Saturday, February 28, 2009

A spiritual journey

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD (Genesis 12:1-8).

Of the many wonderful stories in Genesis, the call of Abraham is probably one of the best known. I’m sure that you have heard many talks about the patriarch’s great faith in leaving everything behind to walk into the unknown, trusting in God’s command. But there are other important things contained in today’s Old Testament reading as well. So let us spend some time looking at several of the wonderful teachings that God shares with us through these eight short verses.

You will remember that God had already called Abram to leave his home city in Iraq; that is how Abram ended up in Haran, a place where Abram also had relatives. But Haran was not to be Abram’s final home; God told him, leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. Notice that God was well aware of the sacrifice He was asking of Abram; this 75 year old man, who had a wife but no children, was not only to leave the military protection of his country, not only to leave the comfort of living among people who shared his language and his culture, he was even to leave behind the emotional security of living with his relatives.

Why do you suppose that God asked such a thing of Abram? It was because Abram was setting out on a journey of faith. God was stripping away everything that could come between Abram and his Lord. When worries and hardships came, Abram and his wife would have no place to go for reassurance and security than the Lord Himself. Being utterly dependent on God, their trust in Him could only grow stronger.

Were he here with us today, Abram would challenge you to look at your life. Where do you go for security? Do you place your hope in the care that comes through government programs and bail-outs? Do you find your comfort by belonging to a group of people who think like you, who share your interests? Do you look to your relatives to take care of your needs? Or do you depend, first and foremost, on God? Do you pray to Him every day, sharing your hopes and fears, your joys and sorrows? Before you go to a doctor, do you ask the Lord to give him wisdom in making a correct diagnosis and prescribing effective treatment? Before you make a decision on whether to get married or buy a home, do you first seek heaven’s counsel? Is your relationship with the Lord the primary relationship in your life, or do you need to leave behind your country, your people, and your father’s household, as Abram did to be close to God?

God next told Abram, I will make you into a great nation. Notice that God was not promising to make Abram’s descendants into a great people, but rather a great nation. Abram’s descendants would become the nation of Israel, ruled by a line of kings that would one day find their ultimate expression in Jesus Christ, the King of all Creation. This is made even more clear by the following words: all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Now the Jews who do not accept Jesus as their Savior use this promise to give themselves a pat on the back; they believe that God blesses the entire world through its Jewish population. But this view is not properly focused. In Galatians 3:16, Paul speaks of Abram and his seed—seed being a euphemism for descendants. Listen to Paul’s understanding of God’s promises to Abram: The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. It is clear, then—when the Lord said all peoples on earth will be blessed through you, He meant that all people would be blessed through Abram because Abram and Sarai would be the ancestors of the Savior!

But I want you to notice something—this is all a contingent blessing. God promised to bless Abram after Abram had obeyed God and gone to the place where God was sending him. It was only after Abram left all else behind and dedicated himself to God that these blessings would come to him. Did God have to have Abram and Sarai as Christ’s ancestors? Of course not—the Lord could have chosen any couple He desired. But God reserved this wonderful blessing for the couple who treasured their relationship with Him above all other commitments. It was to deeply committed believers that God gave the honor of inaugurating Christ’s human bloodline, a bloodline that would one day result in blood both human and divine, poured out from the cross of Calvary to atone for every human sin. The blood of Christ, true God and true man in one body, would become the means by which all who believe in Jesus can be rescued from slavery to sin and eternal death in hell. Through the biological seed given by God to a childless elderly couple, generations of children would be born, one of whom would also be the Son of God Himself, the source of blessing for people of every nation.

As a Christian, what do you expect from God? Many Christians feel as if they are entitled to blessings, simply because they’ve been baptized and confirmed; when life gets difficult, they wonder why God isn’t giving them everything that they want. But I ask you—should you expect blessings from God if you put your relationship with Him on the backburner six days of the week? Remember, God promised Abram blessings on the condition that Abram make his relationship with God his top priority. And also consider this: Abram’s life was hardly one of constant happiness. Even after he left everything to tighten his bond with His Lord, he had struggles—military struggles, family struggles, even struggles with his faith. Just because God blessed him, that did not free Abram from all the problems that come from living in a sin-sickened body, among sin-sickened people, in a sin-sickened world.

There is one other blessing that God promised Abram; He said, I will make your name great. To understand the significance of this, you must remember that just before the history of Abraham, Genesis told us of the Tower of Babel. Up until that time, all mankind had spoken one common language; the problem began when the men of that day said, Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves (Genesis 11:4).

Abram is held up to us as an example of how we should look to God for everything meaningful in our lives; this is in stark contrast to what happened at Babel. There, mankind did not ask God in humility how they should live their lives—instead, they arrogantly set out to glorify themselves by building a huge monument to their pride. They were not interested in any name God would give them—a name like "humble servant"—they wanted a great name, chosen and inscribed on stone by their own sinful imaginations. Of course, you know how God responded to their hubris—He took the one worldwide language and splintered it into many different tongues, disrupting their plans and eliminating any future chance for mankind to stand united in pride against their Creator.

What a contrast this is to Abram. Abram does not seek a name for himself—he is content to trust and follow God in humility. It is because of this humble submission that God promises to make his name great—great as an example for us to aspire to. In addition, God promises that through Abram’s offspring, the people of the world, scattered by their many languages, will be reunited; in Galatians 3:28 Paul writes, you are all one in Christ Jesus. Through his humble submission to God’s will, Abram was blessed to be the ancestor of the reunification of mankind through Christ.

What name gives you a sense of pride? Are you proud to be called a United States citizen? Do you find your identity in being of Germanic or Italian descent? Do titles like "boss" or "doctor" or "Dad" or "Mom" make you feel good about yourself? Or does your self-worth come first and foremost from the joy that Jesus has given you the name "Christian"?

The last point I’d like to address today has to do with Abram’s behavior once he arrived in Canaan. Notice what this man of God does, once he has given up all earthly attachments as secondary to his relationship with his Lord: he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent…There he built an altar to the LORD. Notice what Abram builds; when he had chosen a place to settle down, he built a place to worship God. Notice also how Abram builds; he built an altar to the Lord, and he pitched a tent for himself. Abram did not build himself a fancy, permanent place to live; he knew that life here on earth is only temporary. Speaking of Abram, Hebrews chapter 11 tells us, By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents…For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. The only permanent home Abram was interested in was his eternal home with God.

And yet Abram did build permanent structures; wherever he stopped for a time, he built altars at which to worship God. In Abram’s mind, this was God’s land, not his; so he took every opportunity to set up places to honor God for all of His wonderful mercies. In addition, Abram knew that while he would one day die, God would be with His people forever; since Abram believed in God’s promise of a mighty nation which would one day fill the land, he set up altars to always call his descendants to worship the God who had made their nation possible. For Abram, God was the only constant that truly mattered.

What about you? What do you treat as permanent? How much of God’s money do you spend on His house compared to yours? Which house is more valuable to you? Which deserves the most attention? Which house do you want to remain standing throughout the years for the benefit of your children and grandchildren?

And what about your worship habits? When you are in a new city, whether you have just moved there or are merely visiting, is it your first priority to find a house of worship? Your vacation trips are never, I pray, vacations from time worshipping at God’s altar.

Abram’s life was radically changed by God’s call to follow Him. He gave up having his priorities dictated by government, society and family. He acknowledged that if he wanted God’s blessings to fill his life, he would have to move—move not just away from how he used to do things, but move into a whole new way of thinking. He realized that pride in himself and his accomplishments would only get in the way of the great things God wanted to do through him—most especially, make available the gift of forgiveness for all sins. These changes showed themselves in Abram’s new life—a life where the worship and love of God eclipsed everything else, a life where earthly pleasures were treated as the temporary things that they are.

May the Lord Jesus forgive your misplaced priorities, and may He enable you to embark on a life-changing journey of faith, following in the footsteps of your spiritual ancestor, Abram, that you might receive all of the Lord’s wonderful blessings.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Making changes

Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15)

As the years go by, each of us changes—sometimes we are forced to adapt to shifting circumstances, other times we grow dissatisfied with our lives and head off in a different direction. Sometimes these changes have worked out well; other times they have caused regrets. But in every situation, change always brings about a time of stress. And since we don’t like stress, we learn to be afraid of change.

Because we shy away from change, we often put up with a lot of unnecessary pain. How many women put up with a boyfriend’s shabby treatment because they are afraid that they won’t find another person to love them? How many men choose to live with chronic pain rather than go to a doctor because they fear being told that a change in lifestyle is necessary? Many times we put off change until things get so bad that we can no longer endure the pain; being miserable forces us to change.

Change is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be traumatic. People who embrace change do so because they see it as an opportunity for improvement. They look at the options, they consider the possible repercussions, and they choose the path that offers the best chance for a happier tomorrow. People who feel cornered and forced to change don’t always end up better off; in a panic, they choose the easiest or most obvious way out instead of looking for the best path to take. Those who embrace change as an opportunity are more likely to find a better outcome, because their decision-making is not influenced by panic.

God wants to spare us from living with unnecessary pain. He urges us to change before stress drives us into panic mode. Sin is what fills our lives with stress. Sin is what fills our lives with pain. Seen from a distance, sin looks like fun—but when you make sin your close friend, you begin to see through the lies. Casual sex looks like fun—until someone catches a venereal disease or gets pregnant. Methamphetamines look like fun—until you become addicted and spend all your time and money on supporting your habit. Sin promises a good time, but what it delivers is suffering and entrapment.

Jesus urges you to change, to stop letting sin dictate the direction of your life. Jesus wants to free you from ever-worsening misery. He offers forgiveness. He offers a different way to live. He offers continuing life beyond the grave. All He asks is that you trust Him. Changing your life is a scary thought, I know, but Jesus promises to be with you every step of the way; He promises that making the change will be worth it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Which way is up?

My times are in your hands (Psalm 31:15).

Every generation has lived with uncertainty; no one knows what the future holds. During the Great Depression, parents wondered how they would feed their children. During World War Two, countless people wondered if their loved ones in uniform would return home alive. During the 1950s, most Americans lived in fear of nuclear attack. In the 1960s, older citizens worried that the youth of this country were losing their morals. In the 1970s, it no longer seemed as if you could trust the government. In the 1980s, everyone was terrified of a new disease called AIDS. These days we worry about terrorists, the economy, and the environment.

Everyone struggles with uncertainty. Will the person you married still love you when you are old and gray? Will your children have lives that are safe and happy? Is your job secure? Do you have enough saved up for retirement? Will you get cancer or end up in a wheelchair? Will you get the chance to do everything that you’ve always wanted to, before you die?

Uncertainty can result in many sleepless nights. When your life isn’t going well, how do you decide whether to make a change, or be patient and see if things get better? When you are wrestling with a big decision, how confident are you that you have thought everything through carefully? Do you worry about how your children will turn out when they’ve grown up? Do you wonder if the way you lived your life will leave a positive impact on the world? It’s hard to find joy when your head is filled these kinds of questions and doubts. It’s like being a man who dives into the water at night; with no sunlight coming down from above, he gets disoriented and can’t find the surface. When his lungs start burning with a need for air, he panics and makes his situation even more dangerous. That’s what life is like when you don’t know which way is up.

My friend, you can have peace of mind. You don’t have to struggle with worry and confusion. God assures us that the future is in His hands. Our Lord tells us what is right and what is wrong. Through the Bible, our heavenly Father shines the light of truth into our lives, revealing the way to happiness. Whatever uncertainties plague your thoughts, God’s Word offers hope and clarity. God’s Word is truth—you can be certain of that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hidden glory

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21).

When the sky is filled with dark clouds and all the world seems gray, does the sun still shine? Of course it does—it’s just that those clouds prevent you from seeing it. But on days when the entire world seems dreary, wouldn’t it be nice if you could see the bright light that you know is shining beyond the overcast above you? Wouldn’t that cheer you up?

When your life is filled with dark clouds of disappointment and your entire world seems gray, does the light of Christ’s love still shine? Of course it does—it’s just that your frustrations prevent you from seeing it. But when aggravations make everything around you seems dreary, wouldn’t it be nice if you could see the bright light of Christ personally, like Peter, James and John did on the Mount of Transfiguration? Wouldn’t that give you hope?

As we journey through life, it often seems as if we are walking in darkness. Life is a challenge, and this world is not our friend. We look for guidance from religious organizations and protection from the court system, yet we discover that more and more of them have lost touch with God-pleasing morality. Violence, unrestrained sexual expression, substance abuse, an unhealthy fascination with making and spending money, rampant dishonesty—instead of being repulsed by such behaviors, our society enshrines them in every form of entertainment. And yet, in the midst of all this, Jesus says take heart, because I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

As we live our lives, it quickly becomes obvious that we cannot have any confidence in our ability to overcome challenges on our own. We dare not trust our own judgment, because our decision-making ability is crippled by the selfishness that influences our every thought. Hymn writer George Duffield wrote, "The arm of flesh will fail you, You dare not trust your own." And even when we go to God for advice, there is no guarantee that we can put His wisdom to work in our lives. Living a life in faith is a struggle, and we can slips backwards into old sins or fall headlong into new ones, having to deal with all their consequences. Yet St. Paul writes in Romans chapter eight, there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

And we dare not forget the devil. As if the indifference of the world to our struggles and the treachery of our weak inner nature were not enough, Satan is constantly at work, drawing our attention to the things that will destroy us in the end. He is a master manipulator, having thousands of years of practice to refine his techniques. And he is more persistent than we are; while we spread our attention among many goals, the devil focuses all his effort on one thing only—your eternal separation from God’s love. And yet with all his skill and spiritual power, James gives us reassurance: Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

When frustrations make our lives seem dark, we might wish for a glimpse of the glory that Peter, James and John saw. Have you ever wished that you had been born in Jesus’ time, that you could have had the opportunity to meet Him in the flesh? I have, on occasion—but then I am reminded that the religious leaders of that day mostly lined up against Jesus, opposing Him as a charlatan. Even the disciples abandoned the Lord in His greatest time of need. How could I hope to have acted better than any of them? And aside from that, why should we wish to serve the Lord in a different time and place when He has placed each of us here and now? Ephesians chapter two says, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. You and I have been uniquely equipped by our Lord to do His will just where He has placed us.

All right, but at least couldn’t God show us some kind of proof that He’s there? Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus would somehow show me through a miracle that He’s interested in my life personally? Such a desire gives evidence of the sin within us that taints our thinking. Hebrews chapter 11 defines faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. True faith does not want or need proofs. Thomas could not bring himself to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead until he saw the Lord with his own two eyes; in response Jesus said, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29). Many people in Jesus’ day wanted Him to perform miracles to prove Himself to them; in response the Lord said, This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29). The sign of Jonah—new life three days after being swallowed up by death. Jesus tells us that His death and resurrection is all the miracle that we need to have indisputable proof of His love for each of us!

And anyway, what good would a miracle really do us? The children of Israel witnessed ten miraculous plagues leading to their release from slavery in Egypt; they saw the Red Sea parted for their escape route; they saw bread from heaven miraculously condense out of the dew every morning to keep them fed—yet after only forty days without Moses’ leadership while he was on Mount Sinai with the Lord, they made a statue of an animal and began praying to it as their god! Miracles do not guarantee a faithful follower; they can easily lead to an attitude of "Yes, God, but what have you done for me lately?"

As Christians, we have all that we need to be confident in God’s love for us. The Transfiguration of Jesus shows us that the power and glory of heaven is available to us, but it comes hidden in the appearance of ordinary things. All of the power and glory of God was present in Christ, but with the exception of one brief moment of time, it was hidden within the ordinary looking form of the man Jesus. This teaches us the importance of looking for the divine with eyes of faith, not just physical sight.

In holy Baptism, Jesus personally makes us His own. Through the ordinary-seeming water applied with the Word of God’s promise, He gives us gifts--invisible, but very real. We are made citizens of the heavenly kingdom; our names are recorded in God’s book of life. We are adopted as Jesus’ brothers and sisters by faith, co-heirs of the kingdom of which Christ is the king, children of the Almighty. We are washed clean by the blood of Christ, blood that He poured out from the cross to wash away all of our sins and gift us with His righteousness and purity. His blood marks us as those who are redeemed, bought back from slavery to sin, death, and the devil. And baptism equips us with the power of the Holy Spirit, an invisible power that helps us to tell good from evil and strengthens us to do that which pleases God. All these blessings come from the power and glory of God hidden within the water and Word of baptism.

In holy Communion, Jesus personally strengthens our relationship with Him. Through ordinary-seeming bread and wine distributed with Jesus’ words of promise, He gives us gifts—invisible, but very real. We have repeatedly turned our backs on Jesus, traded away the purity given us in our baptism in exchange for the temporary thrills of sin. Yet when we come to our Lord with heavy hearts looking for mercy, He restores us to our baptismal grace by forgiving our sins. Jesus said, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:20). Through Jesus’ blood, invisibly given us in the wine, we are brought back to God through the new covenant, the offer from God by which Jesus traded us His life in exchange for our death. Jesus also said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh (John 6:51). Jesus miraculously gives us Himself through the bread that we might be strengthened to live in a wholesome relationship with Him here in life, and be assured of unending life together with Him in paradise. At the Lord’s Supper we eat with Jesus who is unseen, yet we celebrate His presence through the bread and wine. The Lord promised you His own body and blood at the Last Supper, and sealed its covenant with His lifeblood shed on the cross of Good Friday as your guarantee.

Through the words of holy Scripture, God works to make our faith secure. The prophets of the Old Testament spoke hopefully of the Savior who would one day come, but Peter, James & John saw the reality of what had been foretold; Peter writes, we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it. Peter and his associates personally witnessed what Moses, Elijah, and the others had looked forward to, so their eye witness accounts showing Jesus as the Son of God only strengthens the hope offered us by the prophets of old. The Bible, Old and New Testaments together, is the tool used by the Holy Spirit to work a great, invisible miracle within each one of us—the miracle of belief in a Savior we cannot see but who died and rose again to make us His own, and to whom we dedicate our lives.

It is through the dedication of our lives to Jesus that the invisible shows itself visibly. You cannot see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind on everything around you. Just so, the God who works invisibly within us shows evidence of His presence through how we live our lives.

Jesus shows Himself in your life when you have been brought down by the uncaring world, the allurements of Satan, and the betrayal of your own personal weakness. Instead of giving in to despair over your failures, you have the peace of knowing that every sin, no matter how awful, will be forgiven everyone who asks Jesus to wash them clean with His blood. Instead of nursing a grudge for those who have hurt you, you experience the release of forgiving others as you yourself have been forgiven. For the Christian, each day begun in humble prayer is a new day, a day not weighed down by the guilt of the past.

Jesus shows Himself in your life by your attitude towards life and death. At the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are seen to be eternally alive and distinct from each other. For us, death is an unpleasant reality, but it is not terrifying. We know that our souls will not disappear forever, nor will we lose our personal identity. Instead, when we die, we will go to the place where we will be privileged to see Jesus in all His godly glory and power forever. And so, when you mourn the death of a fellow believer, you do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). You know that your separation is only temporary, because Jesus promised: Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be (John 12:26). All who serve Jesus will follow Him who rose from the grave and now lives forever in paradise.

And Jesus shows Himself in your life through your attitude towards others. In our uncaring world, we are expected to keep our religion to ourselves. But filled with the love of Christ, we overflow with love for others—a love that wants everyone we know to experience the joy of being washed clean of guilt by Christ, a love that wants to spare them from eternity following death separated in hell from God’s love. And so you do the hard thing, the thing that our sinful world hates—you speak of Christ crucified to those who do not know Him. You donate your time and skills to helping others, building relationships that will create opportunities to speak of the hope that fills you. You donate your money to supporting the work of the Lord’s church at home and abroad. You pray for those who have no relationship with Jesus, that they might see the light of His love. Most importantly, you invite others to meet your Savior—invite them to come with you to church, or to join you in reading and reflecting on God’s Book together. We are Jesus’ hands and voice, reaching out to others in love.

The next time life seems to be an uphill battle and you’re not getting much in the way of help from your family, much less the world around you, don’t put God in their category. When friends you can see disappoint you, start looking with the eyes of faith. In His crucifixion Jesus has done everything to make right your relationship with God. His Transfiguration reminds you of how near the power of heaven can be, even though it goes unseen. Jesus is close to you, to apply all that He did on the cross to your life, and to reassure you of the final victory over sin, death, and the devil that is yours in heaven.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bible--what is it?

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

When you open a Bible, what do you expect to read? For some, the Bible is a window into the past. When they turn the pages of Scripture, they do so out of curiosity. How did those people live? What were their homes like, what foods were part of their diet, what technology did they use to make life easier? What was their culture like? How did they solve the problems of living together as a functioning society? Read this way, the Bible is as stale and lifeless as a college textbook.

Others view the Bible as a masterpiece of writing. When they leaf through the Scriptures, they are swept away by the beauty of the poetry, the powerful use of imagery and metaphor. In those pages they see the wisdom of the ages, philosophical thoughts to stir the imagination. Read this way, the Bible is a literary work of art, something to be appreciated like a painting in an art gallery.

There are many people who think of the Bible as a self-help book. When life becomes painful or confusing, they look in its pages for words of comfort and guidance. They want advice on how to achieve quality of life; they want rules of conduct that make hard decisions easy; they want assurance that love will triumph over hate. Read this way, the Bible comes off as a life coach, psychologist, or motivational speaker.

The Bible is all these things to some extent, but in reality it is much more. The Bible is God’s way of speaking to us. Think about that for a moment. Through Holy Scripture, God speaks to you! These words come from the Almighty Creator of the universe. God is invisible and unapproachable, yet through the Bible He shows Himself to you. He is the Judge of all humanity; He alone decides whether to punish in hell or bless in heaven. Through the Bible, God tells you how He will make that all-important decision when you die and go to stand before Him. Through the Bible, God speaks to you about life and death, about love and sacrifice, about forgiveness and reconciliation, about using your life on earth to prepare for what follows death. Read this way, the Bible transcends every other book—it combines facts and power and beauty and wisdom and comfort, yet goes beyond them. Read properly, the Bible is a book that we treat with awe, respect, and a healthy bit of fear, because it delivers a message like no other.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

God's help

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

I was in a car accident recently. Coming home after dark, I suddenly noticed two deer standing right at the edge of the road. Although they were standing still, my first instinct was to give them plenty of room. I swerved, the car went into a spin, and we hit the ditch. The car rolled and we found ourselves upside down, hanging from our seat belts.

My wife is fine. I have a broken collarbone, and the car was a total loss. Over all, we have much to be grateful for—the injuries could have been much worse. But I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy. I’d like to use this experience to make two points.

First point. Many concerned people have told me that I was lucky. But luck had nothing to do with it. First, we were driving a well-made car. Second, we were wearing our seat belts. But most important of all, God protected us. The car did not catch on fire. We were able to reach our cell phones and dial 911. A passing couple saw us and stopped to help. The first responders arrived before we got cold. In all these ways, God kept a bad situation from becoming a tragedy.

Still, having my left arm pretty much useless has been annoying. I’ve needed help with showering and dressing. Until recently, I wasn't able to drive. I have to be careful how I get up from a chair. Almost everything I do is harder and takes longer than it used to.

Which brings me to my second point. We take things too much for granted. We set our alarm clocks based on the assumption that there will be hot water for the shower, getting dressed won’t take much time, and the car won’t give us any problems. We don’t build room into our schedules to allow for problems and delays. When life doesn’t cooperate with our plans, we get annoyed—and a friend, spouse, or child often bears the brunt of our anger.

The thing is, God doesn’t guarantee you good health or smooth sailing. What He does guarantee is His help, if you are on friendly terms with His Son. Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. The Lord has protected me and continues to bless me; He loves you the same way.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love in action

Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, "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!"

Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. "What is it you want?" he asked. She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father."

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"
(Matthew 20:17-28).

I want you to close your eyes for a moment and try to think of the most impressive person you have ever met. I want you to pick out someone that you have admired, someone who inspired you, someone who changed your life for the better. Picture this man or woman’s face. Remember the kinds of things he or she said, the things that were important to him or her. Now, I’m going to ask you a question. Does this person hold a special place in your heart because he or she enjoyed ordering you around, or does this person hold a special place in your heart because he or she listened carefully to you? Did you have to work hard to get this person’s attention away from other things, or did this person always make time for you when you were in need? Do you have fond memories of this person because he or she was selfish, or do you have fond memories because he or she was giving?

I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that you were not picturing an arrogant, opinionated person who didn’t have time for you. I’m pretty sure the person that you pictured was a patient listener, someone who was generous with time and always willing to offer a helping hand. I am confident that the people who mean the most to you could be described by our Lord Jesus as people who are willing to serve others.

We treasure such people because acts of service demonstrate love. By serving us in our need, these people have shown us that they love us. Maybe they never said the words. Speaking from my own cultural background, Germans don’t really like to say "I love you" very much. A German would rather show his love by offering his hand to help fix a fence; a German would prefer to show her love by the offer of her shoulder as a place to lay your head and cry. Germans know that actions speak louder than words. Germans know that acts of service are nothing less than love expressed.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that acts of service, acts of love, are what result in personal greatness. This is a message that our world can’t really understand. Even Jesus’ disciples, who by this point had been learning from Him for three years, didn’t understand it. Our world understands greatness in a way completely opposite from Jesus’ definition. The world defines greatness in terms of power. In Washington, a person is great if he holds influence in public office. The Speaker of the House is great; the President is greater. In Hollywood, a person is great if she is popular and good-looking. Jennifer Aniston is great; Julia Roberts is greater. On Wall Street, a person is great if he is rich. Donald Trump is great; Bill Gates is greater.

This kind of human greatness is selfishness taken to an extreme. A politician does not get into national office without the work of thousands of supporters. A music or sports star is not popular unless thousands of people buy tickets to watch a performance. A tycoon only gets wealthy if the thousands of people employed by him work hard at making his business a success. Human greatness is built on backs of mankind. What is selfish about those who stand on the tops of these pyramids of success is that they tend to see their success as entirely their own, and they give comparatively little of the decision-making, recognition, or profit back to the people whose shoulders they are standing on. People who are great in the eyes of the world have influence and control over many, many people, and they enjoy using that power to make their own lives pleasant.

God does not value selfishness. Selfishness is about ‘me first’ and everyone else second—including God. Selfishness violates God’s First Commandment "You shall have no other gods before me." People who prize highly things like power, fame or wealth have made those things their gods. People who pursue worldly greatness do so at the peril of their eternal home, because God sends those who worship false gods to hell.

Greatness in the sight of God is completely different. Saint John tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). John isn’t talking about a passive love. John isn’t talking about an emotion that lives in the heart but never reaches out to take action. No, John is talking about an active love, a love that caused God to give His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Because God loved us, He was moved to an act of service on our behalf: God sent His beloved Son to live in human form and suffer the punishment that our sins deserved. Every one of us is by nature selfish; every one of us angers God over and over again by making our wants and desires our top priority, instead of making God and His other children our top priority. The sin of selfishness is punishable by eternal death in hell. But Jesus’ loving service to us lifted the death sentence from our souls. Jesus was executed as a criminal for our crimes. Jesus’ willing crucifixion for us was the ultimate act of love. The torment and death of the divine Son of God was such a powerful act of service that there is no longer any punishment found in the kingdom of heaven for those who ask the Son for mercy. No one has ever loved so much. No one has ever given so much. And because of this, no one has ever been greater in the kingdom of heaven than Christ.

Perfect love inevitably results in perfect service. Jesus loved perfectly, and He served perfectly. Jesus loved His Father perfectly. The Father decided that the way to save mankind from the death of sin was to allow Jesus to take our punishment in our place, because Jesus is greater than all our sins combined. Jesus loved His Father, so He was willing to suffer and die at His Father’s command. Jesus also loved us perfectly. Because of His love for us, Jesus was unwilling to see any sinful person sent to hell without the opportunity for forgiveness and mercy. So Jesus willingly suffered His Father’s terrible anger at our sins, so that He could offer forgiveness and eternal life to all who trust in His power and care. Jesus loved and served His Father perfectly; He loved and served us perfectly.

Earlier, I suggested that humans who consider themselves great are actually standing on the top of human pyramids, perched on the shoulders of others who have made their success possible. With Jesus it is just the opposite. Jesus is the greatest because He has loved and served more than anyone else ever can. Jesus is the greatest, but He is beneath the pyramid of mankind. Picture a pyramid upside down, its point resting on one man—that man is the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ act of loving service was to shoulder the burden of the entire world; there is no human success that does not ultimately rest on His love and care alone.

Salome and her sons James and John did not understand the cost of greatness in the kingdom of God. The sons of Zebedee desired fame and power, but through their mother they were really asking for a life of humble service. They were unknowingly asking for a career of service that would be despised and rejected by those who didn’t understand the nature of true greatness. They didn’t understand that the cup that Jesus would drink would be filled with the poison of sin, a cup that would bring about Jesus’ death. They, too, would sip from this cup—James would be martyred for his faith, and John would face exile. But by the time that they eventually did sip out of Jesus’ cup of suffering, they did so knowing that humble, sometimes painful, Christian service leads to glory in heaven. Jesus was their living proof, as He was raised in glory out of death into everlasting rulership in heaven.

For Jesus, loving service came first, glory came later. So it was for the sons of Zebedee; so it is for us. Jesus has called us to believe in Him, to submit to His leadership, to abandon our selfishness. Jesus has called us to love one another, to serve one another. Jesus wants us to be servants to each other; in this way all men will know that we are His disciples, because our love for one another will be evident (John 13:35). And the evidence of the love that Jesus has placed in our hearts will draw others to our Savior as well.

Who wants to be great? We all do. But heavenly greatness is a greatness of the future; for now, our Lord asks us to serve Him by serving one another. So let us serve in joy every day, looking forward to the day when Jesus tells us, "Well done, good and faithful servant! …Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:21) May our Lord Jesus give you such a willing heart and the love of service in His name.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

God's love--unconditional?

God will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Does God love you deeply and wholeheartedly? Yes, absolutely. Does God love you unconditionally? That answer is not so simple.

The love that God has for you in His heart is unconditional. Romans chapter five says, God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus died for everyone, no matter how evil or misguided they are; through Him, God’s love reaches out to everyone. But not everyone accepts God’s love as it is expressed through Christ. This causes a problem, because God only forgives those sinners who believe that His Son died for them. 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). Peter adds, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given from heaven to mankind which guarantees our salvation (Acts 4:12). And John writes, No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23). Although God feels love for everyone, only those who believe in Jesus get the benefit of God’s love.

And while it is not a condition for salvation, God does expect us to change how we live as a result of following His Son. In Mark 1:15 Jesus told His followers to do two things: Repent and believe the good news! To repent is to admit that you have been wrong and need to change. Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 4, 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. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Although God loves us as we are, He wants something better for us, a life that is not hurt or degraded by the corrupting ways of sin.

God loves us deeply and wholeheartedly. He loves us despite our faults. But we cannot experience His loving embrace unless we trust in Jesus, reject our love for sin, and let the Savior guide us in the ways of righteous living. Only Jesus leads to heaven; if we refuse His help and direction, we won’t be welcomed into God’s eternal home.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The whole story

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

Some time back, I was watching the news concerning a man whose wife was in critical condition. He was organizing a prayer service for her, and he invited people of all faiths to come. He said that all religions are basically the same, they are just confused about the details.

I could not disagree with him more strongly. All religions are not the same; there are basically three kinds of religions in the world, and they are very different from each other.

One type of religion believes that God is an angry judge—you must please Him or else. He has a list of things for you to do in order to earn His favor. Please God enough and He will reward you; if you don’t make enough of an effort, He punishes you. Religions of this type emphasize the need to work hard at being good.

A second type of religion views God as a cuddly grandfather—no matter what you do, He’s all smiles. Oh, He might give you a stern lecture about bad behavior, but He doesn’t really get angry. All people are His children, and although He urges us to be good, He loves everyone too much to actually punish them. Religions of this type assure their members that God loves people unconditionally, and He accepts them just as they are with no changes required.

The third type of religion is based on the Old and New Testament. It tells us that God is holy and that we are sinners. It teaches that God hates sin, hates it so much that those who commit sin are sent to hell when they die. But the Bible also speaks of God’s great love—a love so committed to our welfare that He sent His Son to suffer all the punishment that our sins deserved. When we gratefully pledge our loyalty to Jesus, He forgives us for angering God and teaches us how to live a life that reflects God’s perfect love. When we eventually die, He will bring us to His side to live in happiness forever.

All religions are not alike. Some teach that God demands good behavior—but that’s only part of the story. Others teach that God loves us deeply—but that’s only part of the story. The Bible teaches that through Jesus, God forgives us for sinning and teaches us how to really live—and that, my friend, is the whole story.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Spiritual blindness

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing…

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see."

Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided.

Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet"…

To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."

Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."

Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind" (John 9"13-39a).

Today’s Gospel lesson is all about blindness. To be blind is to be unable to see something that ought to be perfectly obvious. A blind man cannot see the sun, the brightest object in our lives; a blind woman cannot see the face of her parents, spouse or children, the most precious things that any person can gaze at. But blindness can also afflict our hearts and minds, keeping us from seeing what should be perfectly obvious. When a man tries to win the heart of a woman, she cannot see his overtures of love and affection if her heart is blind; when a man is faced with facts that challenge him to change his outlook on life, he cannot see the truth if his mind is blind. The problem is spiritual blindness, the inability to see those things which are invisible, yet nevertheless are very real. It is this kind of blindness that runs rampant in today’s Bible account.

Blindness first rears its ugly head among Jesus’ disciples as they are walking along a road on the Sabbath. They came upon a man who had been blind from birth, who had to resort to begging in order to fill his belly. A tragic picture, to be sure—but even more tragic is the disciples’ question to Jesus: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

The disciples were expressing a commonly held Jewish belief—if something bad happened in your life, it was evidence that God was angry with you. Those who suffered greatly had obviously angered God with terrible sin. And when tragedy befell a man already at birth, Jews typically concluded that he was suffering for the sins of his parents.

This attitude towards people who are suffering is tragic. This attitude assumes that the person is getting his "just desserts" from God; that being the case, no one would offer such a person sympathy or a helping hand—the poor sufferer is left alone in his misery. Think of how that would affect people today: if you had diabetes or epilepsy or a degenerative nerve condition, your fellow Christians would assume that you were suffering because God was punishing you; instead of offering you sympathy or support, you would be coldly told to repent of whatever it was that had gotten you into this mess to begin with. And lest you think that this could never happen among us today, I’d like to take you back to the mid 1980s when AIDS first burst out into the open. Some of you might remember pious people at the time who said that the disease was what?—God’s punishment on homosexuals! That blind thinking of Jesus’ disciples is alive and well in today’s world.

When we look for the cause of suffering in this world, there is only one place to look—sin. Before sin entered the world, everything that God had made was perfect. Now that mankind has brought sin into the world, Paul tells us that the creation was subjected to frustration…the whole creation has been groaning…right up to the present time (Romans chapter 8). Our world is home to things it was never intended to support—miscarriages, birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome, diseases of body and mind, and inevitably death. All these things are unnatural, the product of sin.

And who is subject to these problems? Everyone! Everyone is a sinner; everyone lives in the midst of the sin that infests our world. In Romans chapter three Paul writes: There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…death came to all men, because all sinned. Because of this, we all suffer the effects of sin—pain and frustration and encroaching death. God does not need to send such things to us—we all receive them to one degree or another by the mere fact of our sinful existence.

No, the real issue is this: why doesn’t God protect me from each and every manifestation of sin? Jesus gave the disciples His answer to that very question there along the road: this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. What causes us to repent of our sins? What causes us to seek to have God in our lives? Is it not trouble? Is it not frustration? Is it not pain? If God automatically shielded you from every consequence of your sinful actions, would you ever learn that sinning is wrong and should be avoided? If God routinely protected you from every frustration and problem, would you ever learn to go to Him in prayer? The sad fact of the matter is that we need a certain amount of rough times in our lives; without them, we would inevitably come to ignore God as being unnecessary, irrelevant. When we struggle with the effects of sin, we are driven to our loving Savior who gives us hope and healing as He did for the blind man along the road. God often allows us to struggle with problems in order to encourage our reliance on Him as our only Lord and Master in life. It is then that the work of God is displayed in our lives.

The first lesson about spiritual blindness that Jesus seeks to teach us is this: we are all sinners; none of us dare claim superiority by looking at another person and thinking, "I’m better than him." To think ourselves spiritually above others is to be too blind to see the truth—the truth about ourselves. We all have to struggle with sin and its consequences—but we are not to use those struggles as a basis for prideful comparison with others.

We next encounter spiritual blindness when the religious leaders question the formerly blind man. These religious leaders knew their Old Testament inside and out—they knew the prophecies about the Messiah that God was going to send: "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy (Isaiah 35:4-6). Jesus was fulfilling these prophecies! Here before them was proof that Jesus was doing the work ascribed to the Savior from heaven, yet they could not see what was patently obvious! Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided.

The problem was one of expectations. The Pharisees had their own interpretation of the holy Scriptures, and Jesus did not conform to their teachings. In the Ten Commandments God had said, Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work. The Pharisees, being the legal experts that they were, had taken this command and figured out exactly what constituted work on the Sabbath, and what did not—they had even calculated how many steps you could walk on the Sabbath before you had crossed the line into unacceptable work-like behavior. The Pharisees were legalists, and they took great pride in keeping the hundreds of laws they had extrapolated from the Ten Commandments; their strict obedience to these, they believed, proved their moral superiority.

So they could not accept that Jesus would heal a blind man on the Sabbath. Jesus did work in violation of the law—He healed someone. To make matters worse, He told the blind man to work on the Sabbath as well—walk to the Pool of Siloam and wash! If Jesus truly were a righteous man, He would have waited until the next day, Sunday, to heal the blind man.

And so the Pharisees show themselves to be doubly blind. Not only did they not see the Savior for who He was, they could not even read the holy Scriptures correctly! In Deuteronomy chapter four God had said quite clearly, Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God. They had added hundreds of interpretations to God’s given laws, and they dared to hold Jesus accountable to these man-made additions! Of course Jesus would fail to meet their standards—the sinless Son of heaven would never be constrained by laws set down by sinful men! The whole purpose of the Sabbath Day had been grossly distorted—God’s intent was that, one day a week, His people would set aside the affairs of the world and focus on their relationship with Him. And this is exactly what Jesus had done—He had focused the blind man’s attention on heaven by miraculously restoring his sight on the Lord’s Day!

The second lesson about spiritual blindness that Jesus seeks to teach us is this: only by going to God’s pure Word alone can we know what His will is for us--His good, pleasing and perfect will. And it is only through the revelation of God’s Bible that we can see the truth of who Jesus is. Jesus fulfilled every prophecy of Scripture—but if you don’t know the Scriptures, Jesus has given no proof of His divinity that you can understand. To commit yourself to those who misrepresent God’s teachings, or try to show you a way to heaven that does not involve Jesus, is to fall victim to the foolishness of the blind leading the blind—you will only end up taking a hard, painful, eternal fall with them.

The Pharisees’ pride blinded them to the reality that was staring them in the face. When the blind man dared suggest that Jesus was sent from God, they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out. To "steep" a food is to soak it in something to change its flavor; to be "steeped in sin" is to be soaking in sin, absorbing it until it permeates your entire being. In one sense, the Pharisees were right—the formerly blind man had indeed been steeped in sin since birth. But what the Pharisees meant by their remark was that although he was steeped in sin, they were not; their spiritual blindness prevented them from seeing that they too were steeped in sin and needed to see Jesus.

Jesus had freed the man along the road from his physical blindness, but that man had not yet fully received spiritual sight; when Jesus sought him out and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man, he replied, "Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him." When Jesus said "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you", it was then that the blind man received spiritual sight as well. This is why Jesus had sought him out; by itself, being able to see with one’s eyes is not enough. It is essential that we see Jesus with the eyes of faith, with a mind that recognizes the truth of who Jesus is and a heart that trusts in His forgiveness and His loving promises.

The third lesson about spiritual blindness that Jesus seeks to teach us is this: only by looking to Him can we be saved. Hebrews chapter 12 urges, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus is the only hope for we who have been steeped in sin from conception. Only Jesus can take out of us the sickening taste of death that we have gained by our soaking in sin. Only Jesus can give us the taste of life—the life that He poured out for us in His holy blood while He suffered and died in our place on Good Friday.

For our sins to be forgiven, we must see Jesus for who He clearly is—the Son of God Himself, who pleads to heaven for us every day: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). When we are spiritually blind, we cannot see what we are doing; this is why we need Jesus to open our spiritual eyes, so that we can see what repulses God and reject it—and so we can see what pleases God and ask Jesus’ help in doing it.

Seek Jesus’ mercy. Let Him open your eyes, and you will see the world in a whole new light—the light of God’s truth.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

High tech toys

Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18).

I like electronic devices—I really do. I can make calls on a cell phone. I can use a computer to check email, search for information, and write a sermon. But these machines have features that are beyond me. My computer has a spreadsheet program that I can’t begin to understand. My cell phone has tiny buttons—it amazes me that anyone can push them fast enough to send a text message. And I am always leery of buying new technology—remember the Betamax and 8 track tapes? How can you be sure that the technology you purchase today will be used for years to come? There is also the problem of depreciation. If you buy a new car, the moment you drive it off the lot its value drops tremendously. If you buy a computer or a high definition TV, it’s only a matter of months before something newer and better hits the shelves and the item you purchased tumbles in price, as happened to those who bought the first iphones.

Our consumer-driven economy urges us to buy whatever is the newest, fastest, or trendiest. The problem is that you can never stay caught up. There is always something coming out that is newer and has more features, eager to separate your money from your wallet. But what good is the newest thing if it has features you can’t use effectively? What do you do with the stuff it replaces? And how will you ever save money for tuition, a down payment, or for retirement?

When you have your eye on some new electronic item, it’s time to ask some important questions. First, what are your actual needs? Chances are that technology which has been around for awhile (and is now reasonably priced) will meet your needs just fine; don’t buy features that you don’t absolutely need. Second, consider the value you’re getting for your dollar; knowing that prices will come down over time, would it be better to wait six months or a year before making this purchase? But the most important question to ask is this: since God provided the money you are about to spend, will making this purchase please Him? If you buy this item, will it free up time so you can pray to God, worship in His house, or study His Bible more than you do now? If you make this purchase, will it help you to serve God better by showing love to the lonely, the frightened, the desperate? Will this device help the children God has given you to do better in school or bring the family together more often for quality time? If the answer is no, then it’s time to put away your wallet and pray to God instead.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Never give up

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

George Mueller of Bristol, England was known for his strong faith in God. He founded an orphanage with a small amount of money and ran it on a shoestring budget, trusting that God would enable him to care for his young charges. His faith was well placed; although there were lean times, George always had enough to put food on the table.

Late in life, a visiting minister asked George if he had ever prayed a prayer that had not been answered. George was a man who paid close attention to details, and his answer reflected the fact. "62 years, 3 months, 5 days and 2 hours have passed since I began to pray that two men might be converted. I have prayed daily for them ever since, but as of yet neither of them shows any sign of turning to God." "Do you expect God to convert them?" the visitor asked. "Certainly," George replied, "Do you think God would lay on His child such a burden for 62 years if He had no purpose for their conversion?"

Not long after George passed away, the minister was back in Bristol preaching. During his sermon, he mentioned the conversation he had had with George Mueller. After church, a lady of the congregation stopped him and shared the following information: "One of those two men, to whom Mr. Mueller referred, was my uncle. He was converted and died a few weeks ago. The other man was brought to Christ in Dublin."

Sharing your faith in Jesus is not always an easy thing to do. Some people politely ask you to leave them alone. Others get angry and accuse you of forcing your beliefs on them. And there are those who make fun of you and what you believe. Encounters like these can be disheartening; it doesn’t take long before you wonder if talking about Jesus is worth the effort.

But George Mueller’s life teaches us two things. First, we should not be quick to give up. God works patiently to win people over, even when the process takes a long time. Second, when someone refuses to listen to us, we can still pray for them. The Bible says that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective (James 5:16). You might not get to see the results of your labor for God while in this life, but never doubt the good that He can accomplish as He works through you.

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