Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).

One of the greatest blessings God gives us is His patience. In the Old Testament, God gave His people unambiguous laws to live by; yet no matter how clearly God spelled out His expectations for human behavior, even the most faithful believers still broke the law repeatedly. Over and over again, we see examples of God being patient, threatening His people with punishment for sin but then giving them a great deal of time to repent and change their ways. In the New Testament, we see God’s great patience given flesh in Jesus; instead of giving up on us for being habitual offenders, God placed His own Son on trial and executed Him on the cross for our crimes—all this to give us another opportunity to exchange love of sin for love of God. Peter writes, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

In Ephesians Paul tells us, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Patience is essential for healthy relationships. All of us are sinners; all of us say and do things that are unthinking, inconsiderate, and hurtful. Without patience, these kinds of sin lead to broken friendships, runaway children, and divorce. We can be grateful that God works hard at trying to teach us patience; He often does this by making us wait before answering our prayers.

Patience does not see other people as obstacles to be overcome. Rather, patience is willing to work with others because it respects all people as children of God who have dignity and worth. A patient Christian does not insist on having his own way at the expense of others. The patient person tries to solve problems peacefully; he will not intimidate others or work around them to get the outcome that he wants.

Patient Christians are willing to endure another person’s sin and offer forgiveness for the sake of peace. Those who are patient offer mercy even to the unrepentant, as Christ did on the cross when He prayed for those who were executing Him: Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). The apostle Peter writes, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The only way we can avoid conflict is by being patient with each other. Patient love is the basis of all relationships because it covers over a multitude of sins, just as Christ’s patient love has done for us.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you--guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us (2 Timothy 1:3-14).

Elections are only a few weeks away. If you are like me, you’re fed up with all the campaign advertising. There is no escaping it—it’s on TV, it’s on the radio, it’s stuck in yards and along the roads. Even more frustrating, it’s all so negative—after experiencing so much mud slinging, it is tempting to just stay home and vote for nobody.

But today’s Epistle lesson suggests that we have an obligation to vote. Voting is the American privilege that allows us to voice our opinions to the government and to each other. It is through our votes that we enact legislation on issues important to us, and it is through elections that we remove from office those whose policies are not in agreement with our ideals. Although Saint Paul does not speak of voting, he does tell us that it is important to make our voices heard; he says, do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord. So, as Election Day draws near, what should be our testimony about the Lord?

In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. As a follower of Jesus, we have an obligation to spread His teachings to others. What are some of these teachings that we should consider as Election Day draws near? Let’s take a quick stroll through the Ten Commandments and some of the issues that are facing Americans today.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. God forbids us from telling lies. As you listen to what the various candidates say, both about themselves and their opponents, are they speaking the truth? How much campaign rhetoric consists of outright lies or distortions of the truth? When you decide who to vote for, consider who is being the most honest with you.

You shall not commit adultery. Hebrews 13:4 says, Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. These past few years, marriage has been under attack as never before. People get married and divorced as if marriage is nothing more than a business arrangement between two people. Many avoid marriage entirely and just live together. And now, we have judges that are permitting gay and lesbian couples to unite in "marriage", and many church bodies are blessing this abomination, ignoring the clear teaching of God in both the Old and New Testaments! While some states have made such marriages illegal, others have not, and the federal government has consistently failed to address the issue. When you decide whom to vote for, consider each person’s commitment to keeping the marriage bed pure, not only for yours sake, but for the sake of your children and grandchildren. The family is the cornerstone of any society; history has taught us that when marriage is undermined, society is doomed to fall.

You shall not murder. This commandment looms large for our country. One obvious issue is that of abortion. The Bible clearly teaches that every human being is a unique creation of God, yet our judges have made it legal to kill children if they have not exited the womb. But just as pressing an issue this year is the question of war. We cannot say that God opposes all wars; the Bible gives us many examples of God’s people fighting under His protection. But when is it proper to go to war? In the Bible, the Lord supported wars when they were fought to protect God’s people from being crushed by unbelievers, but the Lord withdrew His support when wars were fought to gather wealth, prestige or power. No one questions the rightness of opposing Germany and Japan in WWII; these were aggressor nations that gave no thought to Jesus’ teachings in their lust for earthly domination. No one questions the rightness of our war on terrorism, either—these are the attacks of people who hate Christians and prefer to make targets of the defenseless. But the rightness of occupying countries in the Middle East and trying to reshape them in our democratic image is not so clear cut. As you prepare for November elections, think carefully about how our foreign policy compares to the Biblical principles of war. Christians have not found agreement on this matter; before you vote, consider carefully the Word of God and pray for guidance in discerning His will.

Honor your father and your mother. As you recall from your days in confirmation, Martin Luther understood the Fourth Commandment to be the underpinning of human society. A healthy society grows out of healthy homes. When families are broken or dysfunctional, so is the society that they comprise. When children do not respect the authority of their parents, they learn to disrespect their teachers, their employers, their government, even their religion. When you cast your vote, consider which candidates support families; who among them will work the hardest to find ways to keep marriages from crumbling, to make it easier for parents to earn enough to keep their families together? Which of the candidates is the strongest supporter of excellent public education, yet also supports parents who choose to school at home? Which candidates do you approve of as a role model for your children, who they can and should respect?

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. From the beginning, the Lord arranged time for Himself in our week. In recent years, however, space for God in our lives has become increasingly hard to find. Manger scenes can no longer be placed in public parks. Prayers are forbidden in schools. The Ten Commandments are unwelcome in courthouses. Businesses are open on Sundays. Kids need permission to miss sports practices on Wednesdays so that they can attend Confirmation class. All around us, Christianity is being increasingly hemmed in by the unbelieving world around us.

This is an issue of special importance to Christians. Paul said, do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord. Indeed, it is absolutely vital that we speak publicly of our faith in Christ. Without faith in Jesus, human beings die in their sins and are consigned to an eternity of suffering in hell, cut off from God and His love forever. This is not what God wants; a little later on in 1st Timothy, Paul writes: God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. That is why He sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die in our place, so that by believing in Him, we can be forgiven for our sins and be united with God forever. Paul writes, This grace was given us in Christ Jesus …who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. The only hope the people of America have for enjoying God’s merciful love is for we who live in that love to share it with them. In order to do that, we need as many venues as possible for speaking about Jesus without restriction. We need the ability to place Bibles wherever there are people who don’t know the Savior. We need access to the airwaves and print media and public areas to tell the Good News about Jesus. We should be able to raise our voices in prayer wherever and whenever the Lord’s forgiveness and help is needed in our lives. When you cast your vote, consider who of the candidates supports true freedom of religious expression for we who are Christians.

You shall have no other gods before me. In Romans chapter 8, Paul tells us: the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. Mohandas Gandhi was considered to be a great political leader in India; yet because he rejected Christianity, he lived his life under the control of his sinful nature and nothing he did could earn him a place in heaven. It is certainly true that a non-Christian can be a good politician, but when you make your decision on how to vote this fall, do you want to elect to a position of power a man or a woman who is leading a life that is headed towards hell? The Old Testament shows us that when unbelievers were kings in Israel, the nation drifted further and further away from God, until the Lord abandoned it altogether and it was destroyed. When we give the reigns of government to non-Christians, we are abdicating political control to Satan by default.

Saint Paul writes, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life. Paul echoes Jesus’ warning that those who follow Him will suffer opposition for publicly supporting the Savior and His teachings. But notice the obligation—by being saved from the control of sin and the grip of death, we have been called to lead a holy life. This means that we are to show God’s love to everyone around us. This includes ‘tough love’ too—our love for all of God’s errant children moves us to identify sin for what it is and try to steer people away from the sin that destroys and to honor the Messiah who died to save them. This is why it is necessary for each and every Christian to study the candidates and the issues, and then vote—because we can show the will of God through whom and what we vote for.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

In our modern world, charity has gotten a bad name. Some people abuse charity, applying for help they don’t really need. Many others refuse charity. In some cases, accepting charity makes them feel like a failure; in other cases, they just don’t want to be a burden that someone else has to care for. But from God’s perspective, we are all charity cases; without His generosity, we would all be condemned eternally.

We are saved from sin and death because God is generous. He sent his Son to suffer and die to pay off our debt of sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, it was so that He could offer us the gift of forgiveness whenever we mess up. Incredibly, this gift of mercy is completely free; Jesus does not demand anything from us to repay Him for His sacrifice. This is a good thing, because there is no way anyone could repay Him for the hell He suffered on the cross as our substitute.

Because the Lord has been so generous with us, it is only right that we should be generous as well. One of the hallmarks of Christian living is a willingness to share the good things we have received from God. Of course, that includes pretty much everything. Scripture tells us, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17). This also includes money, as Moses reminds us: remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18).

What does generosity look like? It wants to share God’s gifts instead of hoarding them away for private use; it rejoices in God’s blessings and wants to share that joy with others. It is willing to give even when there is no real likelihood of ever being repaid. Generosity does not live in fear of giving too much away, because it trusts the Lord to provide even in times of need.

Generosity is, at heart, a spiritual attitude. The generous person sees money as a way to support the work of saving souls from unbelief and hell; this is why such a person actively supports churches and mission work. The generous Christian sees charity work as an opportunity for sharing the faith with others; this is why such a person volunteers her time in places that serve the poor and hungry. The generous person wants to thank God in a tangible way for all of His wonderful blessings.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).

When Jesus forgives your sins, He changes the course of your life. Romans chapter 12 tells us, do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. When we let Christ take charge of our lives, we are reborn; our priorities change and we look at life from a new perspective.

When we think about the Christian outlook on life, one characteristic that comes to mind is a desire for purity. In Philippians chapter one Paul writes, this is my prayer: that…you…may be pure and blameless…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. The desire for purity comes from wanting to be like Jesus. Jesus is pure; His every thought, word and deed are beautiful because of their sheer perfection.

We want to be like Christ; we would love to go through life without making a single mistake. Of course, such a thing is impossible; because we are sinful through and through, the only way we can have any purity in our lives is through divine intervention. Jesus extends His righteousness to us, allowing us to experience purity through Him.

What does purity look like? Purity wants to evaluate everything in light of God’s holy Word. Purity rejects sinful desires as distracting and corrupting, a waste of the time and resources God has generously given you. Temptation wants you to try all sorts of different things without giving much thought to the consequences; purity says ‘take your time’, don’t rush into things blindly. Purity doesn’t find humor in dirty jokes, nor is it entertained by gossip; purity chooses refinement over crude behavior.

Those who are pure dislike temptation; they want to preserve themselves for Christ as a woman preserves her virginity for her wedding night. In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul pictures their relationship with Jesus in terms of marriage: I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you to him as a pure virgin. Considering that Jesus died to free us from sin, it just isn’t right to claim Him as our dearly beloved while at the same time embracing sin like a lover you keep on the side.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"--skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done" (Amos 8:4-7).

How many times do you check your watch during church?

We’ve all done it. We've all had Sundays where there were important things to do once church was over. For some of you, it has been a need to get back into the field as soon as possible. For many, it has been a need to get home and get dinner ready for company.

Sunday can be a busy day. Football season is upon us, and many times the game starts at noon. Many people eat out for Sunday brunch, and you want to get to the restaurant before the lines get too long. Many businesses are open by 11:00 on Sundays, so it would be nice to get away from church early enough so that you can run to the store and pick up a few things before lunch.

And so we check our watches. Are we going to have to sing every verse of each hymn? How long will the sermon be this week? Can’t pastor cut the prayers a little shorter?

This tendency is nothing new. Even when I was a child, people used to come up for communion and then rush out of church without waiting for the closing hymn or the blessing to depart. You may have read about how the puritan church services back in colonial America could run three hours or longer—can you imagine how squirmy the children must have been by the time services ended?

The prophet Amos writes of this same problem happening in Israel hundreds of years before Jesus was born. The people who went to church are quoted as grumbling, "When will…the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?" Remember, under the Law of Moses, no work could be done on God’s Day. Here in America, many have been frustrated by "blue laws" that prevent the sale of alcohol on Sundays; imagine how frustrated people would get if all businesses were closed on Sunday! No grocery stores would be open. You could not shop a sale at Target or Wal-Mart. There would be no place where you could go to eat out. You would be forbidden to do work at home on your computer. You would not even be allowed to cook—under the Law of Moses, meals were to be made a day in advance and eaten cold on the Sabbath. Under these strict laws, all you could do on the Lord’s Day would be to spend time together with your fellow believers in worship, followed by sitting and visiting with your family at home.

Isn’t it terrible, what God expected of His people?

I think all of us can agree that the most important things in life consist of our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. These are so important that God set aside one day a week so that these relationships could be confirmed and enriched on a regular basis. But in the days of Amos, God’s people had lost sight of what is important. For them, the desire to do business and make money had become so important that they had come to look at the enforced rest of the Lord’s Day as an inconvenience. Time for God and time for family had become less important than time to make money and time to spend money.

Does this describe you? Are you a person who keeps stealing peeks at your watch, impatiently waiting for church to end so that you can go make money or go spend money? How many of you will think about money only once on Sunday—when God’s offering plate comes before you? How many of you will go home from church and spend your day with your family instead of working or shopping? When you wake up on Sunday morning, do you make a mental list of many places you have to go, many things you want to get done—or do you look forward with a smile on your face to spending the day with the Lord and with those you love? What does God say to you through His prophet Amos?

Jesus said, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). Look at what the love of money can lead to. Not only did it distract God’s people from focusing on worshiping Him, it also led them into dishonesty; we read in Amos: you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land…skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales…selling even the sweepings with the wheat. When a person’s life is built on money, he becomes prey to the temptation to shortchange others through dishonest measuring and diluting quality, while raising prices as far as possible. Think of all the times you have been disappointed by a product whose advertising oversold its real value? Think of all the times you have had problems getting satisfaction under a warranty. These are just a few of the problems that come from making money the focus of life.

But there is another side to the love of money. We want money so that we can buy things—but things can become a distraction. A man who spends money on sporting equipment may be tempted to go out fishing or golfing or camping on Sunday morning instead of attending worship. A woman who spends money drinking on Saturday night may be too hung over to go to church the next morning, and might even become abusive when nagged to get up. A child whose parents have bought him a new video game might resist putting the game down to go to Sunday School, maybe even going so far as to pretend to be too sick to leave the house. These are just a few of the ways in which money interferes with our time with God and with each other.

Jesus lived in poverty. He owned no house, no land, no business. The Bible tells us that His travelling ministry was supported by the donations of widows who followed Him and treasured His teachings. When Jesus was crucified for our sins, the soldiers divided His possessions among themselves, and all that Jesus had were the clothes on His back. Our Lord did not let making money or spending money interfere with what is truly important—His relationship with God His Father, and His relationship with the people whom He called friends. Jesus valued every opportunity to spend time in God’s House; Luke 4:16 tells us, on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom.

The love of money can interfere with relationships and lead to sinful behavior, but the love of Jesus can build relationships and lead to a sanctified way of life. Jesus came into our world to repair broken relationships. Our misplaced priorities had angered God by ignoring Him in favor of pleasing ourselves; each of us had broken off any kind of relationship with God because of our sins. So Jesus came to earth to repair these broken relationships; He did this by offering up His life in payment for our misdeeds. With our sins atoned for, return to God was made possible; Jesus rose from the dead so that He could take us by the hand and lead us back to a relationship of mutual love with God. Reunited with the Almighty, we need no longer fear death, because God has opened His eternal home to all who hold His Son’s hand in friendship.

The love of Jesus also builds relationships between people. When we are united with God through Christ’s blood, we become united with our fellow Christians as well. Listen to these words from Mark chapter three: A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?" He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." When you become a follower of Jesus, the Lord regards you as a brother or sister—and that makes you brother or sister to every other believer as well, one large family, all children of God!

The love of money can lead us into sinful behavior, but love of Christ leads us into God-pleasing conduct. When we love Jesus, we feel bad about disappointing Him with our mistakes; we are ashamed that our sins caused His agony and death, and it tears us up to cheapen His suffering by continuing to sin each day that we live. Our love of Jesus moves us to pray to Him frequently, begging His forgiveness for all that we have done wrong.

Our love for the Son of God makes us want to thank Him for everything that He has done for us. We thank Him by telling Him in prayer that we are grateful. We thank Him by telling others about the wonderful love that the Lord of Life has shown each of us in our lives. We thank Jesus by giving back to Him generously from what He has given us, especially the money that so desperately wants us to spend it on anything else instead of the Church!

Finally, when we love our Savior, we want our relationships with Him and each other strengthened. We want to spend time with Jesus in prayer and devotion and Bible study; we want to gather together to sing His praises and receive His body and blood in Holy Communion. We want to spend time together with the people whom the Lord has gifted our lives with. We want to invest time in building the strength of our relationships with parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends. We want to invest in loving our Savior and our fellow Christians, because when the Lord Jesus calls us to leave this life, people won’t remember what we had, they will remember who we were. And while the money in our lives will remain behind on earth, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ will last forever.

When you are in church, don’t check your watch. When you are at home, don’t be in a rush to turn on a game or to go out shopping. Instead, look forward to the time during the week when you can leave work to get home to your family; treasure the hours that the Lord makes available so that you can spend quality time with Him in prayer and praise and meditation. Make time with God and family your top priority.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Word of God: a scalpel and a gardening tool

The word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).

In Revelation chapter one, Jesus is described in a very interesting way: a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. Like most of the images in Revelation, this is not to be taken literally—but what does it mean? The answer can be found in the 4th chapter of Hebrews: the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Clearly, the two-edged sword coming from Jesus’ mouth represents the word of God, which He speaks to us.

The words of Jesus are sharp; sometimes it hurts to hear them. We don’t like being told that we are sinners. We don’t like being told to change our ways. We don’t like being threatened with hell. It hurts to be told that we’ve got our priorities wrong. It hurts to be told that we’ve misunderstood the Bible. Even some of Jesus’ followers struggled with His words. After He told them that He was the Bread of Life, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"…From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (John 6:60, 66).

The word of God is like a two edged sword. One edge is like a scalpel; Jesus uses it to cut away the evil that infects us like gangrene. He tells us when we are sinning so that we will repent and can be healed through His forgiveness. Like a scalpel, this use of God’s word is often quite painful.

But the word of God does more than cut away sin; it also works to encourage growth. Jesus said, 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). When we are joined with Christ, we are filled with life that flows from Him. And for us to realize our full potential, periodic trimming is necessary; Jesus said, I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:1-2). The other edge of God’s word is like a gardener’s tool, shaping us into something beautiful and productive.

God’s words can be sharp and sometimes painful to hear; but we can be confident that our loving Lord will always use them carefully, to work in us a wonderful result.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

800 pound gorilla in the room

I correct and discipline everyone I love (Revelation 3:19).

Imagine that you’ve been invited to a fancy party. After getting rid of your coat and picking up a drink, you start to mingle with the other guests, when suddenly you see something very odd. Sitting in the corner of the room is an 800-pound gorilla! The big hairy ape isn’t doing anything except looking around and occasionally scratching himself. Amazingly, no one at the party acknowledges that it is there in the room with them. When you point towards the gorilla and open your mouth to ask about it, everyone suddenly looks nervous and many shake their heads, warning you to keep silent. The host takes you by the arm and leads you outside, then whispers: "Don’t do anything to stir up trouble. Just ignore it and hopefully things will be fine." Throughout the entire evening, no one speaks about the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

We’ve all seen such a gorilla at one time or another. At a family reunion, Uncle Bill gets drunk like usual, but everyone ignores him. At church during the sermon, the Jensen kids crawl under the pews and run down the aisle like they always do, but no one spares them a single glance. At the office, everyone quietly covers for Linda during the long breaks she often takes with the boss in private. There is an 800-pound gorilla in the room, but everyone ignores it because they are afraid of provoking an angry response. They don’t want to make a big, hairy problem even worse by confronting it.

Most of us don’t like confrontation. We don’t want to provoke a fight that we might lose. We don’t want to become the center of gossip because of something we said or did. We don’t want to make others feel bad. We don’t want to risk losing a friend. The trouble is, if you ignore the gorilla, he’ll just make himself comfortable where he is and slowly put on weight. The longer you ignore him, the bigger a problem he’s going to become. Some gorillas become so big that people leave their jobs, their families or their churches in order to get away. The 800-pound gorilla steals their life right out from under them.

Jesus never ignored big, hairy problems; He always dealt with them head-on. This often resulted in the Lord being unpopular, but He knew that sin must be confronted so that good things can follow. Forgiveness is a wonderful blessing, but it cannot be appreciated without acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Pointing out sin is uncomfortable, but it is essential for everyone’s well being.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Taking relationships for granted

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul--an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus--I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good--no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask (Philemon 1:1-21).

In your life so far, how many people have you gotten to know? I don’t mean strangers on the street or classmates you never talked to. I am referring to people who you know on a first name basis—relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers. This might even include the UPS driver that you chat with when you sign for packages at work, or the cashier you visit with at the grocery store each week. How many people have you known well enough over the years that saying "hi" to them brought a smile to your face?

Think of what your life would be like if you never saw these people again. What if yesterday was the last time you ever got to look at their faces, hear their voices, read their letters or emails? Imagine life without your mother or father, your husband or wife, your child or grandchild. Imagine life without your friend or neighbor or a pal at work. Imagine how you would feel if one of the smiling faces in your life was suddenly lost to you forever.

It can happen, you know. Even to a Christian. Even though we believe that Jesus has defeated death and will reunite us in heaven when we have left this earth, there are people who have touched our lives that we will never see again.

Who are these people? They might include a member of your family. They might include some of your friends. They might include your neighbor or your doctor or your favorite teacher. These people who you might never see again are those who have no knowledge of who Jesus is. Without such knowledge, we will not see them after death; Jesus said, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:16, 18). Only those who are friends with Jesus will be invited into heaven; to everyone else, the Lord will say these chilling words: I don’t know you (Matthew 25:12).

Again, think of all the people you have known on a first-name basis. How many of them have a relationship with Jesus? And of those who do not, how many have you personally told about the Savior? How many have you tried to introduce to Jesus Christ? How many of these people do you want to see smiling at you someday in heaven?

Telling unbelievers about Jesus is called witnessing. We also call it evangelism or mission work. But no matter what name you hang on it, telling unbelievers about Jesus is what you and I have been ordered to do. Jesus’ words are very clear: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20). These words apply to each and every one of us.

But it's hard to find the courage and confidence to be a witness for Jesus. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and unprepared. Perhaps you don’t feel that you know the Bible well enough to be able to explain the faith to someone else. Or perhaps you just get so busy with things that you let opportunities to witness slip by unnoticed. Either way, today’s Epistle lesson has something important to say to you.

Paul was in prison because he was a Christian. The non-Christians had told him to keep his religion to himself, but Paul could not—he was greatly concerned over the future of everyone he met. Paul didn’t want anyone to die without knowing Jesus, and thus end up in hell. So Paul was bold—he told anyone and everyone the unpleasant truth about their lives—that they were sinners, and that without Jesus they had no hope whatsoever of entering heaven when they died. Their sins made them foul, unacceptable to the perfect God of the universe. But Jesus Christ had come to earth to suffer and die for them; God’s perfect Son had taken upon Himself the full responsibility for every human sin and had accepted God’s punishment of our evils. Jesus suffered and died on the cross, so that every man, woman and child could be spared God’s anger and eternal punishment. Jesus rose alive from the grave and entered heaven so that He could lift His friends from their graves and draw them to Himself in Paradise. This is the witness that Paul was imprisoned for—because many do not want to admit that they are sinners, or that they need anyone, least of all Jesus, to make their entry into heaven possible.

It was while Paul was in prison that he met an escaped slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had belonged to a Christian man named Philemon, but Philemon had never told his slave about Jesus. Maybe Philemon didn’t think that he knew the faith well enough to teach it to someone else; maybe it just never occurred to him to share the promise of forgiveness and eternal life with a man who was only a slave. Anyway, Onesimus managed to get away from his Christian master; eventually he ended up meeting the imprisoned Paul.

Like he did everyone else, Paul cared for the soul of this runaway slave. He told Onesimus about his sin, his Savior, and the promise of heaven. By the grace of God, the runaway slave became a believer. As a matter of fact, Onesimus dedicated himself to serving Paul, being his arms and legs while Paul was incarcerated. The escaped slave willingly made himself a slave again, this time to Christ and Christ’s servant Paul. The bond between these men became very close.

But Onesimus was still a runaway slave, and subject to arrest and punishment. So Paul wrote a letter to his Christian owner. In this letter, Paul urged Philemon to accept the slave back without punishment, and suggested that he make Onesimus a legally free man. As he wrote this letter, Paul gently pointed out to Philemon that he had failed in his duty as a Christian witness. Paul made two points, which we would do well to learn from.

Paul’s first point is this: I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Paul says that we can only grow in our faith if we are in the habit of sharing it. Some people think that you must know the Bible quite well before you can tell others about Jesus. But Paul says that such thinking gets things backwards! To grow in the faith, you must start sharing what you know with others. Consider the woman at the well (John chapter 4); Jesus only spoke with her a short time before she ran off to invite others to come meet the Savior. You don’t have to know a lot about the Bible to get excited about having your sins forgiven; you don’t have to be a great teacher to invite someone to come to church with you so that they can find out more about your religion. Many people start Bible studies in their homes with just a few friends; they quickly discover that in preparing to lead the study, they are learning more than everyone else in the group. Sharing your faith gets you into God’s Word more and more, and deepens your understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Paul went on to make a second point: Philemon had taken Onesimus for granted. He never thought twice about witnessing his faith to a lowly slave, yet Onesimus was hungry for the gospel of salvation; given half a chance, he became an important member of Christ’s ministry through Paul. How many are there in your life who you take for granted? The teller at the bank who knows you by name? The waitress who always gets a big tip from you? Our daily lives are filled with people we know and care about, who need to be introduced to Jesus before death separates us from them forever. We dare not let our lives become so busy that we fail to take the time to reach out in the Savior’s name to those who do not know Him.

By running away, Onesimus caused his master aggravation and lost productivity. To Philemon, his slave was little more than a problem. But when Paul took the time to introduce Onesimus to the Lord, the man became a valued co-worker in the Kingdom of God. Paul wrote, He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

We are often like Philemon. We are reluctant to share our faith because we do not feel as if we are qualified to speak as Jesus’ representatives. We let our lives become so hectic that we forget to look at those we interact with as people who need to hear the Savior’s call to repent and believe. How many people who you knew on a first name basis are dead today? How many of them are you sure knew Jesus before they died? How many smiling faces and friendly voices are a part of your life today, but are heading for a different place than heaven to spend eternity? Do you want them to be lost to you forever? Are you willing to remain silent and take the risk that someone else will introduce them to Jesus before they die? Or will you take Paul’s advice and tell them about how Jesus has changed your life, and wants to change their lives too? Will you take notice of the lost who are with you every day, and grow in your faith as you serve as Christ’s witness to others?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"I forgive you"

Friend, your sins are forgiven (Luke 5:20).

When is the last time you said these words: "I forgive you"? If you’re like most people, I bet that it’s been awhile. Now, I’m not suggesting that you are unforgiving; it’s just that most people forgive without saying the words. When someone apologizes to us, we are more apt to say "that’s okay" or "forget about it" or "it’s no big deal."

But such words don’t offer the same comfort as "I forgive you." If you say "don’t worry about it," you are implying that you were not really hurt by the other person’s bad behavior—but that’s a lie, and you know it. Such a reply is motivated by pride—you don’t want to admit that the other person got under your skin. When you say "it’s no big deal," you are reacting out of fear; you are worried that if the other person realizes how badly they hurt you, they might inflict the same pain again sometime in the future. If you say "it’s okay," you are actually giving that person permission to hurt you again the same way.

Another thing all these replies have in common is this: by saying them, you are reserving the right for yourself to bring up old hurts at some future time. When you say, "I forgive you," things are different. When you forgive someone, you are making a promise to never bring up that hurt up again. That’s what makes "I forgive you" so comforting. That’s what makes "I forgive you" so hard to say.

We want to keep track of old hurts. We stockpile their memory like an army post stockpiles munitions. When we get into a fight with someone, old hurts can be a trump card—when the other person seems to be winning, we can remind them of all the times in the past when they’ve hurt us. Such fights become a game of one-upmanship, as each person tries to prove that they are the party who has been hurt the most. But such fights cannot happen when you say, "I forgive you."

"I forgive you." There are no more powerful words in all of creation. The Son of God suffered, died and rose from the dead to say them to you—"I, Jesus, forgive you." These three little words can heal any broken relationship; they have reunited us with God and they can reunite us with each other. Never be afraid to speak them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Does God change?

I the LORD do not change (Malachi 3:6).

During the day, the sky is blue. At sunrise and sunset, the sky often looks red. During the night, the sky is black. Of course, the sun doesn’t change—the light coming from it is always the same. The atmosphere that we breathe doesn’t change either; its chemical composition remains constant. So if light doesn’t change and the air remains the same, why does the sky change colors?

It has to do with the angle of light passing through the atmosphere. In science class, you saw how a prism can split light into different colors; the air above us works the same way. During the day, the light of the sun goes through earth’s atmosphere at an angle that emphasizes blueness. At sunrise and sunset, the angle of the sunlight is different, and red becomes the dominant color. At night, our part of the earth faces away from the sun, and without light coming down from above, we can see the blackness of space.

St. John writes, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). In Malachi God says, I the LORD do not change. God is like the sun—a never-changing source of light. So why does He seem to change? Sometimes you can almost feel His love coming down on you; other times He seems far away and uncaring. Sometimes everything in your life is working beautifully; other times it seems like nothing is going right. Why does God’s constant love seem so inconstant?

In reality, it has to do with changes in our lives. Sometimes we are looking towards God; when this happens, His love shines down on us directly like the sun at noon, and everything is a peaceful shade of blue. But there are also times when God is not our primary focus; instead, we travel a path that deviates from His. Then God’s light hits us from an angle like the light of dawn or dusk; our lives are painted with the red glow of conflict. Red is a color of warning; there are many times when God has to make it clear that we are heading in the wrong direction. And there are times when we turn our backs on God completely, choosing our own ways over His; when we refuse to look towards His light, all that we see is the blackness of evil and despair, like the sky at midnight. It is not God who changes; how we see Him is greatly influenced by the direction of our lives.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What does Christianity entail?

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:1-8).

When we read the Bible, it often seems that God expects a lot from us. Just consider today’s epistle lesson: love each other as brothers…entertain strangers…remember those in prison and those who suffer…honor marriage and avoid sexual impurity…keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…remember your spiritual leaders and imitate their faith.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the Ten Commandments. Think about the kinds of behavior Jesus praises in the Beatitudes. The entire book of Proverbs is one long collection of advice on how to live a God-pleasing life.

There have been any number of people who have walked away from Christianity because they looked at what God expects of us and concluded that it was too hard, too rigorous. Others snub the faith by claiming that it puts too many restrictions on their rights, that it limits the freedom to have fun and pursue happiness. The bottom line is that they don’t see the benefits of the Christian way of life as outweighing the drawbacks.

What does God expect of us? What is the Christian expected to give up for Jesus? And what are the benefits the Lord promises us in return?

Let us start with what the Almighty expects of us. The apostles Paul and Silas were asked this question: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household" (Acts 16:30-31). Jesus told His followers: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). He told His disciples: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). When He was confronted by unbelieving Jews, Jesus said: if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins (John 8:24).

This Jesus is the Son of God, but He is also something more—He is also the Son of Man. Jesus was born of a human woman by the power of the Holy Spirit, making Him both the Son of God and the Son of Man. It was necessary that Jesus be the Son of Man so that He could do something that God cannot—suffer and die. Jesus predicted His suffering and death many times, most explicitly in Matthew chapter 20: "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!"

Why was it necessary that Jesus do this? The Lord said, "the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). We were lost. We were lost in ignorance of who God is and what He expects of us. We were lost in our trespasses and sins. Isaiah said, We all, like sheep, have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). We have all sinned by wandering away from God and the way that He expects us to live. And sheep who have wandered from the shepherd into the wilderness on their own have sentenced themselves to inevitable death.

So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came looking for us, to bring us back to life in God’s care. But there was a price attached for our safe return. Jesus had to suffer and die to successfully bring us back. God the Father was angry at us for willfully disobeying Him. He would not let us back into the safety of His protection. The consequence for sin is death and hell. But Jesus volunteered to suffer the Father’s anger at us in our place. When He went willingly to Calvary’s cross, our Savior endured God’s awful punishment for every human sin throughout history. This terrible punishment resulted in the Savior’s death—a death that you and I had deserved, not Him.

But the horrors of crucifixion and death were not the end for our Lord; on the third day He rose from the dead alive once more! Still the Son of God, still the Son of Man, Jesus is now beyond the power of death and hell forever. He has gone to His Father’s side, where He stands for us as our defense attorney, winning God’s verdict of "not guilty" for each and every one of our sins. He lives so that we can join Him in eternal life.

This is the heart of the Christian faith—Jesus is the Son of God who entered our world in the body of a man, so that everyone who believes in Him can live forever, even in spite of physical death. The first thing that the Lord expects of we Christians is to believe that Jesus is real—not a myth, not a story, but a real living person who is our only way to approach the God of heaven for eternal life.

There is a second thing that God expects of us as well. When Jesus began preaching, He said: "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15) Following a disaster that killed many Jews, Jesus warned: unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:5). Following Jesus’ resurrection, Peter told the Jews "Repent…and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out" (Acts 3:19). And Paul described his ministry under Jesus this way: I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20).

Jesus died to offer compensation for our sins. It is inconceivable that people could claim to follow Jesus and not repudiate the sins that He died to pay for. In Romans chapter six Paul writes, We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? When we follow Jesus, we are called upon to reject our love affair with our sins.

We love to sin—if we didn’t love doing it, we would stop. Sin gives us perverse pleasure. Think of the first time you tasted a cigarette or coffee or hard liquor—it didn’t taste very good, did it? And yet billions of people have conditioned themselves to enjoy such drinking and smoking, because of the pleasure their bodies receive from the alcohol or caffeine or nicotine. Sin is like that. Sin causes pain, and yet there is a rush of pleasure underneath the pain that keeps luring us back for more.

It is these very pleasures that Christ calls us to give up—the pleasures of making ourselves feel good through sinning. The Epistle lesson draws our attention to a just a few. Devoting yourself to pleasure while ignoring the discomfort and need of others. Seeking sexual gratification outside of marriage. Making money and the things it can purchase the moral compass by which you steer your life. Hebrews says to the modern American "put an end to partying, stop sleeping around, and turn your back on crass consumerism." Put in these terms, its no wonder that so many Americans find Christianity undesirable.

Instead of loving sin, we are called to direct our love towards God and each other. Hebrews encourages us to bring pleasure into other peoples’ lives, to honor commitments, to treasure relationships instead of things. These are not commands to live a life of drudgery, these show us how we can make our days more fulfilling, and how we can bring joy into each other’s lives while here on earth. We show love for our God when we show such love to His children.

But we must not make the mistake of thinking that cleaning up our lives is a way to earn God’s favor; nothing could be further from the truth. Isaiah issues a harsh judgment on our attempts to lead good lives: All our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6). King David prayed, Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you (Psalm 143:2). In Galatians chapter two, Paul says a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

Since we cannot live lives that are free of sin, what can we do? How can we please God? The key is this: Jesus expects us to hate our sins and reject them, but He does not expect us to live a perfect life. He knows that we will continue to give in to sin for the rest of our days, whether we believe in Him or not—but He does not want us to embrace our sins like a favorite pet. God expects us to repent of our sins constantly, and to try our hardest to resist Satan’s lure to stray from God’s side into spiritual danger.

What is the trade off? What are the benefits we can expect for renouncing sin and pledging ourselves to the Lord? Hebrews suggests three reasons. The first is: God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Almost everyone has felt isolated and alone at some point in their lives. It may have been when you graduated from school, when a move separated you from loved ones, or when you felt the loss of death or divorce. And yet, when we have Jesus in our lives, we are never truly alone. Our Lord has promised to always be near us, listening as we speak to Him in prayer of our joys and sorrows, our needs and fears. Proverbs 15:29 says, The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

In Hebrews we also read these words: we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid." How wonderful—the God who created the universe, the Lord who gave you life, the Savior who offered His own lifeblood in exchange for yours, this Mighty One promises to help you! He promises to give you strength and courage in the face of adversity. He promises to protect you from anything that would endanger your soul, including the temptation to fear or worry or give in to despair. Psalm 37 says, If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

And Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. His love for us does not change—the Savior who died 2,000 years ago to forgive your sins loves you just as much today. Nor do we need worry that our Savior will ever go away; He who died once now lives forever as the victor over death—there is nothing that can prevent Him from opening heaven’s gates for us, where He waits to welcome us in joining Him when we finally leave this vale of tears behind forever.

What does God expect of us? He expects us to believe that Jesus is His Son, the Son of God and the Son of Man, who suffered and died in our place to give us eternal life and happiness. What is the Christian expected to give up for Jesus? We are expected to turn our backs on the love of sin, seek Jesus’ mercy for angering God, and ask Him for help in living lives that follow His teachings. And what are the benefits the Lord promises us in return? The benefits are God’s loving presence in this life, giving us comfort and strength and protection, and the promise of bringing us into eternal life when we die. When we look at earthly pleasures (which also bring us pain because of sin), and compare them with the perfect gifts God offers through Jesus, rejecting such dark desires is ultimately no loss.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How you see things

Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).

I love to fly. I love being in an airliner when it starts dashing down the runway, then noses up and climbs into the sky. But my favorite aircraft aren’t the big jets; I like flying in smaller planes at a lower altitude. I like being able to see the towns we fly over, see cars and trucks moving along the highway.

I also like going to the top of tall buildings. I love the thrill of an express elevator pushing my feet into the floor as it rapidly ascends. I like walking around the observation deck, looking out over the city and all the people who give it life.

And I like going over bridges. My favorite one is the Mackinac Bridge, a five-mile long span that connects Upper and Lower Michigan. The bridge has steel grating for its decking, so that wind can pass through without creating too much sway. That grating also allows you to look down and see the water far below.

But I don’t like climbing ladders. I don’t like standing on a piece of furniture. I don’t like climbing on the roof, even if it is only on a single-story house.

Strange, isn’t it? I have no fear of flying, standing on the top of tall buildings, or crossing long bridges, yet I get nervous when only five feet up in the air. I think it has to do with the nearness of the ground. When I’m way up high, my brain can’t really comprehend the distances involved; I feel safe because the ground is too far away to really think about. But when I’m on a ladder, I know how far I might fall, and how much an unexpected landing would hurt; the ground is close, and it looks painfully hard.

Maybe this is why we don’t fear God’s eternal punishment as we should. Death seems far off in the future, while other problems are much closer and more frightening. And so a teen might worry more about fitting in with the gang than about making God angry; fear of being rejected by other kids today is much stronger than fear of God’s rejection some time in the future. And yet falling from the top of a skyscraper will result in death; falling from a ladder can be survived. It is certainly more dangerous to make God angry than to stand up for what’s right when others are pressuring you to do something wrong.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Why be good?

Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes (Ephesians 4:22).

Why bother being good? Why not just do what you want, when you want? Shouldn’t you live each day to the fullest? Shouldn’t you squeeze every drop of pleasure you can out of life, before you are too old or sick to enjoy yourself anymore?

There are two reasons for living a God-pleasing life. The first one is this: a life lived according to Jesus’ teachings is a happy and contented life. The Ten Commandments are about loving and respecting God and each other. Jesus summed up all of God’s laws with these words: `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'…And…`Love your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 22:37, 39). If you make your decisions based on showing love and giving respect, your life will be filled with quality relationships which are far more fulfilling than any pleasure you can get from sexual encounters, taking stimulants, or getting an adrenaline rush from taking risks.

The other reason for living a God-pleasing life comes into play when you die. At that moment, one of two outcomes awaits your soul—eternal happiness in heaven, or everlasting punishment in hell. Most people don’t think that far into the future; pleasure for today seems much more important than some invisible happiness off in the future. But no athlete wins a trophy without first going through years of training; a good coach always keeps the athlete’s attention focused on a prize that lies in the future. In 1st Corinthians chapter 9 Paul writes, All athletes go into strict training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. Heaven and hell do exist; the decisions you make as you live your life will have consequences on the day of your death.

There are very real, very practical reasons for living a God-pleasing life. However, there is one important point that needs to be made: Hebrews chapter eleven says, Without faith it is impossible to please God. You can be the most loving and generous person on the face of the earth, but if you don’t believe in Jesus, nothing you do can earn God’s favor. To live a God-pleasing life is to trust in Christ as your Savior from sin and death; if you truly love Him, living a God-pleasing life will become your heart’s desire.

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