try to win the match by using some trick. Instead he wrestled honorably, insisting that he would not give up until he received the stranger’s blessing. In response, the stranger told him "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." So after the stranger blessed him and departed, Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared" (Genesis chapter 32).

No Christian need ever feel alone. The Bible assures us that God is present everywhere with His love. It is true that God is in heaven—Psalm 115 says, Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. It is also true that God is present in His Church—the prophet Habakkuk tells us, the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20). But the Bible also teaches that God is everywhere. When Solomon dedicated to God the great Temple in Jerusalem, he said, The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27) There is no church big enough to contain God. His greatness fills all of creation. King David asks, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10). Jesus Himself promises us, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). This is another way of saying, "I’ll be with you wherever you go." Whether you are working in town, washing dishes at home, studying at school, or serving overseas in the armed forces, Jesus is always there with His love.

And Jesus is with you in every situation that you face in life. He is with you when the crops receive too much rain or too little; when your body becomes sick or you receive bills that you cannot pay; when you can’t get your grades up or when you are snubbed for being an old-fashioned, stick-in-the-mud Christian. He is present when a mother struggles with morning sickness or feels constant back pain from being pregnant; when a child tests the limits of her parents' patience and authority; when a teen worries Mom or Dad because he finds more joy in sinning than in spending time with Christ. Jesus is present when your joints ache and your vision is fuzzy and it is hard to remember the faces of those you have loved and lost over the years. He is present when your body begins to lose its warmth, your breath starts coming in shallow gasps, and you feel the approach of death. At every time and place of your life, Jesus stands near, ready to listen to your prayers, soothe your soul, give you hope and encouragement, bless your efforts made in His service, and, at the last, to take you to be with Him forever in heaven.

God is present everywhere with His love. May He enable you to remember this important truth every day. May He keep you aware of His loving presence wherever you are—in church, at home, at work, at school, in days of prosperity and in days of adversity, in days of happiness and in days of sorrow, when you sin, when you pray, and in the hour of your death.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:25).

Years ago, a group a friends were discussing nudity. One person said that photos of naked women were indecent. But when asked how she felt about a painting featuring a nude woman, she said that was different—that was art.

We have conflicting attitudes about nudity. Pictures of naked babies are cute, but once that child becomes a teenager, such pictures are regarded as pornographic. Artists prize the nude body as an example of natural beauty, while many husbands and wives turn off the lights before they make love.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wore no clothes and didn’t give it a second thought; there was no interest in clothing until after the first couple disobeyed God and became tainted with sin. Sin made them self-conscious, worried about how they looked and what the other person was thinking while staring at a naked body. Mutual trust was replaced with doubt and suspicion.

Because of sin, nakedness has become shameful and frightening. We want the comfort of being clothed because we worry that others will judge us on our looks, or that they will only see us as a sexual plaything instead of a person. What was beautiful and innocent has been made dirty and perverted. When we look with pleasure at a naked baby or a piece of fine art featuring a nude, we get a brief glimpse of what God intended for our body image.

So long as sin contaminates the world, nakedness will always be uncomfortable and provoke obscene thoughts. It is our sinful nature to judge each other based on outward appearance, and to regard other human beings as objects to give us pleasure instead of individuals to be respected. That is why we need Jesus’ forgiveness. We need His help to love each other as equals. We need His help to see beauty beneath the surface of another person’s skin. We need His mercy when we treat the sight of a naked body as just another thrill like the buzz we get from drinking alcohol or speeding down the highway. It is only with Jesus’ help that can we look at each other without shame or worry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Be content with what you have, because God has said, "I will never leave you; I will never turn my back on you" (Hebrews 13:5).

When I was a kid, I remember grownups complaining about billboards along the highways, and how they ruined the scenery when you went out for a drive. But the amount of advertising we were exposed to in the early ‘60s is nothing compared to the onslaught of today. Every car and driver at a racetrack is covered with the logos of sponsors. Almost every major sporting event is named for a corporate donor. Most web pages have banners or pop ups that advertise some product. About ¼ of every hour of television is taken up by commercials. And billboards are alive and well, cluttering both city streets and country highways.

We are bombarded with so much advertising that much of the time we subconsciously tune it out. But advertising works—a clever ad campaign can affect where people go to eat burgers or buy their insurance. Advertising makes children cry for things that their parents can’t afford. Advertising is big business, carefully thought out to influence you.

We appreciate some advertising—when you’re driving through unfamiliar countryside and your gas tank is close to empty, you want to see advertising for the next filling station. But many commercials urge you to purchase things that you don’t need; to lure you in, they suggest that you are missing out on something wonderful if you don’t use their product. Every day, you repeatedly get the message that your life is incomplete, that you are not as happy as you could be. The cumulative effect of this is terrible. Advertisers have made us believe that we can never be satisfied with things as they are right now; there is always something else that we need. The result is that few of us are content with what we have; instead, we view shopping as a quest for happiness, we max out credit cards that we can’t pay off, we spend all our money now and save nothing for the future.

If you constantly want more, more, more, you will never be satisfied. A better alternative is to heed Paul’s advice given to Timothy: godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Timothy 6:6-8). God can satisfy your need for happiness in a way that no amount of shopping ever can.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Going blind

Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison (Judges 16:21).

I Imagine that you've probably seen a lion or two in the zoo. You know how big these cats can get; you know how dangerous they can be. Imagine encountering one as you are out walking—how would you survive, if you were unarmed?

Samson encountered a lion when he was walking along a road. Samson had no weapons except his bare hands, but using his amazing strength, he grabbed hold of the ferocious cat and tore it apart, killing it. Samson had such incredible power because God was with him. God enabled Samson to accomplish many amazing feats of strength.

Samson lived in Israel after Joshua had died but before the nation had a king. God was the only official leader the people had, but sometimes He would appoint someone to step forward and defend His people from their enemies; Samson served God in this way for 20 years.

The enemies that Samson fought against were called the Philistines. They were a race of powerful sailors and warriors who had settled what is known today as the Gaza Strip. They had advanced weapon-making technology, and harassed the communities of Israel for many years. They were a heathen nation; instead of praying to our Father in heaven, they built temples for the worship of Dagon, a large fish that they treated as a god. These were the enemies of Israel that Samson was set apart to combat.

Because God was with him, Samson performed impossible feats. When the Philistines gave Samson’s fiancée to another man in marriage, Samson went out and caught 300 foxes. He then tied these foxes together in pairs by their tails, and set those tails on fire. In their desperation to find shelter, these foxes hid among piles of wheat, subsequently destroying most of the Philistine’s harvest. On another occasion, a group of Philistines tried to kill Samson. Caught unarmed, he picked up the jawbone of a dead donkey and used this improvised weapon to kill 1,000 of Israel’s enemies. And when the Philistines thought that they had Samson cornered in a walled city at night, he ripped up the city gate, along with its supporting posts, and carried the entire thing off into the mountains with him as he made his escape. Samson was empowered by God, and so was able to do these amazing feats of strength.

But today’s lesson takes us to a point twenty years later in Samson’s life. How things had changed! We are told, Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison. Having finally captured Samson, the Philistines blinded him, and to add insult to injury, they took him to one of their cities and set him to work as a slave. There was no electric power in those days; to grind corn and wheat into flour, they used manual power. Grain was placed between two very heavy millstones, one placed on top of the other. Poles were attached to the upper stone, and either animals or slaves were chained to these poles and made to turn the millstone for hours on end; flour was the result. This was the humiliating, agonizing task that Samson was enslaved to.

It was a pitiful sight. The man who had been chosen by God to deliver Israel from her enemies—the man who had started off so powerfully, and served God for 20 years—now found himself blind and enslaved in a miserable life. But Samson’s blindness didn’t happen suddenly. Samson had been blind a long time before his eyes were gouged out. It was a gradual development, going hand-in-hand with his gradual loss of trust in, and obedience to, God.

Samson’s parents were strong believers. I’m sure that they spent many hours teaching Samson God’s words from the Books of Moses, and that they held him up to God in their prayers for a happy and safe life in the Lord’s service. And Samson was a good boy; God groomed him from childhood to be Israel’s protector. But when Samson reached the age where he started making decisions for himself, he was soon spending time with the very Philistines he had been raised to defend against. Before long, he fell in love with one of these fish-worshipping girls. His father asked, Isn't there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife? But in spite of his parents’ pleading, Samson was adamant, he said Get her for me. She's the right one for me, and so his parents gave in and arranged the marriage (Judges 14:3-4). Samson had taken the first step towards becoming blind and enslaved in a miserable life.

There are lessons here for both parents and their children. Parents: just because your child wants something is not sufficient reason to give it to them. All too often, parents give in to their children’s demands. Sometimes parents give in because they feel that if you love someone, you must give them whatever they want; other times, parents give in because they do not want to risk losing the love of their child. And sometimes parents allow their children to have their way because the child’s whining just wears them down. But no parent should ever let their child get away with telling them, "I’m not going to church today." No parent has the right to give up on their God-given responsibility for their children’s spiritual training. While it is true that parents must gradually allow their children to make their own decisions, they must never be a party to bad decisions. If only Samson’s parents had not given in to his demand, maybe things would have turned out differently for their son.

There is also a lesson here for youth. In the Fourth Commandment, God tells us to honor our parents; this includes respecting their wisdom. Samson’s parents knew that it is risky to surround oneself with friends who do not believe in the Lord; all too often, such friendships lead a believer away from the faith. This is why God insisted that Joshua lead the people in sweeping non-believers out of the Promised Land; when you spend time with non-Christians, it is easy to start ignoring your faith. Samson’s parents knew this, and Samson would have done well to heed their good advice.

Samson wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He wanted to be God’s chosen warrior, but he did not like the self-discipline that must be a part of having responsibility. When his first fiancée was lost to him, Samson did not learn from his mistake; he went ahead and married Delilah, another Philistine woman. He fell out of the habit of worshiping and praying to God. He even visited a prostitute. Lack of self-discipline got Samson into trouble, and resulted in becoming blind and enslaved in a miserable life.

Back in 1940, E. Stanley Jones remarked, "what Americans need is more self-discipline." That was over 60 years ago—but how true it is in 2008! If people want contentment and happiness, they must practice self-discipline. Paul writes, the grace of God that brings salvation…teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives (Titus 2:11-12). Peter says, The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray (1 Peter 4:7). These passages, along with many others, call for us to practice self-discipline.

Indulging our desires without regard to the consequences is to act blindly, and can easily lead to enslavement in a miserable life. The little girl who binges on chocolate will suffer for it. The student who cannot make himself study will run into problems. The grown man who cannot control his temper will pay a price, as will the woman who cannot control her spending. Lack of self-discipline resulted in misery for Samson, and that danger awaits us as well. When you are suffering, before you blame anybody else, take a good look at how you ended up where you are—perhaps it was a lack of self-discipline that has brought you to your current situation.

Samson had been a believer. God gave him the power to kill a lion bare-handed, defeat every Philistine that opposed him, and act as Israel’s protector for 20 years. But everything was going so well for Samson that he forgot that he needed the Lord’s constant support. He forgot about praying. He forgot about God. He ended up a braggart who put his trust in his own abilities. That is why he ended up in blind misery.

Success and money are wonderful blessings when we thank God for them and put them to use in His service. But when these blessings are taken for granted or used selfishly, they frequently lead people to forget about God and focus on themselves. America is the richest nation in the world, and the number of Christians in our country is shrinking as our wealth and power and contentment grows. Wallowing in the pleasures of life easily distracts us from God, as we spend more and more of our time on ourselves instead of in service to Him.

People often wonder how they got into trouble. How did I get so far into debt? How did I lose the love in my marriage? How did my children end up so rebellious? How did I end up trapped in a job that I hate? And then they say, "Church? I don’t have time for that—my plate is full enough already." Their encroaching blindness has led them into misery and despair, and prevented them from seeing their only true source of rescue from their slavery. And it happened so slowly that they didn’t see it coming. The Bible tells us that Samson didn’t even realize what had happened--he did not know that the LORD had left him (Judges 16:20). If you had asked him "are you a believer?" he would undoubtedly been insulted and claimed, "Of course I am. Are you?"

God steps away from people in the hope of drawing them back. In spite of all that Samson had done, God still loved him and worked to get Samson’s attention. The Philistines were having a great celebration to honor their fish-god. To humiliate Samson even more, they brought him into the temple to make fun of him. In the depth of his misery, Samson finally came to his senses. He remembered his parents’ faith. He remembered their love of God, and how God had blessed him in the past. And suddenly, Samson was praying again. He asked God to forgive him, and to give him strength to serve the Lord one last time. God forgave Samson, and restored his incredible strength to him. Samson grabbed the two center pillars holding up the roof, and demonstrated once more that the fish-god had no power to do anything, that all true power comes from the Triune God. Using the Lord’s strength, Samson knocked down the roof supports, and the building collapsed, crushing a great many Philistine rulers and religious leaders, ending the lives of more enemies of God than Samson had accomplished in the previous 20 years of his life.

Our Lord waits for every straying person to return to Him. He went so far as to send His Son Jesus to suffer and die for our shabby treatment of God, so that we can return to Him, not fearing His anger, but believing that He will forgive us and take us back. Jesus’ loving arms are always open in welcome. It is critical that we accept our Savior’s embrace while we are living, lest we exchange His embrace for the embrace of eternal death. Do you know someone like Samson, who is blindly going his or her own way into slavery to misery? Speak to them and pray for them, because Samson teaches us that until the day that we die, it is never too late to turn back to the Lord in repentance. And above all, pray for yourself every day, that you never succumb to slowly encroaching blindness and need to be called back yourself.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why did Jesus die?

Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Why would Jesus die for you and me? He was arrested and convicted, even though He broke no laws. He was whipped and beaten, spat on and ridiculed, and finally nailed to a cross to die a slow and agonizing death. The prophet Isaiah wrote about Him saying: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3). God’s word also says that we were the reason He suffered all this; he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). But why would He do this for us? Why would he do this for me? I’m certainly not worth His pain. I’m nothing special; I’ve broken His commandments more times than I can count. I have not loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength or mind; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. You haven’t either. So why did Jesus go through hell on earth on our behalf?

On Good Friday, Jesus was not the only man sentenced to death by crucifixion. Two criminals were executed on Calvary next to Jesus. One faced his death with an arrogant sneer, but the other regretted his crimes and turned to Jesus for mercy. Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42-43). Jesus loved that man. Jesus was willing to die to rescue him from the hell his sin-filled life had earned for him. And when the criminal asked Jesus to look kindly on him, the Lord promised him a place in heaven.

That is why Jesus died for us. Not because we deserve it—the criminal admitted that his life only deserved death, yet Jesus loved him anyway. Jesus loves us all, and He was nailed to the cross to show us the full extent of His love. Only the death of God’s Son could make up for the sins of all humanity—the criminal’s sins, my sins, your sins. Isaiah wrote, he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6). Jesus suffered for our sins so we would not have to; Jesus died filthy with our sins so that His blood dripping from the cross can make us clean and beautiful in His sight. That is why He died for us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


By His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:6).

What is the worst thing you’ve ever done? Have you lied to your parents, your children, or the person you married? Have you broken a promise to never reveal something told you in confidence? Have you made fun of the way another person looks or acts? Have you told someone that you hate them or that you wished they were dead?

What weighs heavily on your conscience? Are you guilty of shoplifting or stealing from a friend? Are you guilty of egging someone’s house or putting graffiti on a wall? Are you guilty of wasting time while on the job? Are you guilty of taking the credit for another person’s hard work?

What memories torment you? Have you forced someone to have sex with you? Have you bruised another person or caused them to bleed? Have you used threats to get your own way? Have you made a bad decision because you refused to accept good advice from others?

What do you regret? Are you guilty of passing stranded motorists without stopping to offer help? Are you guilty of spending all your money on yourself and never donating to charity? Are you guilty of hiding your feelings from others, never letting anyone get close to you? Are you guilty of taking God for granted, never spending time in church and only praying when you’re in trouble or want something?

We all have regrets. We have all made mistakes, said and done things that filled our lives with lingering pain and unhappy memories. We are sinners by nature and habit, people who love selfishly and serve others only grudgingly. Scripture says, The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is only trouble and sorrow (Psalm 90:10).

This is why Jesus suffered on the cross; He took the misery of all human sin upon Himself so we could be freed from it. In exchange, He offers forgiveness—complete release from guilt’s hold on you. Jesus offers you mercy, and He offers it freely—all He wants is that you kneel beneath that bloodstained cross and ask Him to give you peace.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua (Numbers 13:16). She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

What’s in a name? These days, names don’t mean much. A cooper is a person who makes crates and barrels, but most people named Cooper don’t build containers for shipping. A smith is a person who works with metal, but most people named Smith do not work in steel mills. In today’s world, a person’s name rarely describes him.

But in Bible times, people were frequently given a name that described them and their work. Moses was given his name because Moses means "drawn out of the water." Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, because Abraham means, "father of a great nation." Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord all night, and as a result was given the name Israel, which means "one who wrestles with God."

In today’s Bible texts, we are told that Hoshea had his name changed to Joshua; Joshua is the Hebrew word for "savior." We are also told that the Son of Man was given the name Jesus, which is the Greek word for "savior." Both Joshua and Jesus were given the same name. And so today we will compare these two individuals to see how they were both properly named "Savior."

To begin with, both men were obedient. Joshua obeyed even when it was hard to obey. When it was time to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Lord told Joshua "Be strong and courageous. Go take the land" Joshua obeyed. He led the people across the river, even though it was at flood stage and there were no boats or bridges. He went on to conquer the land of Canaan, even though his people were hopelessly outnumbered.

Jesus was also obedient. His obedience was necessary for our salvation. We are saved from damnation not only through Jesus’ suffering, but also through His obedience to God the Father. Romans chapter 5 tells us, just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous. Jesus obeyed even when it was hard to obey. He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane to the point that He actually sweated blood—yet He told His Father, not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:39). St. Paul writes, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

How is our obedience to God? We are tempted to practice selective obedience. Often, a person will be choosy about which of the Ten Commandments to keep. He might care a great deal when someone vandalizes property, but at the same time he skips church attendance whenever he feels like it. What’s the difference? There is none—vandalism breaks the 7th Commandment, and ignoring worship breaks the 3rd. Both show disobedience to God.

Selective obedience is not obedience at all. When King Saul thought that he could disobey God and later make it up with a generous offering to Him, God’s prophet Samuel told him, To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). There are many people who feel that they can live as they please during the week, and make everything all right by saying a few prayers in God’s house on the day of worship; to such people Jesus cautions, Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

Obedience is made possible by trust. Both Jesus and Joshua trusted the Father in heaven, and so they obeyed Him. How strongly do you trust God? Ask the Holy Spirit to increase your faith, so that you too can be obedient.

Joshua and Jesus were also alike in that they were both warriors. On the way to the Promised Land, Joshua led the fight against the Amalekites. From the time that he succeeded Moses as leader of Israel until his death, Joshua spent his time fighting the Canaanites who stood against God’s people.

Jesus also spent His life in battle. He fought the false teachings of the Pharisees; He opposed everything that was a lie. He combated sin, death, and the power of the devil. The enemies of Joshua were physical; the enemies of Christ were spiritual. Joshua gained victory by spilling the blood of his enemies; Jesus won the victory by shedding His own holy blood. Both were warriors for God.

Every Christian is called to do battle. The Bible says, Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11); Contend for the faith (Jude 1:3); Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:12); Put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13). Christianity is not for those who are cowardly, lazy, or apathetic. Christianity is for men and women who are willing to go into battle. This means, first of all, arming yourself and your children with God’s Word. Second, it means daily battling falsehood and evil, fighting against every temptation. Above all, it means crucifying your own impulses when you feel the urge to do evil, or when doing the right thing seems like too much work.

Is your family life everything that Christ wants it to be? Is your community the kind of place our Lord would approve of? If not, then go to battle! And be sure that your first battle is with yourself. Develop within yourself kindness, forgiveness, courage, patience, and love. We fight the battles of God's kingdom, not by spilling the blood of others, but by spilling our own blood.

Speaking of Joshua, Scripture says he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses (Joshua 11:15). He led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, he conquered the Canaanites, he divided the land between God’s people—Joshua finished the work the Lord had given him to do. At 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday, Jesus cried out from the cross, it is finished (John 19:30). He had completed His purpose for coming to earth, He will save His people from their sins. Joshua saved his people from dying lost in the wilderness; Jesus saved us from dying lost in our sins.

To understand what Jesus accomplished, we must remember that the price of sinning is death. To save us from our sins meant saving us from death. To save us from death meant payment and substitution. For us to live, something must die in our place, and a price must be paid in providing that substitute. All of the sacrifices of lambs, bulls and goats throughout the Old Testament illustrated the need for payment and substitution for the forgiveness of sins. To save us, Jesus had to endure our death, our rejection by God, and our damnation. The book of Hebrews tells us that it was impossible for the blood of all these Old Testament sacrifices to take away our sins, then adds that Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. This meant agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; beating, whipping and ridicule at the hands of Pilate’s men; crucifixion, rejection and damnation on Calvary’s hill. Yet, regardless of the cost, our loving Savior paid the price and finished His work. And because of this, instead of God’s anger, we have forgiveness; instead of death, we have life; instead of hell, we have heaven.

Palestine had been promised as an inheritance to Abraham’s descendants. But drought caused Jacob and his children to move to Egypt, and the children of Israel lived there for 400 years, eventually ending up as slaves. Even after Moses led them to freedom, they spent another 40 years in the wilderness. The children of God must have been tired—tired of the wilderness, tired of living in tents, tired of the heat and the wandering and a steady diet of manna. What a day of joy it must have been when Joshua led them through the Jordan River into the Promised Land!

What a day of joy it will be when Jesus leads us through the river of death into the Promised Land of heaven! Our Lord said, In my Father's house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14:2-3). Speaking of heaven, an angel told John: There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4). And John himself tells us, Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

Are you suffering or in pain? Are you tired of life? Are you fed up with all the bad news you hear? Do you want to live in a place that has true freedom and limitless opportunities? Then I have Good News for you, because Jesus will take us, one by one, across the Jordan to the eternal Promised Land.

When Joshua had conquered Canaan, he divided it among the twelve tribes of the people. Each person was given his or her proper portion, without payment of any kind. The people received vineyards that they had never cultivated and olive groves that they had not planted, all for free, a gift from God.

In the same way, Jesus will give each of His followers a portion in heaven—joys and pleasures we never earned or deserved, all free, without any price. That’s the wonderful generosity of Christ. He declares, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). He also says, To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life (Revelation 21:6). And Saint Paul adds, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It’s all there, free, just across the Jordan, for all who follow Jesus like God’s people followed Joshua. God the Father has sent the Savior—the Savior who was perfectly obedient, who won the battle against evil, and who leads us to the Promised Land, where we can enter freely as His followers. Follow Him, that He might save you eternally.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up others (Ephesians 4:29).

Why do we enjoy gossip so much? While you are waiting in line to pay for your groceries, it is hard to avoid looking at magazines which are devoted to scandalous behavior. Television is cluttered with programs that promise you all the juicy details about the private lives of famous people. When a high school student calls a friend, much of their conversation revolves around the other kids at school—what they are saying, what they are doing, how they are dressing, who they are dating.

One reason we enjoy gossip is because it makes us feel good about ourselves. When we are told that the woman living down the street is cheating on her husband, or that the man working at the next desk is a racist, we feel proud in knowing that we would never behave like that!

Sharing gossip also makes us feel like part of the group. We feel honored that someone would share sensitive information with us. We like being the center of attention when telling a story that no one else has heard yet.

And gossip provides us with a bit of a thrill. Maybe you’ve always wanted to do something dangerous or illegal or morally suspect, but have been too afraid to follow through. When you find out that someone else shares your secret desires and has acted on them, you want to know every detail—through gossip, you get to experience your fantasy second hand, at no risk to yourself.

Nothing good ever comes of gossip. When gossip makes us feel superior to others, we are less likely to love and more likely to judge. Gossip is a social crutch that is unnecessary and actually discourages emotional closeness; too often, we use gossip to avoid talking about important, personal things. And gossip tantalizes us with sinful behavior we would do well to avoid; the more we talk about doing something evil, the more we are tempted to try it. This is why Paul said, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Each man's life is but a breath (Psalm 39:5).

Why are we preoccupied with time? Almost everyone wears a watch or carries something that shows what time it is. Every car has a clock somewhere on the dashboard. Whether you live in a house or an apartment, I’d bet that you have at least one clock in almost every room.

One reason that we are so fixated on time has to do with money. Bosses want to squeeze every dime’s worth of productivity out of their employees, so they watch the clock very carefully to see when you arrive, when you leave, and how much time you take for break. It’s frustrating to make a call and be put on hold, when you’re dealing with an important deadline and time is running out. The days can seem endless when other employees are lazy or have no idea what they’re doing, and it’s up to you to keep things working right.

Another reason we count the minutes is so we can pack as much fun into each day as we can. Being stuck in traffic is annoying, because after a long day at work we want to get home to relax. We grumble when we want to download a file, but the Internet is running slowly. We grouse about how long it takes to make dinner or finish a load of laundry when there’s a game we’re eager to see or a sale that we want to check out.

But nothing makes us think about time more than death. We know that we have a limited amount of time here on earth, and the older we get the more precious that time becomes. Retirement starts looking like a final opportunity to squeeze happiness from the days remaining to us.

Time is a finite commodity; once used up it is gone forever, and it only comes to you in limited supply. Time is the most precious resource that you have; it should be used wisely. And what is the best way to use your time? You should use it to get ready for the eternity that follows death. What death holds for you depends on the decisions you make before your time runs out. Death can be terrifying, but what follows will be infinitely worse—that is, unless Jesus is your friend. But if you use your time to build a relationship with Him, then death is nothing to be scared of, and you will find that your time on earth was only a brief prologue to eternal joy in paradise.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Doing the impossible

"Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Then the people answered…"We too will serve the LORD, because He is our God." (Joshua 24:15-18)

Christians are the most blessed people in the world. You can go to bed secure in the knowledge that because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God the Father forgives you for all of your mistakes, evil thoughts and careless words. You can get out of bed in the morning with eagerness and joy, knowing that you will have the leadership and encouragement of the Holy Spirit to see you through the coming day. And when death draws near, you can close your eyes in peace, knowing that the Son of God, who rose from the grave victorious over death, will raise you from your deathbed and bring you to heaven, where you will live in the love of God with all believers forever.

But the blessings of being a Christian go beyond inner peace, hope, and the promise of everlasting life. Christians, when working for God under His direction, can undertake tasks that are seemingly impossible. We do not rely on human power, but on God’s power. As an example, let's consider a man who, with God’s help, did the impossible.

The first time we hear of him, Joshua was a young man serving as a leader in Israel’s army under Moses’ leadership. The Amalekites were determined to block the people of Israel from passing through their land. Joshua was given the responsibility to lead the fight against the Amalekites while Moses stood on Mount Rephidim, praying to God for victory. During this long battle, Joshua learned an important lesson—that success depends more on prayer than on military might. As long as Moses kept on praying, Joshua’s army experienced success; when Moses grew tired of praying, Joshua’s forces were driven back. There is a lesson here for the people of the United States in connection with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq; the success of any nation depends far more upon their prayers to the Triune God than on their military power.

We hear of Joshua again at Mount Sinai. He was not among the people who defected from devotion to God and began instead to worship the golden calf. Instead, Joshua was with Moses up on the mountain heights to God. And after the Tent of Meeting was built at God’s direction as the place for sacrifice and worship, we read: The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua…did not leave the tent (Exodus 33:11).

Joshua did not leave the Tent of Meeting. Here is the secret of Joshua’s achievements: he wanted to stay close to God. Take advantage of the opportunities God gives you to get closer to Him. Worshipo at church regularly. Join a Bible study group. Read your Bible and set aside time for devotions as a family. Every person of true greatness has spent much of his or her time listening and speaking to God. Gladstone, a renowned statesman of England, said: "I have known 32 truly great men, and all of these were men of prayer."

Taught and shaped by God, Joshua was on the fast track. He was chosen as one of the twelve men who would scout the land of Canaan in preparation for the Israelites’ moving into their new home. When the twelve scouts returned with their report, they described the Promised Land as a place flowing with milk and honey. They even brought samples of grapes in proof of the land’s fertility. "But," they added, "we might as well forget about it. The land is full of people, and they are huge—we will look like grasshoppers to them." In response to this pessimistic assessment, the people despaired and talked about replacing Moses with a new leader, who would return them to the "safety" of their former slavery in Egypt.

It was then that Joshua stepped forward. He said, "It’s true, we can’t take the land with our own power. The natives are too strong for us. But if the Lord is on our side, then He will bring us safely into this land. We don’t have to fear these people; God is with us." (Numbers 14)

This was the turning point in Joshua’s life; he had graduated from God’s training to assuming a role of leadership on the Lord’s behalf. He publicly affirmed his belief that with God, man can do the impossible. Even though the people threatened to kill him if he didn’t shut up, Joshua held to his conviction.

What is your conviction? Do you firmly believe that as impossible as it seems, God loves you in spite of your sins? Do you firmly believe that He sent Son to do the impossible, to die for your sins and rise from the grave victorious over death? Do you firmly believe that when you are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God will enable you to do things that are otherwise impossible?

All too often, people who have made a career of sinning say, "I can’t change myself." And they are absolutely right. Yet with these words they suggest a lie. While it is true that man can’t change himself, the power of God can do the impossible. With God’s help alcoholics have become sober, drug addicts have become clean, liars have embraced honesty, and cowards have acted bravely. People who feared commitment have become faithful spouses; people who despised authority have become law-abiding citizens; people who are shy have spoken publicly about their faith in Jesus. With God’s help, the impossible becomes possible.

After Moses had led the people of Israel for 40 years, God told him that he was soon to die. Moses asked God to appoint a new leader to succeed him. Quite naturally, God chose the man who believed that nothing was impossible with God’s help; God chose Joshua. Moses must have been thrilled. Shortly before Moses climbed Mount Nebo to be welcomed by God into heaven, he spoke these words to Joshua in the presence of the people: Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

Not long after this, God gave Joshua an assignment that was impossible. The people of Israel, numbering over two million men, women and children, were camped by the Jordan River. The Promised Land lay on the other side. God told Joshua, "tell your people to break camp and go across." But there were no bridges, no boats. During the dry season, the Jordan was only about 100 feet wide and relatively shallow, but God’s command came while the river was at flood stage during the harvest season. The current was swift, and most the Israelites didn’t know how to swim, having grown up in the wilderness. How would you like to be responsible for getting the people and their animals across? How many do you suppose would drown?

However, following God’s command, Joshua had the priests bring forward the Ark of the Covenant. This was the sacred box which contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff, and a memorial portion of the manna which by which God had fed the Israelites in the wilderness. When set up in the Tent of Meeting, God would appear in His glory over the Ark of the Covenant, treating it as a throne. Joshua told the priests carrying the Ark to take the lead, and asked the people to pray to God as they followed. When the feet of the priests touched the flooding river, the water stopped flowing and stood up in a bank, allowing the people to cross the riverbed in complete safety. The impossible became possible.

They were barely across the river when Joshua met another impossible situation. Before them stood a large city named Jericho, a city protected by massive walls. How could Joshua’s people conquer such a city without guns or rocket launchers? It was impossible. But God provided instructions. Joshua was to select seven men, and instead of arming them, he was to give them trumpets. These men were to walk around the city walls, followed by priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant and a select group of men from among the people. No weapons were to be carried. Just walk around the city once a day for six days in a row, and on the seventh day, circle it seven times. Then, when the men sounded their trumpets, the people were to shout, and the walls would collapse.

Now that doesn’t seem very rational, does it? We can imagine the people of Jericho watching their tactics with puzzlement on the first day, and laughing at their foolish behavior each day thereafter. But on the seventh day the walls collapsed, though no physical attack had been mounted. The impossible had become possible, because God had made a promise.

Think of holy Baptism. Some people could say, "What’s the point? How can applying water and speaking a few words make any difference in that child’s life?" We could ask the same question about walking around the walls of Jericho for seven days. But Jesus commanded that we baptize when He said, 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). He promised to create faith in the heart of that child when He instructed Peter to write, baptism…now saves you (1 Peter 3:21). Paul assures us, He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). This is why Christians bring their children to be baptized, even though human reason cannot see how it helps the child. It is enough to trust God and obey Him, in order to receive His blessings.

To make a long story short, the people of Israel conquered city after city with God’s help, until there was peace in the land and everyone had a place to make their home and livelihood. At 110 years of age, his work done and ready to die, Joshua spoke to the people one last time. It is always interesting to hear what men have to say when they know that death is imminent. Reflecting on his life, what lessons would Joshua share with those who would survive him?

Joshua had no regrets. He said, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua had served God all his life, and he was confident that his family would do the same. And the people responded, "We too will serve the LORD, because He is our God."

What is your response to Joshua’s challenge? I believe that I can speak for my wife and children when I say, as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. And I believe that we can, so long as we keep hold of Jesus’ hand and follow wherever He leads. Will you respond with God’s people, we too will serve the LORD, because He is our God? I pray that every one of you will say these words in your heart with all sincerity. If you do, and you trust in our Lord as Joshua trusted, then you will have a great week, and a great life ahead of you.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


The LORD is my strength and my shield (Psalm 28:7).

Americans like to shoot things. Years ago, children pretended to be cowboys or policemen and armed themselves with toy guns; nowadays they play video games where you can shoot terrorists, gangsters, and all sorts of monsters. Teens and adults get to handle the real thing; they practice at firing ranges and spend weekends hunting various kinds of game. Guns are a fixture in the movies and on television dramas; gun ownership is even discussed in our Bill of Rights.

Why are we so fascinated with guns? I think it’s because guns are the ultimate equalizer. Before the invention of firearms, only hunters and soldiers could use weapons effectively. It takes skill to win a sword fight; it takes training to use a bow. But anyone can use a gun to defend themselves; even a novice shooter has a good chance of hitting an attacker.

Guns provide a feeling of security because they make a person feel powerful and in control. A gun gives you power over birds and animals that could otherwise escape you. A gun gives you power over a person who wants to hurt you or steal from you. A gun gives you the power of deciding between life and death.

It’s no wonder, then, that people who feel powerless turn to guns for relief. Teenagers go on shooting sprees at school because other students made them feel like helpless victims. People who are fired from their jobs go back to the place where they worked and open fire for the same reason. In a society that loves guns, firearms become a way to deal with the pressures of life.

The thing is, we don’t need weapons to protect ourselves. We don’t need firearms to give us a sense of control or make us feel powerful. We don’t need guns when we have Christ. The Son of God offers all the protection that we will ever need; Psalm 144 says, He is my loving God and my fortress. We don’t need to be in control, because He promises that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). We don’t need to feel powerful; God told Paul, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we trust in Jesus’ strength, wisdom and compassion, we can relax and find our strength in Him. In Christ we can have the kind of security and power that no firearm can ever provide.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Compelled to speak

Christ's love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Do we have freedom of speech in this country? The Bill of Rights says so. Yet increasingly, Americans are censured for speaking their minds. Whether you are a movie producer, stand up comedian, professional athlete or politician, you can quickly get into serious trouble if you say something disrespectful about an ethnic group, religion, or people who embrace an alternative lifestyle. You may have the legal right to speak your beliefs out loud, but doing so can cost you dearly.

I’m certainly not defending bigotry; we are all children of God. It is never okay to make fun of others; Paul writes, remind the people…to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate (Titus 3:1-2). Hatred is a sin; the Bible says that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Jesus said, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34). Threats and insults do not show love.

That being said, there will be times when the words a Christian speaks will not be welcomed or appreciated. Every word spoken by Jesus was motivated by love; nevertheless, His words angered some people so much that they arranged His arrest and execution. Why? Because Jesus dared to criticize their behavior. God hates sin; sinners are not welcome in heaven. On the cross, Jesus accepted full responsibility for your sins and mine, resulting in His suffering and death—He did this so that we can join him in paradise. Through Jesus, the problem of your sinfulness is corrected—but only if you want it. If you don’t accept that what you’re doing makes God mad, if you don’t turn to Christ and plead for His mercy, then His death at Calvary does you no good.

That is why Jesus spoke words that rubbed people the wrong way. He points out sin so that the sinner might repent. We who follow Jesus do the same. Of course, many do not appreciate being told that their behavior angers God. Say that homosexuality is sinful and you’re labeled a bigot. Say that abortion is murder and you are accused of trying to limit another person’s choices. Say that living together displeases God and you are told to mind your own business. Say that Jesus is the only way to heaven and you are dismissed as narrow-minded. But Christ’s love compels us to speak, even when our words are resented; freedom of speech is a gift from God that must be used to reveal sin for what it is, and offer God’s gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.

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