Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Unfiltered truth

Everyone committed to the truth listens to me (John 18:37).

All of us use filters. If you have forced air heat or central AC, there’s a filter that keeps dust from blowing through your house. If you make coffee, you use a filter to keep the grounds from getting into your cup. Cars have oil, air and gas filters to keep out contaminants and improve engine performance.

We also use filters when we read or listen to ideas. A Republican and a Democrat can both listen to the same news program, yet react to it in very different ways. One might believe that the story was reported fairly, while the other is angered by obvious bias. Whenever new scientific findings are announced, some embrace the evidence as truth, while others question the report and push for further study.

When we hear or read something, we filter it through our experiences. If you’ve been lied to in the past, you’re not likely to take what people say at face value. The amount of taxes that you pay and the age of your children may very well affect what you think about a school district’s request for an opt-out. People might have good ideas and fine intentions, but sometimes a gut reaction closes our ears to much of what’s being said.

We also use a filter when someone starts talking about religion. Maybe your filter is that you don’t like organized religion. Maybe your filter is that you can’t trust religious fanatics. Maybe your filter is that religion is private matter that people shouldn’t discuss, because it only leads to fights. Whatever your filter is, it strains out some of the message, blocking the parts that you don’t want to hear.

Can we put the filters aside for just a moment? No matter what you think of organized religion or religious people, the message of Christ deserves to be heard and understood:

I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Jesus was and is the Son of God, who lived on earth in a human body. He died on a cross and was buried, then rose from the grave and returned to His Father in heaven. Jesus lived to teach you about God. Jesus suffered and died on your behalf; God punished Him for your sins so that you might be forgiven. Jesus rose from the dead to prove His power to raise you from the grave, and bring you into God’s kingdom to live forever. That is the unfiltered truth.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Freedom of speech

Blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers, this is not right! (James 3:10)

Freedom of speech. It’s a right that’s guaranteed by our Constitution, and Americans prize it highly. People use it when they send letters to the editor, call in to radio talk shows, or leave a post on the Internet. Freedom of speech serves a free society, because it guarantees that every citizen can express his opinion in an attempt to make the country a better place to live.

But attached to every right there is also responsibility. Freedom of speech does not allow you to say anything you want. If you tell lies in a court of law, you can be sent to jail for perjury. If your lies hurt another person’s reputation, you can be convicted of slander and forced to pay restitution. Freedom of speech always has some limits.

In recent years, many countries have passed laws regarding hate crimes. Such laws make it illegal to treat someone hatefully because of things like age, gender, religion or sexual orientation. These laws are being passed to protect people from discrimination; however, these laws also put limits on freedom of speech. For example, in Europe a clergyman was thrown into jail for saying that homosexual behavior is sinful. Although he was only repeating what the Bible says, he was put on trial for allegedly committing a hate crime.

Words have tremendous power—they can give a dying person the will to live, and they can drive a happy person into suicidal despair. The right words at the right time can completely change the course of a person’s life. So we need to be very careful when we speak. Harsh words can cause a great deal of pain; it’s to be expected that policy makers try to control what people say.

But we must be careful in limiting free speech. Without free speech, good ideas go unheard, ideas that could make our communities better places to live. When free speech is limited, powerful men can abuse their authority with little opposition. When freedom of speech is curtailed, it is hard to warn people that their behavior is angering God, or tell them about the Son of God who died on a cross to offer them forgiveness. At all costs, we must preserve our right to speak words that can improve the lives of others.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Big dreams don't come cheap

Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)--Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen…

To this he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me!…

"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him--you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."

When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 6:51-60).

We like to dream big.

When you were a teenager, what kind of vehicle did you dream of driving? It’s my guess that for most of you, the first car or truck you could afford was not the hot set of wheels that you had been dreaming of. No, in order to get the vehicle of your dreams, you would have to dedicate much time and energy to hard work in order to earn the kind of money that you needed to make such a purchase. Maybe even today that hot car or truck is still an unrealized goal for you.

We like to dream big, but the reality always comes with a cost. We see this played out in the early church as well; after Jesus had risen from the dead and returned to heaven, Jesus’ followers were excited. The Lord had given them an important mission—go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). He had promised them His continual oversight: I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). And on Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon resulted in 3,000 new converts to the faith. So they were fired up, ready to take on the world for Christ. They were determined to see His Church continue to grow.

But it was not all smooth sailing. Stephen was challenged in his testimony of Christ by religious hard-liners who didn’t like what he had to say. Stephen didn’t back down—the truth of the message of salvation cannot be compromised. And the result? Stephen was murdered for his faith, the first martyr of Christ’s Church.

Stephen’s death at the hands of Christian-haters is a wake-up call, not only for the apostles but also for us. It is a sobering reminder that when we dream big, there will be a price to pay. As Christians, we have been given the Great Commission, to reach out to others and invite them to meet Jesus; but with that great responsibility comes the requirement to bear the cost of discipleship—a cost that can result in loss of friends, loss of respect, even loss of life.

Christians have four big dreams that cannot come true without cost. The first dream is to live lives untouched by the sin of the world surrounding us. In 2nd Corinthians chapter six Paul instructs us to avoid including unbelievers in our circle of friends: Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can goodness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the Devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God's temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. But what results from such separation? Paul warned Timothy that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. The reason is simple. It is summed up by accusations like these: "You Christians think you’re so special, that you have all the answers. Well, let me tell you, no one has an exclusive claim on the truth!" The fact is, we are special—we have the most precious thing in the world for our very own, a saving relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. We do know what the truth is, because we know Jesus, and Jesus said: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

But unbelievers resent the truth claims of Jesus. They feel threatened by them, because to accept that Christ teaches the truth requires them to admit that their beliefs are wrong, and humans don’t like to admit that they are wrong. When an unbeliever is confronted with the truth of Christ, there are only three ways to respond: accept it, ignore it, or oppose it. Today’s reading shows us what opposition to the truth can look like—they tried to intimidate Stephen into silence, they screamed at the top of their lungs to drown out his words, and they finally shut him up permanently by killing him.

Yet in the face of persecution, we are reassured. Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33). And James gives us this comfort: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12). Just look at Stephen! As he was dying, he was given a wonderful vision: "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Is enduring persecution worth it, to stand separate from the world as a Christian? Definitely!

Another big dream of Christians is that we will grow Christ’s Church by bringing unbelievers to meet Jesus. But this dream, too, comes at a price. Many Christians assume that outreach is the pastor’s job. But you know what? Often times, the pastor is the least effective member of the congregation when it comes to evangelizing. Unbelievers are prone to think something like this: "the only reason he’s talking to me about religion is because he’s paid to. If he wasn’t a minister, he wouldn’t give me the time of day." Now this conclusion is unfair and untrue, but notice what it implies. The unbeliever will be much more willing to accept as sincere your desire to speak with him or her about Jesus.

You may object to this thought by claiming that you are not good with words. Moses voiced this same concern to God, but listen to the Lord’s response: Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue." The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (Exodus 4:10-12). You might also claim that you don’t know your Bible well enough to be a witness—but listen to Jesus’ promise to His followers: do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11). Remember, the first Christian martyred was not one of the apostles; Stephen was just a man known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. His only qualification was his willingness to be a living house for the Spirit of God to reside in. Yet those who refused to believe saw his testimony as such a threat that they resorted to violence in order to silence him. Stephen had only the same spiritual gifts that the Lord is willing to share with you.

A third big dream of Jesus’ followers is that we can live our lives in service to Him. Of course, this too entails a cost for each of us. Jesus said, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). Living a life of grateful service to the Lord is hard work. Paul describes it in terms of athletic competition: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

How do we train for being a Christian? First, it involves a healthy diet. We must nourish our souls with God’s word through frequent worship, time regularly spent in devotion and Bible study. Through God’s word, the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and our commitment to speak to others about their sins and Jesus’ forgiveness. In addition, we are to put our faith into practice. James warns: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14-17). To advance in our Christian life, we must resist the temptation to reserve spirituality for Sunday mornings only, and instead get off the couch and into the lives of those who need to experience Christ’s compassion.

Of course, the biggest dream of every Christian is that Jesus would take way our sins. But even forgiveness comes at a cost. That greatest cost was borne by Jesus Himself as He suffered and died on the cross; the torment that He endured was the agony that you and I have deserved for all the many ways in which we daily ignore God and break His laws. Jesus endured our sentence of hell for us, so that we might be forgiven and receive life in His name. But although Jesus paid the supreme price to free us from sin, He does expect something of us as well. He expects us to repent. Jesus said, unless you repent, you…will all perish (Luke 13:3).

What does it mean to repent? First, it requires that you take responsibility for your sins. You cannot be like Adam and Eve, both of whom tried to blame someone else for their mistake; instead, you must be like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable who cried: O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner (Luke 18:13). This is hard; as I said earlier, no one likes to admit that they are wrong. But John writes: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

But true repentance involves more than just taking ownership of your mistakes. It also involves a change of heart, a commitment to try and change your ways. Our sins should disgust us; if we have no serious intention of trying to resist sinning in the future, our repentance is not sincere. This too is hard; repentance means that we must try to turn our backs on all the sins that have given us such pleasure. Yet this is what Jesus expects: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).

And true repentance requires one thing more. Jesus warned: if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15). This why He taught us to pray: and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is by forgiving others when they hurt us that we most clearly show the love of Christ to them, a love demonstrated on the cross when Jesus prayed: Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). It is supremely hard to forgive someone who has hurt you and isn’t the least bit sorry about it. And yet, we have the example of Stephen, who as he was dying, prayed: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." If we are not willing to forgive those who oppose us as we try to bring Christ into their lives, we will never touch them in their souls.

Peter tells us, The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). If we are to take part in God’s great dream for His Church, this must be our desire as well. Not wanting anyone to perish eternally in the flames of hell, but desiring all to take ownership of their sins and truly repent them so that they might have eternal life with Jesus and us in paradise. This requires patience from us, working hard for the Lord throughout our lives without giving up. First Corinthians chapter 15 says: Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. It is my sincere hope that when you arrive in heaven, at least one person will come to you and say: "I can’t thank you enough. Because you cared enough to tell me about Jesus, God’s Spirit has brought me here to join you."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day

The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).

Earth Day. A day when we pause to think about the world we live on and how we treat it. A day when environmentalists challenge our wasteful behavior, and teach us how to conserve and preserve the resources of nature.

It seems kind of silly to observe Earth Day; after all, the earth is all around us. Every day we breathe its air and walk its surface. Every day, we drink its water and eat its produce. Everything we own is made from the earth, whether it be wood or fabric or paper, metal or plastic or glass. The earth is part of our daily life; why do we need a day to remember it?

Sadly, we take things for granted. We pollute the air, assuming that the wind will disperse any toxins harmlessly. We waste fuel, as if subterranean oil deposits will never run dry. We buy more than we need, and throw things away without trying to fix them. We are careless and thoughtless; we need a regular reminder to change our ways.

Every week, there’s a church near you that observes God’s Day. It seems kind of silly to set aside a day each week to think about God—after all, He is all around us. Every day, He gives life to new children. Every day, He causes plants to grow and herds to multiply. Every day, He inspires scientists to invent new medicines and develop new technologies. Everything we have—life and health, family and friends, home and career—they are all gifts from the Lord.

Sadly, we take things for granted. We use and abuse people instead of loving them. We use our minds to spin lies and plot deception. We spend time wishing for things we don’t have instead of thanking God for His generosity. We waste the time, skills, and resources that the Lord has given us, and we act as if God should be grateful for any leftover crumbs that we might toss His way.

Earth Day reminds us to appreciate the world God has given us, and to treat it responsibly. God’s Day—Sunday—reminds us to appreciate the Lord who made the earth, and to give Him the respectful treatment that He deserves.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

National pride

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD (Psalm 33:12).

People take pride in their national identity. Whether you are a native of America, Russia or Iran, you probably believe that your country is the best place in the world to live. But how can you evaluate such a claim?

Some people judge a country on its economy. What is the average standard of living? What kinds of opportunities exist for investment and entrepreneurship? How many of the citizens live in poverty?

Other folks evaluate a country based on its style of government. Some believe that democracy is best; others want things run by religious leaders. There are people who fear the chaos brought by political change; they prefer having one strong, experienced leader to be in charge for the long haul.

Some judge a country based on its technology. They want the military to be equipped with the most advanced weapon systems available. They want the best possible health care for their families. They want cutting edge electronics to make their lives easier.

Still others judge a country based on its culture. They are concerned with human rights and personal freedoms. They value social customs and long-held traditions. They prize the art, music and literature that make their homeland different from all others.

I would like to suggest a different way of evaluating a country. Try looking at it from God’s perspective. How well does the nation honor God’s laws? Is respect shown to elders and people in authority? Are the citizens protected from violence and hatred? Is marriage honored as a special relationship between man and woman, a union that only rarely ends in divorce? Are people punished for stealing or lying? Are the children taught to be responsible for what they say and do? Do the courts enforce personal accountability, but also show mercy to those who are genuinely sorry for what they’ve done? Most importantly, how does the nation treat Christianity? Are Jesus’ followers permitted to gather freely? Are they allowed to talk openly about their faith at school, at work, and in public? That’s the kind of nation that I could be proud of.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The importance of the Old Testament

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"

"What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon." Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread (Luke 24:13-35a).

I’m sure that you’ve seen them. Thin Bibles consisting of only the New Testament, or the New Testament with the Book of Psalms. They sell quite well; they are less bulky than having to carry around a complete Bible, and they are less expensive too. And anyway, what do you really need the Old Testament for? Sure, it has some interesting stories, but it all happened so long ago; it’s not really relevant for us today, is it? Much of it is hard to understand. Isn’t the Old Testament all about God’s Law, while the New Testament is about the Gospel? Well, in the New Testament, Jesus did away with the Law, right? So He made the Old Testament unnecessary—didn’t He?

But look at what happened on the road to Emmaus on the evening of the very first Easter Sunday. Jesus joins two very disheartened men as they trudge home following the worst Passover ever—the festival during which the great religious teacher Jesus of Nazareth had been put to death by crucifixion. Jesus prevents them from recognizing Him so that He can get them to reflect on what the events of Holy Week meant. As students taught by Jesus, they knew their Old Testament very well—yet it is frustratingly clear that although they have all the pieces to the puzzle, they cannot put them together to see the picture of Jesus risen from the dead. Jesus is exasperated; "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"

Right then and there, Jesus could have revealed Himself to them in all His resurrection glory. But He does not; instead, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. And the effect of this Old Testament Bible study? The two disciples would later remark "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Moses and all the Prophets; Moses wrote Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, as well as a Psalm or two. The rest of the Old Testament was written by prophets—men appointed by God to make His words known to mankind. Moses and all the Prophets—in other words, the entire Old Testament. This is what Jesus used to teach the Emmaus disciples about Himself. Clearly, Jesus valued the Old Testament as important. But why?

As you read the Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you’ll notice that frequently the writers will say something like these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled. The Old Testament is filled with hundreds of references as to what Jesus would be like, what He would do, and what would happen to Him. As He began His public ministry, Jesus referred to the Old Testament to establish His credentials; Luke 4:16-21 records On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." When people questioned Jesus as to whether or not He was the Savior promised by God, He almost always referred them back to the Old Testament. We read one example from St. Luke chapter seven: they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, `Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' " …He replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: 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." Here, Jesus was referring to several passages, including Isaiah chapter 35, which reads: say to those with fearful hearts, "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.

Jesus did not use the Old Testament to prove Himself as the Messiah because He was humble. The Jews knew that the Old Testament was just that—old. Even the most recent book of the Scriptures had been written over 400 years earlier. The Jews knew that men of God had written the Holy Scriptures, and they knew that the Scriptures predicted the coming of a man from heaven who would free them from their sin. So when Jesus systematically fulfilled every prediction the Old Testament had made about Him, it would be clear that He was indeed the Messiah sent by God; the testimony of the Scriptures would be far more convincing than any claims He made about Himself. After all, when Jesus performed miracles, His opponents were not impressed—they claimed that Jesus got His powers from the devil. The most persuasive proof of Jesus’ identity came from the Old Testament.

This is why Jesus took the time to review the Scriptures with His disciples—and not just on the road to Emmaus. After He left Emmaus, Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples in Jerusalem; He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:44-47).

The Old Testament exists for Jesus—it was written to tell us why we need Him, who He is, and what He would come to do for us. The Old Testament tells us of Adam and Eve and how human foolish ness has cursed our lives with the misery of sin and the terror of death. The Old Testament shows us that even godly people of great faith, like Abraham and David, still fail to live the perfect lives that God expects of us all. The Old Testament shows that God cannot frighten us into living perfect lives—the great flood did not end sinful behavior. The Old Testament shows us that God cannot bring our sins to heel by the giving of clear, unambiguous laws—the frequently ignored Ten Commandments are proof of that. The Old Testament tells of God’s expectations and our failures—and thus why we need a Savior from sin and the eternal death that accompanies it.

But the Old Testament also gives us Gospel—Good News. It tells us of God’s mercy and willingness to forgive us. Adam and Eve were not instantly destroyed for wrecking God’s perfect world; instead, they were promised that they and all their descendants would be rescued from Satan by a Savior that God would provide. God gave Moses instructions in how to set up a place where sacrifices could be made to release God’s people from their sins, a system of atoning sacrifices that were pale shadows of the great sacrifice Christ would one day make on the cross to free us all from sin forever. The prophets gave detail after detail about the coming Messiah, describing His power, His glory, His humility, and His willingness to suffer anything out of love for us. The Old Testament is filled with the Savior—filled with the Gospel of Christ. Jesus said, These are the Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39).

The Bible is a whole; the Old Testament and the New go together. Jesus did not do away with the Old Testament; He referred to it constantly. Jesus said, do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). This means that the Old Testament is still important, still worthy of our attention. Some claim that parts of it are too hard to understand; I’ll concede that, but not all of the New Testament is easy to understand either. And remember, even Jesus’ own disciples could not fully understand the Scriptures until Jesus miraculously opened their minds and gave them a level of understanding that no one else has had since that day.

I know a person who reads the end of mystery novels first; if she doesn’t like the ending, she won’t waste her time with the rest of the book. But if she is intrigued by the ending, she will go back and read the book from the beginning. Most of you are familiar with the ending of the Bible—the New Testament which details Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and the beginnings of His Church. But most of you are far less familiar with the beginning of the book—the Old Testament. I know that the ending intrigues you—the hero suffers unimaginably for the sake of His friends, even goes to death for them, but then is miraculously resurrected so that He can promise them life beyond the grave as well. Now, it’s time to get familiar with the rest of the story—because, like the end of the book, the Old Testament has as its central character the hero who would one day risk everything to save from hell those He loves. He did it all, He wrote it all, for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A heavy cross

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).

Some time ago, I saw a cartoon on the Internet. In the first panel, a number of people are hiking a cross a plain, each carrying a large cross on their backs. In the next panel, one of them stops, lays down his cross, and cries out to God "this cross is too heavy!" He then takes a saw and makes the cross shorter by a couple of feet. Now the cross is lighter; while other people are sweating under their loads, this man can walk upright with some degree of comfort. After some more hiking, however, he stops a second time. "Lord", he says, "this cross is still too heavy!" With that, he whips out his saw and trims the cross some more. Now his cross is much smaller than everyone else’s; while they struggle under their loads, he whistles and walks along with a spring in his step.

Now the cartoon shows the walkers stopped at the edge of a deep chasm. Each person lays his or her cross across the gorge like a bridge; this makes it easy to walk across. But the man with the small cross is in trouble—his won’t reach to the other side. The last panel of the cartoon shows him on his knees, head bowed in despair.

The cartoonist wants to make a point—although it is often a struggle to follow Jesus and do what He asks, there is a payoff for doing so. Paul writes, our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17). Peter says that now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7). Both men speak of the gorge that separates this life from heaven—the bottomless chasm called death. Only Jesus can get us across to the other side. He provides the means—the cross. He provides the strength to carry that cross until the time arrives when we will need it the most.

Of course, our crosses cannot begin to compare with the one that Jesus carried up to Calvary. That cross was weighted down with all of God’s anger at our sins. Only the Son of God could shoulder such a load. That cross resulted in Jesus’ death. But Jesus rose from the dead, so He can help us carry our load. Whenever following Christ weighs heavy on you, remember the Savior’s words: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28, 30).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Who should you listen to?

Direct my footsteps according to your word (Psalm 119:133).

The doubleheader train was bucking a heavy snowstorm as its engines pulled it west. A woman with a baby wanted to leave the train at one of the little stations along the route. It was the brakeman’s job to announce each station when the train arrived; the young mother continually reminded him "Don't forget me!" Her husband was scheduled to meet her at the station; she didn’t want to miss him.

Eventually, the train came to a stop. A man sitting near the young mother told her, "Here's your station." Picking up her baby, she hopped from the passenger car into the blinding storm. After a brief time, the engines started pulling again. Forty-five minutes later, the train began to slow once more; the brakeman entered the passenger car and asked, "Where's the woman?" The man who had spoken with her said, "She got off at the last stop." "Then she got off to her death," the brakeman replied. "We stopped only because there was something the matter with the engine." Volunteers were quickly organized to go back and search for the woman and her child. When they found her, she was covered with ice and snow. Only the little boy survived, cuddled against her breast. She had followed the man's directions, but those directions were wrong—dead wrong.

Lots of folks are quick to offer advice on matters of the soul. They claim to know how God thinks. They present themselves as experts on ethics and morality. But how well do they really know God? How good is their advice? The man on the train offered words that led to a young mother’s untimely death because he didn’t know the facts. Only the brakeman really knew what was going on, because he was in contact with the engineer.

Paul tells us that Christ is the only intermediary between man and God. Peter says that Jesus is the only person in the world who can guarantee our salvation. The Son of God is the only one who can speak of God with authority. Only He can tell us how to reach our final destination. Not only that, He has guaranteed our safe arrival by the blood He poured out on the cross to settle the debt incurred by our sins. Jesus has paid for our ticket to ride God’s express train to heaven. So be careful who you listen to before making an important decision. Human wisdom is often faulty; it is far safer to rely on God’s words, which speak to you from His Bible.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Death and life

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26).

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Easter is about death giving way to life. It’s about joy. It’s about hope. It’s about the end of living in fear. But you cannot appreciate how wonderful Easter is if you don’t fully understand what Jesus accomplished. Jesus overcame death not once, but twice. He defeated the first death and the second death.

Yes, there are two kinds of death. The first death is the death of the body—it separates us from our loved ones here on earth. But as bad as that is, the second death is far worse—Jesus speaks of it in Revelation chapter 20: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life…and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. The second death separates us from God and denies us access to heaven; the second death is eternal suffering in hell.

Thankfully, Jesus has overcome both death and hell. He told Martha, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Jesus will rescue us from the grave; He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. Jesus will also keep us from being sent to hell; whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

We focus a lot of attention on the first death, but give little thought to the second. We spend all kinds of money on trying to look young and stay healthy. We are terrified of death, and fight its coming with every resource at our disposal. And when death finally claims us, we spend even more on lavish funerals. We act as if the first death is the end of our existence.

But the second death should be a much greater concern. When we die, God has a decision to make—welcome us into heaven, or banish us to hell. In heaven, all is forgiven. In heaven, there is peace. In heaven, there is no stress or frustration. Best of all, heaven is filled with love—the love of God, the love of the angels, the love of our fellow saints.

Hell is just the opposite. In hell, everyone is in pain. In hell, guilt and regret never stop eating away at you. Hell is filled with darkness and rage and despair. Hell is barren of love—it is a place that offers no gentle touch, no words of encouragement, not a single act of kindness.

You’d think that people would do everything in their power to avoid the second death—yet most barely give it a passing thought. They’re too wrapped up in day-to-day affairs. They are focused on earning money and spending money. They are focused on winning respect and being attractive. They are focused on getting their way and overcoming enemies. They worry about the first death, because it gets in the way of their plans—but they don’t worry about God or His rules. They don’t concern themselves about facing the second death.

Actually, many people are dead right now, even though they are busy leading hectic lives. From God’s perspective, they are dead already because they have no relationship with Him. In his letter to the new believers in Ephesus, Paul speaks of how faith in Christ had changed their lives: you were dead in your transgressions and sins…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5). Paul takes up the same idea in Colossians chapter two: When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. Without Jesus in our lives, we are as good as dead.

The miracle of Easter is Jesus’ triumph over death. But He did much more than just rise from the grave, as amazing as that was. Jesus defeated death in all the forms it takes. The Son of God gave life to our dead souls. He ended the power of the grave to hold our bodies captive. And He gave us escape from eternal death in hell.

Jesus gives life to our dead souls. We are all sinners; we ignore God and rebel against His laws. Because of this, we were separated from God and were as good as dead. But Jesus died to change all that. God punished His Son on the cross for our misbehavior. Through His atoning sacrifice, Jesus earned the right to forgive us. He rose from the dead so He could extend His nail-scarred hands to us. He offers us forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In Christ, we are filled with life. He told His followers, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Do you realize what this means? When Jesus forgives you, you are freed from guilt. You are no longer weighed down by regret. Jesus refreshes you with these beautiful words: Friend, your sins are forgiven (Luke 5:20). You are reconnected to the God who gave you life. You are freed from the burden of old mistakes. And you get another benefit as well—Jesus enables you to forgive and be reconciled to your parents and grandparents, your brothers and sisters, your children and grandchildren. Jesus makes it possible for you to forgive and be reconciled to the person you married and to your best friend, to your boss and co-workers and subordinates, even to your enemies. The human heart is shriveled, hard and dead, but Jesus gives it life, tenderness, and compassion.

Jesus also gives life to our dying bodies. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). Physical death must come sooner or later—it is the inevitable result of sin. But although death is terrifying and painful, it can also be a blessing if you trust in Christ. Although Jesus forgives us, we struggle with sin every moment of our lives. Death puts an end to that wrestling match—Scripture says, anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:7). Death ends our struggles with temptation. Death stops us from speaking hurtful words and doing harmful things.

Make no mistake—death is our enemy. Death steals away our loved ones. Death changes our lives and our plans for the future. Death is not a good thing. So we can be grateful that Jesus overcame death on Easter morning. He rose from the grave, proving His power to free anyone from death’s clutches. He promises us new life, life that is not marred by birth defects or disease or crippling injuries. Paul tells us, the Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).

Jesus suffered and died because He loves us. He was willing to do whatever it took to keep us from burning in hell, lost and alone. He endured the cross to spare us from the second death. In Revelation chapter two the Lord made this wonderful promise: Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life…He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. If we cling to Jesus and trust in His love, He will guarantee us a place by His side in paradise.

No matter what form it takes, Jesus has overcome death. As a result, we don’t have to live in fear. We don’t have to fear God, because Jesus has reconciled us. Jesus is an expert at mending broken relationships; He gives us patience to put up with each other, courage to admit when we’re wrong, and the willingness to let old hurts fade from memory. We have no reason to fear our mistakes—with Jesus’ help, any damaged relationship can be salvaged.

Because Jesus overcame death, we can face the tough days of life with hope. Our bodies are ravaged by sickness, injury, and the effects of aging. Jesus suffered too—suffered so much that He died on Good Friday. But Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, fully restored to health. On the Last Day, Jesus will raise us too, and we will be free from any health problems; this gives us hope during our days of pain and illness. When death takes our loved ones, it is hard to say goodbye. Many people watched Jesus die and mourned His passing, but their grief was short lived, because no grave could hold the Lord of Life. By stepping alive from the tomb, Jesus proved that death is only a temporary thing; and although every funeral is a grief-filled time of parting, we can live in hope of a heavenly reunion.

Jesus has defeated death in all its forms. He makes it possible for us to live in hope, not fear. This gives us joy, a satisfaction with life that cannot be duplicated by power, money, or popularity. We have a joy that fills us with inner peace, even when days are frustrating or the future looks uncertain. In Christ, we are alive—alive with love, alive with kindness and compassion, alive with a positive attitude that sees possibilities for growth in every challenge. Life—this is God’s Easter gift to you. May you rejoice in it always, and share it generously with others.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Come and listen

Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:9).

"Tell me a story." How many children have asked a grown-up to do this? For all the special effects and 5.1 surround sound, no product of Hollywood can replace the intimate pleasure of one person telling a story to someone else. Movies are impersonal—they’re the product of many people blending their efforts, and what you experience in the theater is something that was filmed months or even years ago. Live television is impersonal, too—whoever is on the screen is speaking to millions of people he cannot see and will never meet. The person on the radio is a faceless voice; without being able to see her facial expressions, there might be times when you wonder what she thinks about the words that she is speaking.

Nothing can replace face-to-face communication. It creates a sense of intimacy between speaker and listener. What a tragedy it is, that we cannot have God speak to us face to face. But God is holy, while we are sinners; even if we could walk up to Him, we would not dare to stand in His magnificent presence. Face to face communication is impossible.

When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they were banished from God’s presence. But God did not remain silent; over the course of generations, He has spoken to different people in many and various ways. Sometimes He communicated through dreams and visions; on a few occasions His voice was heard rumbling from the sky. Sometimes He has sent angels to speak His words, and for 33 glorious years, His Son walked the earth speaking the words of heaven to all who would listen.

Most people don’t hear God speak to them directly. But God enabled those who have heard Him to remember His words and repeat them faithfully. Before the Bible was committed to paper, it was communicated from storyteller to listener over and over again.

Throughout the ages, most people have listened to God’s word—Bibles have not always been easy to get hold of, and many folks were never taught to read. Yet they were not disadvantaged—they listened to the story of salvation, and it captivated them. Yes, you can read God’s words in your home—but there is no replacing the deeply personal communication of the storyteller and the listener, and that only happens in God’s house. While it is good to read the Bible, come to church this week and listen to God’s wonderful story, which is dedicated to you.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Finding purpose in each day

Let me alone; my days have no meaning (Job 7:16).

Why are you here? What purpose does your life serve? People have been asking themselves such things for thousands of years. While I can’t answer these questions with absolute certainty, I can offer you some possibilities to consider:

Maybe your purpose in life is to raise children. One of the first instructions God gave Adam and Eve was to start a family. Most couples do this by having babies; however, you can also participate in child rearing through adoption or by serving as a foster parent. But to do the job right, you must raise these little ones as Christians. Through Moses God said, These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14). When you raise children as followers of Christ, your life has meaning.

Maybe the reason God put you here is to support others. Everyone needs food, and many people are involved in providing it—farmers and ranchers, people who fish or tend orchards, employees who run grain elevators and drive trucks and work in grocery stores. People also need clothing, housing, water and electricity. They need appliances to cook food and wash the laundry; they need cars, buses, and airplanes to get around. If you build, maintain, or provide these things to consumers, your life has meaning.

Maybe your reason for living is to offer protection. Because of sickness and injury, we need doctors and nurses and pharmacists. Because of criminals and those who are careless, we need police and fire fighters and the Coast Guard. Because of evil men hungry for power, we need folks to serve in the army, navy, air force and marines. If you work to protect others from danger, your life has meaning.

But this I know for sure—God put you here to serve Him. We can all worship God with joyful songs and prayers of thanks. We can all be examples of living faith, giving God credit for the good in our lives and trusting Him when things get scary. Every one of us can tell someone about Jesus and be God’s outstretched hand of welcome. And even if you are homebound or in a nursing home, you are still useful to God because other people can demonstrate their love for Him by how they take care of you. Not matter what your situation is, your life can have purpose and value.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Jesus' suffering and death

24 hours that changed history. Jesus began those 24 hours in the upper room, serving His disciples the Last Supper on Thursday evening. Jesus ended those 24 hours on the cross, where He died late in the afternoon on Friday. 24 hours—just a single day, but the most important day in all of history.

The last 24 hours of Jesus’ life on earth began at the dinner table. He was celebrating the Passover feast with His disciples. Passover was a yearly commemoration of God’s power and mercy shown to the Israelites. They had been slaves in Egypt until God heard their cries and sent Moses to free them. But the king of Egypt was a hard man, and even though God cursed the nation with one disaster after another, the king refused to release the slaves who were the backbone of his economy. It was the tenth and final plague that finally turned things around. God told every Israelite family to sacrifice a spotless lamb, smear the blood on their doorposts, and eat the lamb roasted in bitter herbs. That night, God sent the Angel of Death to Egypt, and he killed every first born son in the country. However, if the angel found a house marked by lamb’s blood, he passed over that home, sparing those inside. Every Egyptian family suffered tragic loss; even the king lost his first born son. This tragedy moved the king to release the Israelites, and they have celebrated the miracle of the Passover ever since.

On Thursday night, Jesus and His followers celebrated the Passover. But this Passover was different. Within the next 24 hours, Jesus would become the Passover lamb, the Lamb whose blood protects us from God’s anger. Jesus showed that He was the new Passover lamb when He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). Jesus is our Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Through the bread and wine of Communion, Jesus gives us access to His body and blood which was sacrificed on the cross to save us.

After a time of teaching, Jesus led the group out to a secluded garden in an olive grove. He knew what was going to happen. He was about to shoulder the burden of every sin committed throughout all of history; Jesus was going to suffer God’s punishment for every hateful word, every wasted moment, every misspent dollar. Jesus was going to face unimaginable pain and humiliation, and He was going to do it alone. This was a tough job, even for God’s own Son. So Jesus wanted time for prayer. He needed to share His concerns with God. He wanted strength and reassurance from His Father, so He could meet the challenges that lay ahead and successfully overcome them. Jesus turned to our heavenly Father for help, so that He would not give in to temptation, fear, or despair. Hours went by as He prayed, but He did not lose focus; being in anguish, he prayed even harder, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44). Yet through it all, He always deferred to God’s plans; Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42).

It was close to midnight when torches broke through the darkness of the garden. Leaders of the Jews had sent agents to arrest Jesus under the cover of night. They were jealous of His popularity. They were angered that He did not respect their authority as experts on religious law. But they were afraid to arrest Jesus in broad daylight; the Lord had too many supporters. So they were delighted when Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, came to them with an offer—pay him money, and he would help them arrest Jesus when no one would notice.

Why did Judas betray Jesus? He left himself open to the devil’s control. Judas loved money; John tells us that he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:6). But Jesus warns, You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). Judas loved money more than anything else, and this gave Satan the opening that he needed. Then Satan entered Judas…And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus (Luke 22:3).

So it was Judas, one of Jesus’ inner circle, who arranged the ambush. But the betrayals did not end there. As soon as things looked hopeless, all the disciples deserted him and fled (Matthew 26:56). Jesus was left alone in the hands of those who hated Him.

Jesus was taken in for a private trial, even though Jewish law required all trials to be held during the daytime and never in secret. Of course, the trial was a sham—there was no evidence to present because Jesus had done nothing wrong. After much wasted time, the chief priest finally laid it on the line: I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 26:63). Jesus never lies or talks around the truth; "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied (Matthew 26:64). With that admission of truth, the court found Him guilty of blasphemy—they believed that Jesus was the worst kind of liar, one who uses God to back up His claims. Since God says we are not to misuse His name, the Jews decided that Jesus must be punished with death.

While Jesus spoke the truth at the cost of His life, Peter was doing just the opposite. Ashamed of leaving Jesus in His hour of need, Peter has slunk into the courtyard to see how the trial was going. But when the people there recognized him as a follower of Jesus, Peter was seized with fear. Three times he denied knowing Jesus—the third time he even swore it on God’s name. Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly (Luke 22:60-62).

The Jewish leaders wanted to execute Jesus, but they did not have the authority. The country was occupied by Roman soldiers and was forced to obey Roman law. So at daybreak, they took Jesus to the palace of the Roman governor. Governor Pilate was a man with problems. The Jews were always quick to riot, and he had a city overflowing with visitors for the Passover celebration. Because he had trouble keeping control over civil unrest, his superiors had a low opinion of his abilities. Pilate was a weak man, and the Jews knew just how to push his buttons. They claimed that Jesus was a political threat, a man who wanted to stir up rebellion among the people. As such, Jesus should be executed immediately.

But Pilate was no fool. He interviewed Jesus, and quickly realized what was going on—the Jews wanted to use him to get rid of a hated rival. Pilate did not want to play their game. Over and over he told them, "I find no basis for a charge against him". But the Jewish leaders rounded up a crowd of demonstrators that demanded Jesus’ death. The last thing Pilate needed was a riot, but that was what the Jews threatened him with. Pilate tried to weasel his way out of the situation. First, he sent Jesus to Herod, the puppet king that Rome tolerated as a powerless figurehead for the people. But when Jesus would not entertain him, Herod sent Jesus back to Plate. Then Pilate had Jesus whipped and humiliated to try and create sympathy for Him. But when Jesus was displayed to the people, bloody and crowned with thorns, the crowd shouted, Crucify! Crucify! (John 19:6) Pilate even offered to set one prisoner free for the Passover celebration; he gave a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a convicted murderer. But the crowd chose a hardened killer over the Son of God. Finally, Pilate caved in. He took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified (Matthew 27:24-26).

Crucifixion is a horrible way to die. Nails driven through your hands and feet. The cross lifted upright, so you either hang from the nails in your hands or push up on the nails in your feet. Hung in this awful position, it’s a struggle just to breathe. You are weakened by the loss of blood. Death can take days to come, leaving you hungry and thirsty, sweating in the heat of the sun and shivering in the cold of the night. Worst of all is the treatment you get from others. Crucifixion was a method of execution reserved for the worst scum of the earth. You are crucified in public, so people can make fun of you or spit on you. The list of your crimes is posted over your head as a warning to other would-be lawbreakers.

Jesus died like a criminal. Yet the charge posted above His head revealed the truth: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS (Matthew 27:37). Jesus was made to suffer because He is our King. The job of a king is to protect his people. Jesus protected us by suffering for our sins so we can be spared from hell. Jesus died because we love money, like Judas. Jesus died because we want to be the center of attention, like the Jewish leaders. Jesus died because we are afraid to stand up for Him, like Peter. Jesus died because we let other people push us into doing the wrong thing, like Pilate. Jesus died so that we could have access to His holy blood, the blood of a new covenant with God that takes away our sins.

At the moment when Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). The Temple consisted of two main rooms. The large outer room was the place where priests did most of their work. The small inner room was set aside for God alone, and was hidden from view by a large heavy curtain. That curtain reminded everyone of Isaiah’s words: your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you (Isaiah 59:2). But when Jesus died, the curtain was ripped open. Because of Jesus, we are brought close to God; there is no curtain separating us any longer.

24 hours, from Thursday evening to Friday afternoon. 24 hours that have changed everything. During those 24 hours, Jesus became our Passover lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. During those 24 hours, Jesus suffered the hell we had coming, the hell we deserve for being sinners. During those 24 hours, Jesus tore away the curtain that separated us from God, so we can be sure of His loving presence in our lives. What a difference a day makes.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Feeling guilty

Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:7).

What makes you feel guilty? Do you feel a pang of regret when you pass on contributing to a fund-raiser for cancer research? Does your conscience bother you when another employee is a goof-off, but you keep your mouth shut to avoid making waves? Does it trouble you when you spend money gambling instead of putting it into savings?

What makes you feel guilty? Have you lied on a job application? Have you cheated on a test? Have you spread gossip that hurt someone?

What mistakes from your past weigh heavy on your mind? Did you treat your parents like dirt during the years that you lived at home? Do you regret never having a close relationship with your brother or sister? Do you wish you had shown your spouse greater love and appreciation during the years of your marriage?

What keeps you awake at night? Do you miss the child that abortion took away? Do you kick yourself for having an affair? Did you sabotage a friend’s relationship with a lover because you were jealous of them?

Do you worry about your relationship with God? When they were growing up, did you let your kids stay in bed instead of insisting that they come to church with you? Have you let opportunities to speak of Christ with others slip away unused? Is the Bible in your house buried in a pile of papers somewhere or covered with dust because you never open it? Has it been years since the last time you prayed to Jesus?

If you feel guilt, you’re not alone. Everyone in your life has a closet filled with skeletons. Everyone you know has done lots of things worth feeling guilty about. Some people try to ignore the guilt; they just fill their lives with distracting pleasures. Others try to make up for their mistakes by volunteering or contributing to a charity. Some are so troubled by guilt that they end up committing suicide. But guilt doesn’t have to dominate your thoughts or steal your sleep. Jesus offers you forgiveness. Accept His offer to be your Savior and He will ease your troubled mind. You can’t change the past, but the Son of God has the power to bring something good out of your mistakes. Pray to Jesus. Tell Him you’re sorry; ask Him to give you a new lease on life. I can assure you that you won’t regret it.

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