Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Eve

The past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes (Isaiah 65:16).

New Year’s Eve. A time of reflection on another year gone by. Some successes, too many failures. Some happy memories, and quite a few regrets. The joy of new babies, new friends, and new marriages, along with sadness over relationships ended by divorce, death, or a few stupid words that should never have been spoken. 2008: a jumbled mix of both good and bad.

New Year’s Eve. A time of relief and hope and plans for the future. Relief that some tough times are finally over. Hope that 2009 will have more pleasant surprises than nasty ones. An evening of making plans and promises so that a year from now, triumph will not be overshadowed by tragedy.

New Year’s Eve: it’s a time when we look at our failures and try to turn over a new leaf. It’s a time to say ‘no’ to bad eating habits and ‘yes’ to exercise. It’s a time when we pledge to love more and fight less. It’s a time when we hope that our lives can be improved.

A Christian can experience New Year’s Eve any time. It starts with personal reflection. We feel the sorrows of New Year’s Eve when we look at our lives with an honest, appraising eye and realize how much pain we have caused by our selfishness, our pettiness, and our pride. We have hurt both strangers and people we love; we have damaged relationships that we hoped would last a lifetime. When we realize the hurt we’re responsible for, we wish that we could change the past, or at least set things right, all the while knowing that we can’t. We also want the opportunity to try again—be a better friend, a better parent, a better boss, a better human being. But based on our track record, we hold little hope for such improvements to occur.

So we pray to Jesus. We ask Him to forgive us for our mistakes, to heal the hurts we’ve caused and fix what we have broken. We ask Him to reshape our hearts—make us more loving, more forgiving, more patient and generous. And as Jesus works in our hearts, we experience the New Year’s Eve transition—we leave the pain of the past behind and look forward to the future, knowing that with Christ’s help things will be better. When you go to Jesus for mercy and strength, each day can be the beginning of a bright New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

God with us

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25a).

Immanuel—God with us. This simple phrase is the sum and substance of Christmas in all its wonder and glory. Think about it. God with us. The mere thought of such a thing boggles the mind.

God is eternal. God has always existed. God will always exist. All of human history is nothing more than the blink of an eye to Him. Psalm 90 says, a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by. The length of our lives barely shows as a dot on eternity’s timeline. All our years of childhood, all of our years as adults, all these long years are next to nothing when compared to God’s age.

God is all-powerful. He opened His mouth and said, "let there be"—and just like that, the universe was filled with light! God spoke, and the earth was made—oceans and atmosphere, mountains and plains. At God’s command, this world was filled with life—4,000 different kinds of animals, 9,000 varieties of birds, 19,000 types of fish, 250,000 varieties of flowers, 750,000 kinds of insects—in all, over a million distinctly different living species—of which man is but one.

Not only did God use His vast power to make this wonderful world, He has also changed the course of history through miracles. He cleansed the world of millions of sinners with a flood that covered every square inch of land. He provided a dry path through the middle of the Red Sea for the Israelites who were fleeing the Egyptian army. He made the earth stop spinning for a day so that Joshua’s army would have uninterrupted daylight until they defeated the Amorites. He caused a shadow cast by the sun to travel backwards ten steps to assure King Hezekiah that the Lord had the power to make good on His promises. Compared to all this, what do our accomplishments amount to—our high school diplomas or college degrees, the projects completed by our hard work? What have we done that could attract God’s attention or earn for us His approval?

And God is holy. God is perfect in every way. He makes no errors in judgment. He never jumps to conclusions. He never acts out of selfishness. He never fails to keep a promise. His every thought, word, and deed is motivated by a desire for perfection, because it is only when things are perfect that perfect love and perfect peace can be experienced.

It is incredible to think that such a God would ever consider coming into this world to be with us. We have spoiled God’s perfect creation. Every man, woman, and child has participated in bringing pieces of hell here to earth by our selfish behavior. Look at what our sin has done to this world.

Before Adam and Eve sinned, time was not something to worry about. God created humanity to live forever. But people who are created perfect by a perfect God are expected to behave perfectly. God warned them: you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Genesis 2:17). But did that warning stop them? No. They chose to disobey God, resulting in this awful sentence of death: dust you are, and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19). And this curse has been passed on to all of us; Romans chapter 5 says, sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. Because of sin, death awaits each of us and we fear the ticking of the clock, because each minute shortens the time remaining to us. How could a timeless God be willing to subject Himself to a life of limited time?

Sin has made our world a victim of those who compete for power. Losing one’s life to the grasp of death is the ultimate loss of power, and people will do anything to feel powerful in other ways, in order to compensate. Some people lust for political power; they will do anything to exert control over other people, from lying in campaign advertising, to intimidating voters, to seizing control of government by a military coup, to waging war against countries who oppose them. And look at the cost of such actions: people living in fear, people maimed and dead, farmland destroyed and economies ruined, natural resources wasted on building instruments of war.

Nor does it stop there. The desire for power also shows up in the lust for money, because money can buy what we cannot take by force. Prostitutes sell themselves for money. Businessmen sell their morals in exchange for making a profit, by their willingness to lie and cheat and break promises. Husbands and wives trade away time with their families in exchange for long hours at work to get more money. People are reluctant to give money to the Church or to help the poor unless they can get a tax break for it. How could an all-powerful God tolerate living among people who are constantly competing for the opportunity to abuse having power?

Sin has made our world immoral, evil. No one can tell the difference between what is right and what is wrong. Some will tell you that what is right and what is wrong depends on the situation. Others will tell you that it is up to each person to decide what is right and wrong for his own personal happiness. There are those who claim that nothing you do is wrong, so long as it does not hurt another person. Political Correctness holds that the only thing that is cannot be tolerated is being intolerant of others. Governor Pontius Pilate summed up humanity’s confusion over morals at Jesus’ trial,when he said, What is truth? (John 18:38)

Of course, moral confusion results in conflicts. A man who believes that it is acceptable to use violence to influence government policy will be hunted and killed as a terrorist by those who have lost loved ones to such attacks. A woman who believes that shoplifting is okay if it is necessary in order for her to feed her children will not find common ground with the store owner whose ability to support his family is undercut by her theft. When a wife expects her husband to tell a white lie when she asks "how do I look?", conflict will result if she later scolds her children for fibbing. When an employer docks a worker’s pay for being late, trouble will follow if that boss takes off early for personal business. How could a holy God even think of spending time among people who are willing to ignore His expectations when doing the moral thing is inconvenient or demanding?

Yet, this is the blessing of Christmas: Immanuel, God with us. The eternal, all-powerful, holy God made each and every one of us as the unique beings that we are. And that same God sent His eternal, all-powerful, holy Son to come into this sin-cursed world to be Immanuel, God with us. The Lord did the unimaginable—the eternal Son of God came into our time-enslaved world to die. The all-powerful Son of God came into our war-torn world to destroy the power of sin. The holy Son of God came into our immoral world to gift us with His holiness.

How different our lives are because of Jesus! Without Jesus, people live lives of moral confusion, not knowing what is right and what is wrong. Living without clear moral guidelines results in constantly getting hurt because of making bad choices. But Jesus tells us what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will. Jesus enables us to tell right from wrong; He helps us to make good choices that please God, help others, and make us feel good about ourselves. When we follow Jesus’ moral teachings, we can lead happy lives.

Without Jesus, people live lives of constant cutthroat competition, trying to be more popular, more powerful, or more successful than everyone else. Such lives are nothing but constant frustration, because there will always be someone else who is more skilled, more influential, or who has more wealth, and there is never any rest from trying to get more so you can be the most powerful, the one most in control. Furthermore, such competition destroys relationships and leaves us facing the self-inflicted pressures of life all alone. But Jesus is the only one with true power. As He hung dying on the cross, He used the power of God to defeat the power of sin. God’s power destroyed your sin in Jesus’ body, as your Savior suffered at the Place of the Skull. Because sin’s power has been met and conquered, Jesus has freed you from having to live a life of chasing power. Instead, He invites you to take shelter in His power, the forgiving power of perfect love. Jesus said, You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:14). When we trust that Jesus will give us whatever we really and truly need to be happy, we are freed from worrying about how to get ahead. When we make our relationship with Jesus our top priority by seeking His forgiveness and His help, we will no longer be alone because our sin will stop driving God away, and will stop driving others away as well.

Without Jesus, people live in constant fear of death. They spend inordinate amounts of money to hide wrinkles and gray hairs, reminders of their mortality. They take doctors and hospitals to court for failing to keep their loved ones alive. When they force themselves to go to funerals, their tears are unstoppable. They consult astrologers for advice on how to avoid danger, and they go to psychics for reassurance about what awaits their souls after death. But Jesus defeated death. Our sins put Him in the grave, but human sin is nowhere near the equal of the power of God. Jesus rose from the death of our sins to show us that the grave is not the end, not for those who worship the eternal Son of God. Because of Jesus, we do not fear death; our attitude becomes that of St. Paul who wrote, to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don't know which is better. I'm torn between two desires: Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ. That would be far better for me (Philippians 1:21-23). When we attend the funerals of Christian loved ones, we can shed happy tears, knowing that they are now in a state of happiness and peace that we can only be jealous of.

Immanuel—God with us. This simple phrase is the sum and substance of Christmas in all its wonder and glory. It is a wonder that the eternal, all-powerful, holy God would even consider entering our dying, conflicted, immoral world to be with us. But praise God that He did! This is the glory of Christmas—that God loved us so much that He sent His eternal, all-powerful, holy Son to live with us, die for us, and destroy the power of the grave over us. Jesus is the gift of God that brings us happiness and peace today and hope for tomorrow. May you welcome this gift on this Christmas and throughout the year ahead.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Light in the darkness

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

No one knows the day or month that Jesus was born. Although it is our tradition to celebrate Christmas on December 25th, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest this date, or any other.

And yet, for people living in earth’s Northern Hemisphere, late December has much to recommend it for the time when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Just a couple of days before Christmas, we observed the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. Over the next 6 months, each day will push back the darkness with more daylight hours.

When Christ came among us 2,000 years ago, the world was shrouded in darkness—spiritual darkness. Most people had no idea who God was or what He was like; many didn’t even care. The bulk of mankind was more interested in money and popularity and sex than in spiritual matters. So God sent His Son into our world to dispel that darkness; when He was an adult Jesus said, I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (John 12:46).

On church calendars, the weeks following Christmas are called Epiphany. Epiphany means "to see the light." Jesus came to show us the light of God’s truth. Sometimes that light is harsh, as it reveals ugly truths we’d rather not look at. Other times that light is comforting, enabling us to identify dangers so that we can avoid them. But the light of Christ is always reassuring, since it allows us to see the only path that leads towards heaven.

It seems fitting, then, to observe the anniversary of Christ’s birth at the darkest time of the year. The weeks following the Winter Solstice gradually brighten our dark world, as the days grow longer. In the years following Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, He revealed the light of God’s truth to educate the ignorant and drive back the forces of darkness. Thanks to Christmas, we have the light of God revealed through His Son, a Sonshine that grows ever more inviting and beautiful as our eyes adjust to His glorious brightness.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A wonderful Christmas despite all the stress

You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

The Christmas season is a very stressful time of year. In addition to your other obligations, there are gifts to buy and parties to organize; cookies need to be baked and homes require decoration. And of course everyone hopes for just the right amount of snow—enough to make things look festive, but not so much as to cause problems for travelers. Christmas almost becomes a chore as we try to create the perfect holiday experience for our loved ones and ourselves.

What kind of Christmas would you have if things didn’t come together like you’ve planned? What if you can’t afford the kinds of gifts you’d hoped to give? What if bad weather makes travel to a gathering impossible? What if you’re not very good in the kitchen and your treats end up in the garbage instead of on a fancy dish? What if you can’t get the strings of lights untangled or the kids break one of your favorite ornaments? If these kinds of things happen to you, what kind of Christmas can you have?

Let’s strip away all the fluff and clutter. When you push aside the wrapping paper and cookies and lights, what do you have left? You have the story of a young couple engaged to be married, the woman in her ninth month of pregnancy. But this was no ordinary pregnancy—the child within her was God’s own Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. An angel told Joseph to name the boy Jesus, because He was sent by God to save people from their sins.

Just as the pregnancy was unusual, so was the delivery. By law, every family had to return to their ancestral town to register—all part of a government census. So Mary found herself in a strange town on the night when her contractions started. But with so many travelers present, the only space available for rent was a stable for animals, and it was in these humble surroundings that the Savior of the world was born.

What is the essence of Christmas? Simply this: we need God in our lives, and He came to us. Jesus is royalty, yet He did not arrive in a palace; there was no fancy celebration. The Chosen One of God came to us where we live and work; He came in every day surroundings, so that even shepherds, dirty from working in the pasture, could come and welcome His arrival. Jesus Christ came to offer you His hand and His love. You can have a wonderful Christmas—all you need is Christ!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why go to church on Christmas?

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: `I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:2-11).

Today’s Gospel lesson takes place shortly before John the Baptist was put to death by King Herod. John had lived at the edge of the wilderness, where he preached that God’s Messiah was coming and that everyone should repent of their sins in preparation for the Lord’s arrival. In due time, Jesus came to John personally to be baptized by him; with that baptism, Jesus was consecrated for His holy task of saving us from sin and death. Following His meeting with John, Jesus was set on the path leading to the cross, and John’s work of preparing the world for the Lord’s arrival was done; it was not long after that King Herod arrested John for publicly humiliating him by calling the king a sinner. Eventually, John the Baptist would be executed for offending the royal family.

During his brief ministry, John had been quite a spectacle. He dressed in primitive clothing, calling to mind the prophets of long ago. His diet was restricted to what could be found growing wild in the desert. But what made him truly compelling was his message; in a society where preachers said all the right things and were careful to not offend the wealthy or the powerful, John boldly told it like it was. He compared the sinful religious leadership to children of Satan. He criticized the king for his sexual misconduct. He told the people to abandon their love of money and possessions and instead give to the poor, and be content with what they had. He let everyone know that God’s chosen representative was coming, and that this Messiah was going to sweep away everything evil. If anyone wished to avoid God’s terrible judgment, the time had come to abandon the wicked ways of the world and turn instead to God, humbly asking for mercy.

Everyone likes a good show, and John was the best show around—at least until Jesus came on the scene. John generated all the excitement of an old-style revival meeting. But Jesus raised an important question—why did the people make the long, hot, dusty walk to the edge of the desert to experience John’s ministry? What drew them there? Was it the way that John dressed? Was it his eating habits? Did the people get a thrill hearing this man criticize the powerful and the well-to-do for their sins? Or did they come all that way to hear a message from God?

So my question for you today is this: what are you coming to see? What brings you to church this Christmas season?

Some people come to church during the holidays because they like a good show. Who doesn’t enjoy singing Christmas carols or at least listening to Christmas music? For many people, the holidays wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at how the church has been decorated for Christmas or enjoying a candlelight service. And many people who never set foot in church any other time of the year will at least come to see the children put on a Christmas Pageant.

Other people come to church because it is part of the holiday routine. Church is the thing you do that kicks off the Christmas celebration. It is the place where the relatives gather before going to eat dinner and open presents. Or church is the place where Mom sends everybody so that she can get things ready for the gathering to be held in her house. And some go to church on Christmas because they are alone and have nothing else to fill the lonely hours of another depressing holiday.

Then there are those who come to church at Christmastime because they like the energy of a feel-good experience. The decorations are nice, the music is wonderful, and it is good to see the friendly faces that distance has been turning into strangers, but the best part of Christmas is the message that God is the original Santa Claus. They look forward to a sermon which offers reassurance that God is happy with them, and that starting with the Bethlehem Baby, God has opened heaven to shower them with gift after gift—gifts of prosperity and health, gifts of success and popularity, gifts given as a reward for being a good person.

Are any of these the reason that you travel to God’s house this holiday season? Do you go to be entertained? Do you go because that’s what you do at Christmastime? Do you go to be flattered by how highly God thinks of you?

Or do you go because you need to? Do you go because your life is a mess and you are at your wits’ end? Do you go because tragedy has barged into your life and you are struggling to make sense of it? Do you go because you feel trapped by your bad habits and foolish choices? Do you go because you feel guilty about the pain you have brought into another person’s life?

Do you go to church this Christmas because you are afraid—afraid of yourself, afraid of God, afraid of death?

The people who benefited from going to the desert to see John the Baptist were those people who needed something they did not have—hope. Those who went to see him for a day of fun were soon looking for entertainment elsewhere when the novelty wore off. But those who came to John with trouble in their hearts, they found in the desert something the rubberneckers did not find—they found hope sent from heaven by God Himself. They found the promise of Christmas.

The promise of Christmas is the hope that leads to inner peace. The promise of Christmas is God’s announcement through John that He knows all about our misery, the misery caused by evil. Evil has damaged this world at every level. It is because of this damage that nature turns violent, resulting in loss of crops and property. It is because of this damage that people let dark passions rule their decision-making, resulting in war and crime. It is because of the damage caused by evil that humanity constantly denies the existence of God and our need for Him, and chases us away from His love. Evil produces sorrow for us, and prevents us from seeing the God who is our only hope for rescue from the suffering caused by evil.

Jesus was sent to us by God the Father because He loves us and wants to put an end to our suffering, but not because He approves of us. We are not lovable by nature. Paul tells us an ugly truth: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Isaiah says all our ‘righteous’ acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God has no reason to love us, not when we love ourselves and ignore Him almost every minute of our lives, not when we put most of our time and energy into pleasing ourselves instead of working for Him. In fact, God hates such behavior; when we ignore Him, we insult the God who gave us life, and to insult God is to die and go to eternal punishment in hell.

But God does love us, even though we are not deserving of His love. So God sent His holy and eternal Son to come and live with us, that we might be freed from the curse of evil. That Son was conceived in a young woman, a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, He thus also became the Son of Man. He was named Jesus, because that name described what He came here to do—save us. Jesus suffered and died on the cross, accepting God’s punishment of our evilness in our place, and so saving us from God’s anger—a terrible anger that would otherwise condemn us to an eternity of dying in hell. And when His saving work was completed, Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, where He listens to our pleas for mercy and forgives us our sins.

The promise of Christmas is the hope that can give you peace. The promise of Christmas is that Jesus came here, to us, to solve our worst problem—the problem of evil. If other people have hurt you, and you are lost in confusion and resentment, Jesus offers you His words of comfort and wisdom, preserved in the Bible. He tells you that He has died to forgive them, and that with His help, you can forgive them too. If tragedy has darkened your life, the Bible shows how Jesus demonstrated His godly power--a power that could end storms, feed the hungry, and restore the sick to health. This power of the Savior is available to you in today’s world well—our Lord only asks that you come to Him for help, and trust Him to use His power on your behalf in the best way and at the best time. If you feel trapped by your weaknesses and a tendency to make impulsive decisions, Jesus promises to listen to your prayers. He shares His wisdom through the Bible, and will send His Holy Spirit to help you think things out and change your priorities—all you need do is ask. If you feel guilty about the pain you have brought into the lives of others, Jesus reminds you that He hung bleeding on the cross so that you can be forgiven--if you really want to be.

If you are afraid of yourself, of God, or of death, Jesus tells you to not be afraid. In John chapter 15 Jesus says, I have called you friends. When we are friends with the Son of God, we need not fear ourselves, for His power is greater than our weakness. When we are friends with the Son of God, we need not fear the Almighty, because Jesus has given us the gift of His righteousness by washing us with His holy blood poured out from the cross. When we are friends with the Son of God, we need not fear death, because Jesus has proven His power even over the grave, and has promised to raise us up to join Him in everlasting life.

This Christmas season, what do you come to God’s house to see? Do you come for religious entertainment? Do you come because it’s a family tradition? Do you come to get a warm, cuddly feeling about your life? Or do you come because you need relief from sin, and you recognize that only the Christ Child can give you that relief? Do you come to church to give thanks to God, for sending Jesus to give you freedom from the misery of sin, and the terrifying prospect of endless death? What brings you to Bethlehem?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Disposables, recycling, and long-term commitments

If you repent, I will restore you (Jeremiah 15:19).

We live in a disposable culture. We have done away with cloth diapers in favor of disposable ones—who wants to wash such a stinky thing anyway? Few people have the patience or skill to mend torn clothing; it is easier to purchase something new. It is rarely worth it to repair a broken toaster; money is better spent on a replacement.

Our disposable culture has replaced glass milk jugs and soda bottles with containers that are only used once. Many people trade in their car every year for a newer model. Some prefer to rent a furnished apartment or townhouse instead of buying a home or furniture.

Our disposable culture has also influenced our relationships. Gone are the days when an employee would work his entire life for one company; now people jump from job to job, increasing the expense of hiring and training new workers. People move from one community to another, resulting in lives that have more casual acquaintances than long-term friends. And people view relationships as disposable; if a marriage falls on hard times, there is less interest in fixing the problem than in moving on to find someone new.

A disposable culture results in heaps of garbage. Our country has an increasing landfill problem, because most are not willing to fix what is broken or keep on using something that is getting old. Our society is also littered with emotional wreckage, a heap of pain that is the result of broken relationships. The problem keeps on growing because too many people are unwilling to work at salvaging love from hurt and disappointment.

In recent years, there have been efforts to encourage recycling. But recycling costs money and consumes energy. The environment would be better served if we would buy things that we intend to keep and maintain in good repair. The same is true of our relationships; people are not consumables with limited worth. People are worth investing in for the long term.

That’s how Jesus feels. That is why He suffered and died on the cross—to repair the broken relationship between God and us. Jesus does not view us as disposable; He believes that we are worth His time and effort.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

Get some people alone for a private talk and you just might find out that they believe something is going on behind the scenes, hidden from public view. They believe that there is a conspiracy, that a group of people are secretly manipulating events to achieve some sinister goal.

Conspiracy theories are the subject of books, documentaries, and all sorts of websites. Some believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting on orders from above when he assassinated President Kennedy. Some believe that the Apollo moon landings were staged in a hidden television studio for propaganda purposes. Most recently, some claim that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were aided and abetted by Americans who wanted to push the United States into invading the Middle East.

Fears of people working in secret are nothing new. The Masonic Lodge has long been the target of conspiracy theories. The ‘Red Scare’ stirred up by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s had Americans looking at each other with suspicion. And visible groups like the Ku Klux Clan gave credibility to fears that organized secret activity is going on all around us.

All conspiracy theories assume one vital truth—that large numbers of people can be depended on to keep things secret. But there is a truism that I came across recently--"A secret is something you only tell one person at a time." I know that some people are able to keep secrets. But human pride desires recognition; a successful criminal wants to get credit for how clever he is. The problem with conspiracy theories is that they assume a level of consistent secrecy that would be extremely hard to maintain; sooner or later, someone will want to brag about the secret things they are doing.

However, there is one conspiracy that is definitely real. Satan and his army of fallen angels are constantly plotting ways to make the world a darker place. And Satan gets away with his nefarious activities by using plausible deniability—most people don’t believe that the devil exists, that demonic possession can really happen, or that some things are truly evil. With no one watching for signs of his activity, Satan can organize all sorts of chaos without being detected. Thankfully, Jesus reveals the truth about what is going on—if you’re willing to believe Him.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pride and Christian behavior

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "

John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:1-12a).

A man was going to a costume party dressed as the Devil. It was a thundering, rainy, stormy night as he drove along a country road. The car went into the ditch; the man could not get his vehivle started again, so he got out and made his way across a cornfield towards the lights of a small country church.

The members of the congregation were having their evening prayer meeting, singing hymns and praying. At the moment that the man reached the door and opened it—dressed in his devil’s costume—there was a bolt of lightning and a clap of thunder. Everyone looked around in amazement and saw the Devil standing there, and they rushed out of the little church as quickly as they could—all except for one little old lady standing in the center aisle. With her cane in hand and shaking from head to toe, she said, "Mr. Devil, I don’t know what you want here, but I’ve only got one thing to say. I’ve been a member of this church for 40 years. But I’ve really been on your side all the time!"

Going to church does not get you into heaven. Just because your body is in the pew does not mean that your mind is in harmony with Christ. You can sin a lot during one brief hour in church: you can feel superior to the people who came in late, or sniff at the way that other people dress. You can grumble about the temperature in the church or the volume of the organ. You can mentally criticize other parents on how their children behave in church. You can plan your afternoon during the sermon. You can put less money into the offering plate than you will spend on eating Sunday brunch in town or on the cigarettes that you will smoke this week. You can repeat the Lord’s Prayer absent-mindedly, not giving any real thought to your conversation with God. You can leave singing the last hymn to others as you get ready to get out of God’s house as quickly as possible.

But the worst sin that happens in church is the sin of pride. This is what the Pharisees and the Sadducees were guilty of. The Sadducees were the clergy of the Jewish church; they were the ones who conducted worship services and offered sacrifices for the peoples’ sins. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the Elders of the church. They did not lead services or offer sacrifices; their job was to help people understand how to live a life pleasing to God. They did this by studying the Scriptures and obeying the laws of the church as completely as they could. Their lives were lived as examples of righteousness for others.

The people had a great deal of respect for the Sadducees and Pharisees. In their view, the Sadducees and Pharisees were as close to perfect as human beings could get. If you were a Jew, these were the men you looked to for inspiration; in a society with no sports heroes, movie stars, or American Idols, it was the Pharisees and Sadducees who were looked upon with admiration as role models. They were churchmen, living examples of a God-pleasing lifestyle.

Of course, being treated like this can easily go to your head, and that is what happened to these church leaders. In the days of the New Testament, the Pharisees and Sadducees thought that they were the best of the best. Most would not touch a commoner, fearing that associating with a sinner would cost them the respect they worked so hard to earn. This attitude shows up in Luke chapter seven where we read, One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner."

That Pharisee, named Simon, had a problem with pride. He believed that because he did such a good job being a churchman, he was better than other people. And look at the result of that pride. If Simon had gotten his way, that poor sinful woman would not have been permitted to come close enough to Jesus to show repentance and receive His forgiveness! Pride causes unchurchly behavior.

God hates pride; the reason that He hates pride is given in Psalm 10 verse 4: In his pride the wicked does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. People with pride do not have a healthy relationship with the Lord. The reason is simple: pride is based on a damnable lie. Pride whispers words of assurance like these: "You are a good person. Look at all the wonderful things that you have done. God has to reward a person like you." Pride points us to ourselves. Look at how faithfully you have attended church, even while on vacation! You made sure that your children went to Sunday School and were confirmed; maybe you have even taught Sunday School. You have been faithful in attending church meetings; maybe you have been a church officer. You have given generously from your wallet to support the mission of the church. You read your Bible or devotional literature regularly. You don’t lie or shoplift or mouth off to people in authority. You do not stare wistfully at sexy-looking people. God has to reward you for living like this…doesn’t He?

You know what? If you have lived a life as pure as what I’ve just described, my hat’s off to you—you might, might be good enough to be a Pharisee. And yet when Pharisees came down to the Jordan River to check John out, they were met with scorn: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? This was quite an insult—a viper is a snake, and the most famous snake in Scripture is the Devil. John greeted the Pharisees and Sadducees by labeling them as children of Satan! You can imagine their shocked indignation—didn’t John know who they were? Oh yes, he most certainly did.

I said earlier that pride is based on a damnable lie. The lie is this: pride wants us to believe that if we try hard enough, we can please God by our good conduct and earn a reward from Him. This is simply not true! The Bible repeatedly makes the very clear point that we are all evil, and that we cannot earn God’s favor. Psalm 53: God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Ecclesiastes chapter 7: There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. Isaiah chapter 64: All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Romans chapter 3: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law.

God is clear—we are all corrupt, and nothing that we do can change that. That is why Jesus consented to be born into our world; our only hope for being freed from the trap of sin was for God Himself to come and free us. The Son of God assumed the form of a man to live under the obligations of being human. Jesus lived the perfect life that God expects us to live; 1 Peter 2:33 tells us He committed no sin. The only person who has ever had true justification to feel pride was Jesus—yet Paul writes in Philippians chapter two, Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. Instead of reveling in being superior to us, Jesus humbled Himself to a sinner’s death, dying for the evil that lives inside each one of us. Jesus did what we could not—He removed God’s curse on us for being sinners.

We cannot earn God’s favor by acting like good churchgoers. God is not impressed by how perfect we think we are—He can see into our hearts; He knows how much sin is hidden there. There is only one way for us to gain God’s favor: Jesus said, This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one he has sent (John 6:29). Believe that the baby born in Bethlehem is truly the Son of God clothed in a human body. Believe that this Jesus lived perfectly in your stead, died under God’s punishment in your place, and rose from the grave to live forever as your King, who has the power to raise you from the dead and bring you to join Him in Paradise. Jesus said, I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24).

However, there is a place for "churchly" behavior. There is a reason why we should worship regularly and serve in church organizations. There is a reason why we should see that children are taught God’s Word, that we should spend time regularly in Bible study and devotion and prayer. There is a reason why we should try and obey the Ten Commandments. That reason is simple--John the Baptist said it: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Are you really sorry for your sins? Do you really appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus made so that you can be forgiven? Then show it—try your hardest to resist temptation. Try your hardest to always be polite, always be helpful, always keep promises. Try your hardest to resist the lure of illicit sex and substance abuse and wasteful spending. Heed the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter six: You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Just remember that what you do doesn’t earn you God’s approval; only faith in Jesus can make you right with God. Your attempts at being a good Christian will result in inevitable failures, failures that Jesus died to forgive. Your efforts at being a good churchgoer are your way of saying "thank you" to God for the Christmas gift of His Son, our Savior. So as you prepare for the anniversary of our Lord’s first coming, produce fruit in keeping with repentance; thank the Lord for His generous love towards you by living a life dedicated wholly to following His Son.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An unflattering reflection

The look on their faces testifies against them (Isaiah 3:9).

I don’t like what I see in the mirror. I see gray hair and a growing bald spot. I see a face that is only average looking. I see a belly that is much too large.

Not many people are satisfied with what they see when they look into a mirror. Some wince and turn away embarrassed. But even people who look great use the mirror to primp their hair or straighten a tie, check for pimples or apply makeup.

We may not like mirrors but we know that we need them—without a mirror you cannot see yourself. You can’t see the spot you missed while shaving or the dirty smear where you wiped away some sweat. If we want to look our best, a mirror is absolutely essential.

Do you know what your soul looks like? Pretty hard to say, considering that it’s invisible. Of course God has a clear view; He can see everything. That’s why you need to hear the message of the Bible. God’s word acts like a mirror—it allows you to see yourself clearly, see yourself as God sees you.

Not that looking into this mirror is any fun. God’s word reveals the truth, and the truth isn’t pleasant to look at. Scripture shows us that we are smeared with sin—our souls look quite unappealing. God’s word shows us that we are not nearly as kind and pleasant and generous as we thought we were; what we see reflected back to us is callousness, rudeness, and selfishness. Seeing the reality of who we are makes us want to turn away, our heads hung in shame.

But the purpose of a mirror is not to make you feel bad about yourself. A mirror offers the opportunity to get presentable. So it is with the mirror of God’s word. The Lord did not give the Bible just to make us feel ashamed; He wrote these words of truth so that we can understand how desperately we need Jesus in our lives. Only the Son of God can remove the stain of sin from us; only He can make sure we look acceptable when God examines our souls. Looking into the mirror of Scripture is often an unpleasant experience—but the fault doesn’t lie with God’s word, the ugliness it reveals is our own. We must look at ourselves through the Bible regularly, so that we don’t forget how much we really need the Savior.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


All Scripture comes from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

People have always been fascinated with mythology. There are countless books on Greek mythology; the character of Hercules has been the subject of many films and television series, and everyone is familiar with the story of Ulysses and the Trojan Horse. As a child, I also liked Norse mythology—Odin and Thor and their doomed struggle against Loki and the forces of chaos.

Every culture has it’s own mythology, stories of gods and heroes and grand adventures. In America’s early days, we had names like Paul Bunyan and John Henry. More recently, Star Wars has become almost myth-like—most people recognize Darth Vader and know what you mean if you say "may the Force be with you."

Myths are stories that unite a culture and express the values its people hold in common. Myths teach young people about what is important in life and how they should behave. Although they are just stories now, in ancient times most myths were actual religions. People prayed to Zeus and offered sacrifices to Odin.

But mythologies all share one thing in common—they were all invented by men. George Lucas created Luke Skywalker; some tribal wise man came up with the first story about Thor. We like mythology because it is our creation; because humanity wrote it, mythology tells us what we want to hear.

The message of the Bible is not mythology. The words of Holy Scripture are God’s own words, given to selected individuals to write down for posterity. If you are skeptical of such a claim, consider this: the Bible tells us things that we don’t want to hear. No one likes to be told that he is a sinner. No one wants to hear that we are saved only by what Jesus did on the cross, that we are unable to reach paradise by our own efforts. It is hard to accept that suffering can lead to blessing. It is mind-boggling to hear that humility and submission are better than strength and independence.

Yet the message of Scripture is one of hope and joy. The mistakes we’ve made can be forgiven. We don’t need to be talented, charismatic or powerful to reach paradise—everlasting life is God’s free gift to everyone who clings to His Son. Christianity is not mythology; it does not tell us what we want to hear, it tells us what we need to hear.

Friday, December 05, 2008

He is coming

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths."

The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD (Isaiah 2:1-5).

The word Advent means "coming." During the season of Advent we focus on the coming of our Lord Jesus into this sinful world. But which coming of Jesus are we talking about? His first coming on Christmas Eve two millennia ago, or His future Second Coming, when He arrives in glory to judge the living and the dead?

The answer, of course, is ‘yes.’ During Advent, we look at both comings. We reflect on what God has done for us in the past and what He promises to do in the future. We are invited to look at our lives in relationship to the Lord and to prepare ourselves for His coming. Advent puts us in the right frame of mind to celebrate the anniversary of His first coming among us and prepares us for His Second Coming, whether that be tomorrow or in the distant future.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is an example of this two-fold look into the future. I selected this text because of our current military actions overseas. When a nation is at war, these words of prophecy are especially meaningful: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. According to Isaiah, in the last days war will become a thing of the past; it will be unnecessary because God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.

But how can this be? In the Book of Revelation God told John that as the end draws near, conflict and hatred will grow steadily worse. Jesus Himself said, Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). The New Testament gives us little hope that war will cease in our lifetimes.

To correctly understand Isaiah, we must understand what God means by the phrase "the last days." During His ministry, Jesus spoke about the last times. He told His disciples what to look for as evidence that the period of the last times had begun: Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, `I am the Christ, ' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:4-14).

Let us look at these predictions of Jesus. The first one was that people would falsely claim to be God’s Messiah. Such people began showing up already during the disciples’ lifetimes. Wars and rumors of wars have always been a part of humanity’s bloody history, and the Romans were engaged in warfare during the years following Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Famines and earthquakes were also common occurrences. Then Jesus says that His followers would be persecuted and put to death; this happened to James, Paul, Peter, and many others within mere decades of Jesus’ resurrection.

The conclusion is obvious: the last days are upon us; they began when Jesus ascended back into heaven almost 2,000 years ago.

When we understand that the last days started 40 days after our Lord rose from the dead, it puts a new perspective on what Isaiah is saying: In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." Clearly, Isaiah is describing the growth of God’s Church on earth following Jesus’ victory over sin and death. In the Old Testament, God’s people were always a distinct minority on earth. At the time of the flood, only eight people in the entire world believed in the true God, before the hordes of unbelievers were judged and executed by God in the worldwide flood. At the time of Moses, the number of God’s people represented perhaps 2% of the world’s population. On the day of Jesus’ birth, God’s faithful accounted for about 3% of the people living at that time. Before Jesus’ first coming, the mountain of the Lord’s temple could hardly be considered "chief" among the mountains, that is chief among all the world’s religions.

But look at what’s happened in the last days! Knowing that Christ could return at any time, knowing that when He comes again it will be with judgment on His agenda, Jesus’ followers took very seriously His command to go and make disciples of all nations. They went to those 97% who did not know God and they witnessed their faith in spite of persecution and death threats—with the result that, by the working of the Holy Spirit, one third of the world today identifies itself as Christian! No other religious group is nearly as large; truly, the mountain of the LORD's temple has been established as chief among the mountains.

And yet, wars continue. Didn’t Isaiah say that they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks? Was the prophet of God both right and wrong?

War is the result of sin. Sin makes us selfish; sin wants us to put our needs and wants ahead of the needs and wants of others. Sin resists sharing. Sin disapproves of letting another person have the final word. Sin hates the idea of giving anything to anyone without getting something of equal or greater value in return. Sin makes war inevitable. War is a struggle to see who gets their way, no matter the cost in pain or suffering. Because of sin, mankind wars with itself; but even more significantly, because of sin, man wars with God.

God insists that we love each other, build each other up, and give generously from the gifts He has given us. Our sin hates every demand of God’s wonderful Law, and so we rebel against the Almighty. But going to war against God is stupidity itself, because we cannot possibly win. God can end our lives at any time and send us to hell to be punished eternally for our evilness. Thankfully, eternal punishment is not God’s preferred response to our sins. Being the God that wants love to prevail, He instead sent us His Son, the Son who, at the beginning of time, acted as the hands of heaven in shaping the world to His Father’s specifications, as stated in John 1:3--Through him all things were made. This same Son of God lowered Himself to be born a human being through the womb of a woman who was, like all of us, an unworthy sinner. This holy infant was named Jesus, which means "Savior", because saving us is what He came to earth to do. The Son of God who shaped the world at Creation now entered that sin-corrupted world to re-create us as forgiven children, reborn under the Light from heaven. He did this by taking responsibility for all our sins and suffering our sentence of hell for them on the cross of Calvary. By this act, Jesus ended the state of war between us and God.

This is the perspective we need to look at the words of Isaiah. The prophet says, The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Jesus died for our sin in Jerusalem, the city on Mount Zion, and from that sacred place and time the Law of God has gone forth—the Law of love that takes hearts broken by sin and heals them with Jesus’ love and mercy. When we acknowledge Christ as our king, we become subjects in His kingdom. With Him as our king, we receive His wisdom preserved in the Bible, the wisdom from above that settles disputes through the application of forgiveness and love. Jesus said, `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 22:37-39). When we live this way, there is no room for the selfishness that leads to war. We are brought together by the Lord in peace, and can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.

But notice the qualifier Isaiah inserts here: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. He does not say "all peoples". Peace is God’s gift only to those who belong to Him; notice the words of the angels as they sang before the shepherds on that first Christmas night: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14). Sin still controls two thirds of the world, and that sin results in wars—wars which regrettably drag believers into them as well.

Which shows us that Isaiah was looking at two futures—the end of our war with God that Jesus brokered on the cross the first time that He came among us, and the end of all wars that will only happen when Jesus returns for the second time to judge, reward, and condemn. It is only when all unrepentant sinners have been consigned to hell, and this war-torn earth is remade in new perfection, that we can look forward to an eternal life completely free of war of every kind. It is only after Jesus’ Second Coming that we can truly say: Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

This Advent season it is time to prepare yourself for Christ’s coming. It is a time to recognize that the selfish ways of sin only lead to war among ourselves and war against the Almighty God. It is a time to look at our sins with horror and disgust, and earnestly pray to Jesus to forgive us and give us peace. Advent is the time to reject our sins as we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A balanced life

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 5:13-14).

You can lay in the sun and get a tan while your body gets enriched with vitamin D; but if you spend too much time exposed to ultraviolet rays your skin will burn and you risk developing melanoma. A glass of wine can help you relax around strangers or settle an upset stomach; but if you drink too much alcohol you’ll end up saying things you should have kept to yourself, and you become a very dangerous driver.

Life is full of things to do that can be fun and exciting; there are many ways to stimulate your mind and body. But such things must be used with caution; almost anything can be misused and cause you harm. There needs to be a balance between physical effort and mental exercise. Calories consumed should be balanced by calories burned. Work without time off for recreation is just as big a problem as persistent laziness.

There also a need for balance in your spiritual life. When God created the world, he divided the week into seven days. Six days were to be devoted to work, but the seventh day was reserved for spiritual matters—on it, no work was to be done.

When I was young, most businesses closed on Sunday—it was hard to find even a gas station, grocery store, or pharmacy that was open. But things have changed; most stores offering goods and services are now open on Sunday, even in the morning—after all, there is money to be made from those who don’t attend church, as well as churchgoers who need to pick up a jug of milk or would rather eat out than cook dinner.

It takes a lot of people to keep these stores and restaurants open, people who cannot attend church because of work. And it makes me wonder: how many of them get time with God’s word elsewhere during the week? What opportunities do they have to be assured that Jesus loves them, that their sins are forgiven, that death is not the end for their loved ones? When and where do they get the strength and friendship that comes from spending time with a group of fellow Christians? Is there time in their lives every week to reflect on what is good and right and worthwhile? These things are important—more important than any paycheck. Without them, life is out of balance.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).

In the days when barn-storming pilots traveled around the country, a flier at a county fair was offering to take passengers up for a ride. A young farmer urged his father give it a try. "Flying is great, Dad!" he said. "You’ll love seeing the farm from the air!" Reluctantly, the older man climbed into the open seat behind the pilot, put on the goggles offered to him, and fastened the safety belt. After getting directions from the son, the aviator took his biplane into the air with a roar and headed out towards the family farm. After about ten minutes, pilot and passenger returned safely to the ground. The young farmer ran up to his dad and cried out, "See, wasn’t that great?" The older man admitted, "Seeing the farm from the air was pretty special." Then, looking at his white-knuckled hands which were still clutching the bottom of the seat, he added, "the problem was, I just couldn’t let go!"

So it is with us. We go through many times in life when things seem very insecure and beyond our control. We hang on for dear life, wondering how much longer the terror will last, hoping that everything will turn out okay. And because we are so frightened, it is hard to appreciate the good things that surround us.

When you were a baby, not much frightened you so long as you were safely in the arms of mom or dad. It never ceases to amaze me how effective a mother’s kiss can be in making an ‘owie’ all better. A baby isn’t concerned about where the next meal is coming from. A baby doesn’t worry about having clothes to wear or a place to sleep. As long as that baby has a loving, responsible parent, all is right with the world.

God is our loving, responsible Father. When we are baptized, He adopts us into His family and pledges to take care of us. He wants us to trust Him the way a baby finds peace and security in a parent’s loving arms. This is why Jesus said, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. When we trust our heavenly Father with a child-like faith, we can let go of our worries and enjoy the good things all around us. God is with us wherever we are, watching and helping and protecting us. There is no reason to let fear steal the joy from your life.

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