Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Bride of Christ

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal…

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 21 & 22, select verses).

Many brides in North America walk down the aisle to the familiar strains of a tune composed by Richard Wagner for his opera Lohengrin. We all know it as "Here Comes the Bride." Actually, the bridal music in Wagner’s story is less about the sacred than about the tragic; in the opera, the happy couple is soon split up because of the husband’s obligation to duty; they did not get to live ‘happily forever after’.

On the other hand, in this week's reading for All Saints’ Day, St. John is shown a bride who will live ‘happily forever after’--the wife of the Lamb of God. The Bride of Christ represents all of God’s holy people, whom He identifies collectively as His saints. St. John sees this bride coming down out of heaven, made beautiful and holy for her wedding day by her Lord. So for this year's All Saints’ Day we, together with St. John, turn our attention the bride of Christ as she walks down the aisle, looking carefully to see what our Lord has done to make His bride worthy of His love.

The first thing we note about the Bride is that she is chaste. ‘Chaste’ is an old-fashioned word; it refers to someone who waits until marriage to engage in sexual activity. Scripture uses the word to speak of living your life in such a way that it does not become polluted by sin; to be chaste is to remain pure. St. John tells us that nothing impure will ever enter [God’s home], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful; the saints who are the Bride of Christ are to be pure.

Why does God expect us to be pure? It’s because God’s Spirit lives within us. 1st Corinthians chapter six says, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. It is not right that our holy Lord should have to accept a dirty, corrupted heart for His home; this is why God repeatedly tells us: Be holy, because I the LORD your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).

Of course, the saints of God cannot achieve such pureness on their own; such a thing is humanly impossible. Our chasteness is a gift from Christ the bridegroom; Ephesians chapter 5 tells us, you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. Through God’s Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit reaches into our hearts and scours away everything evil and reprehensible, making our hearts a fit place for Him to live. This must be a daily scouring; just as a clean house quickly becomes dirty, so our hearts are constantly growing mildewed by the sins that infest our lives. No house can remain clean without constant attention; neither can our hearts remain chaste unless God’s Spirit is constantly doing His purifying work in our lives. This is why time spent in God’s house and devoted to His Word is so very important.

Because of the Spirit’s work in our hearts, we are pure in God’s sight. We can legitimately wear white to the heavenly wedding! Christ Himself dresses us, clothing us in His garment of righteousness. Isaiah 61:10 says, I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels. Revelation chapter seven tells us how that righteousness was made possible: Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The reason that we can be made chaste is the blood of Christ, blood poured out from the cross in order to wash away our impureness. John writes, the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

Another characteristic of the Bride is that she is luminous. ‘Luminous’ is another old-fashioned word; it means that the Bride is glowing with light. The happiness on her face lights up the room. And why shouldn’t she glow? She has been made pure; her sins have been washed away; she has been dressed with the beauty of Christ’s own righteousness.

But in this sin-darkened life, the saints of God don’t look very radiant. Our faces are often wincing in pain as we endure the hardships of living in a fallen world. It is hard to be luminous when each day is one long string of temptations lined up one after another. It is hard to glow when sickness afflicts a loved one. It is hard to be radiant when the people around us take pleasure in acting selfishly and perversely.

Yet Christ shined the brightest when His life was at its lowest ebb. It was while dying on the cross, ridiculed by men and abandoned by God, that Jesus performed His greatest miracle, the miracle that brought life and immortality to light; it was through His suffering that Jesus made your purity possible. He did it by exchanging His purity for your impurity, and then suffering the Father’s wrath to end the curse which impurity brings.

We shine because Jesus shines. We reflect His glory. In 2nd Corinthians St. Paul writes, God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that we have been given this light so that our lives might reflect God’s glory: let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). You know that light can never be overcome by darkness; indeed, darkness only shows how wonderful the light is by comparison.

Another thing we notice about the Bride is that she has God’s name on her forehead. It is customary for a bride to have her name changed when she gets married; she takes on the name of her husband’s family. So it is with the saints of Christ. When we were born, we entered life as children of the devil; we bore the mark of the beast. But in baptism the Lord enabled us to renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. In baptism we were given a new family name; we became children of God. St. John saw that the only people allowed into God’s home were those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. Through our relationship with our Lord, our names have been recorded in His Book of Life. The Lord says, Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1).

It is traditional for the groom to lift the bride’s veil. During this life, we live with a veil over our faces. The veil is sin and the limited ability of our earthly minds to understand spiritual things. St. Paul tells us, Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see face to face. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now (1 Corinthians 13:12). We won’t see God clearly or truly understand His ways until He lifts the veil from our faces on the Day of Consummation, when He brings everything to completion. This is God’s promise to everyone who has been made pure by the blood of Christ; in the Sermon on the Mount our Lord said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).

And what follows the heavenly marriage of the Christ to His Bride, the Church of saints? A honeymoon, of course! Regrettably, life in this fallen world has made it impossible for us to conceive what true eternal happiness will be like; our experiences have taught us that nothing is perfect, and ‘all good things must come to an end.’ But life with the Lamb of God cannot be accurately grasped by our sin-distorted imaginations. We imagine that an eternity of doing the same thing would become dull and boring; we imagine that serving God would eventually become tiresome. But dullness and boredom and toil are characteristics of this world, not the home of God. In God’s home, everything is perfect. We will be constantly warmed by the warmth of God’s love as we live in His joyous presence. We will have the kind of fellowship with our loved ones that we never had on earth, because there will be no sin to poison our relationships. We will have work to do on the new earth that God will create, and that work will give us joy because there will be no problems or frustrations; we will be doing what we were meant to do, and that will fulfill us in ways we can’t even imagine.

Why do we care about what the Bride of Christ looks like? Because this is what our loved ones who are now in heaven dedicated their lives towards becoming. This is what we aspire to with our lives. This is what they and we will be like when we are finally united with our Lord and reunited with each other. This is what Christ died to make of us. This is what God wants we, His saints, to be.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Goddess' religion

I will never leave you; I will never turn my back on you (Hebrews 13:5).

Lately, there has been renewed interest in ‘goddess’ religion. People call themselves witches or druids and worship Mother Earth. They teach that Mother Earth gives birth to all living things; she shares her divinity with every living creature. Plants, animals and people are all connected, and each contains a spark of the divine.

Goddess religion has been around in some form or another for most of human history. It is even part of our daily conversation. How often do you hear weather reporters talk about Mother Nature? How often do people speak of their native country as the Motherland?

We generally think of mothers as more concerned about their children than fathers. Most of the time, judges award primary custody of the children to a mother, not the father. This is because so many fathers walk away from their parental responsibilities. It’s no wonder that the idea of God being female can be so appealing.

But when God reveals Himself to us, He is masculine. When God caused Mary to give birth, it was to a Son named Jesus. Even the Spirit of God is referred to in the masculine gender. God is our Father and His Son is our brother. Through faith given by the Holy Spirit, we are members of His beloved family.

God made the world out of nothing. The earth is not divine, nor are the plants or animals God fills it with. God fathered each of us, yet we are not divine because we are not made from His substance—God the Father has no physical body. But we are created in the likeness of God—we have a soul that can see things in terms of right and wrong. We are not little gods and goddesses, but we are special among all that God has made.

Unlike human fathers, our heavenly Father is perfect. He loves us with unending commitment. He works tirelessly to protect us from evil. He uses a firm hand when we misbehave. When we ask forgiveness, He enfolds us with His love. He is the Father of us all, and He can raise the dead to eternal life—something that 'Mother Earth' can never do.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Going on a trip to someplace new and exciting

Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

I would like to travel more than I have up to this point in my life. I’ve never seen a mountain or a seashore; the only foreign country I’ve been to is Canada. I like to drive, I enjoy boat rides, and I love to fly. So what keeps me from traveling abroad?

First, there’s the problem of language—I can only converse in English. I know that most places in the world have a least a few people who could speak with me, but I worry about getting into a situation where I’m unable to communicate.

Then there’s the problem of time—I just don’t feel comfortable being away from home for a lengthy period. What if some problem came up, and I couldn’t be reached or return home quickly? How would I make sure that all my work was covered in my absence?

A third concern is safety. Many parts of the world are quite dangerous. I’d hate to get caught up in a terrorist attack. And Christians are often targets for religious extremists.

Of course, my biggest concern is money. How could I afford a trip overseas? Wouldn’t that money be put to better use supporting the church, or saved away for retirement?

And yet, despite these concerns, there is one trip that I know I’ll take, a trip to a place I’ve never been to, filled with things I’ve never seen. I’m not sure when that trip will happen, but I do look forward to it. That trip will start on the day that I die; God’s angels will come and take me to heaven.

Am I nervous about that final trip? Not at all! I won’t be going to a place filled with strangers who I can’t understand; I have lots of friends and relatives in heaven right now, and I’ll be able to communicate with everyone just fine. Time won’t be a concern either. When I leave the problems of this world, it will be forever; there’ll be nothing back on earth for me to worry about. Safety won’t be an issue; heaven is a place that is free of sin, pain, and fear. And best of all, heaven is free—Jesus paid my admission when He died on the cross. Even if I never get to travel anywhere else, nothing could ever top my upcoming journey to God’s magnificent home.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hiding from the world

"I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:14-18).

Martin Luther was a monk. A monk was a person who severed all ties to earthly interests and devoted every minute of every day to the Lord’s service for the rest of his life. Monks lived in monasteries. A monastery was a self-contained religious community—the monks lived there, grew their own food in its gardens, and conducted their own worship services.

Monasteries were centers of learning. In a time when most people were illiterate, only monasteries had libraries. Before Gutenberg invented his printing press, Bibles were reproduced by hand in monasteries. They had a room called a Scriptorium; in this room, one monk would slowly read from a copy of the Bible, while other monks would carefully listen and make copies of what was read.

Life in a monastery was all about devotion and humble service. The most important building was the church; monks would gather for worship seven times a day. The cloister connected the church to the other buildings of the complex and served as a place of quiet meditation. In addition to the library and scriptorium, monasteries had a kitchen, bathhouse, and infirmary, complete with a garden of medicinal herbs. Monks either slept in barracks or small rooms called cells; these would be free of anything that might distract them from praying and thinking about God. A courtyard was usually the only part of a monastery open to the public. Everything about the complex was designed to keep out the evil influences of the world and preserve an atmosphere of holiness.

It is not surprising, then, that monks were held in high regard by most people—they were seen as holy men living apart in a holy place to do holy work. Communities felt blessed to have a monastery close by. Children who caused problems or who could not be supported were sent to monasteries to be rid of them, since the vows of a monk were binding for life—after all, who could think badly of a parent for turning their child over to God’s holy service? For others, monastic life became a retreat, a place to hide from life’s mistakes and the problems of the world. All this had its effect on the monks—many of them took pride in their dedication to God and the work they were doing in His service.

Martin Luther became horrified over this situation. When the Augsburg Confession was presented in the year 1530, two of its sections were addressed to monks and monasteries. The Confession made it abundantly clear that a monk’s life is no more holy than anyone else’s. Romans chapter three states: There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In Psalm 14 David observes, there is no one who does good, not even one. Since a monk was just as much a condemned sinner as everyone else, monastic life could hardly be seen as holy or boastworthy.

The Reformation reminds us that the only way we are made holy is when Jesus gives us His righteousness as a gift. It is the blood of Jesus that washes away the stain of sin. It is the fact that Jesus suffered for every sin on the cross that we are freed from the punishment that our sins have earned for us. In Acts chapter 4 Peter said, There is salvation in no one else! We can’t save ourselves by trying to be good people—only Jesus is equipped to make us holy in God’s sight. We must rely upon Him, not ourselves; Paul writes: we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be accepted by God because of our faith in Christ--and not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be saved by obeying the law (Galatians 2:16).

And you know what? This is God’s free gift to you. There is nothing that you can do to earn Jesus’ help; God's prophet warns us that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). But this is not an obstacle—Jesus loves you so much that He gives you His righteousness for free! In Romans chapter three, Paul tells us that we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Isn’t this wonderful? You don’t have to become a monk and live in a monastery to find favor with God; Luther pointed out that we can be God’s favored servants wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Colossians chapter three says, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. We can serve God by cooking a wonderful dinner for the family. We can honor God by being honest in our business dealings with others. Jesus said that whatever we do for others, we do for our heavenly King (Matthew 25:40).

The other problem with monasteries was how they often remained aloof from the world around them. Ordinary citizens were not permitted in, and many monks rarely if ever left their sanctuary to mingle with the people of the world. For some, this behavior arose from fear—fear of contaminating influences. They worried that if they spent too much time out in the world, they might be seduced by evil desires and corrupted by impure thoughts. Such people viewed the monastery as a place where they could be shielded from temptation. Others stayed inside because of the way they set their priorities—they believed that serving God in worship and study and maintenance of the grounds was a more important use of their time than interacting with the common folk. Their focus was on their personal relationship to God, at the expense of having relationships with anyone else.

But isolating yourself from the world is not what the Christian is called to do. Jesus said, go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); you cannot make disciples if you do not spend time establishing relationships with others. You cannot carry out His command if you do not speak of Jesus with those whose lives are pointed towards hell. Paul says, We are…Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). We cannot be Christ’s ambassadors if we are afraid of talking to sinners, or are too busy being ‘holy’ to fit them into our schedule. Luther writes: "serving God consists in serving our fellow man, as Christ and His apostles did; it does not consist of hiding away forever in the solitude of a monastery."

Jesus spent time alone with His followers, but He also ate meals with people who were scorned for their sinful lifestyles. Jesus described His mission this way: the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus came to seek and to save us—and He expects us to join with Him in carrying out this soul-rescuing work. We cannot hide from the world in His church or in the room where we read His Bible; that is no more appropriate than monks hiding from the world in the busy seclusion of a monastery. Your relationship with Jesus must follow you out of your church, out of your home, and into the lives of everyone you meet. You cannot compartmentalize your faith life; God will not be left at church on the altar or at home on a bookshelf. God promised Jacob, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go (Genesis 28:15). In Psalm 139 David sings these words to God: I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. God is with you wherever you go, so you should be prepared to act as His ambassador in every situation you find yourself in.

It all comes down to correctly understanding what Jesus meant when He prayed to His Father on behalf of the disciples: I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. With these words, Jesus tells us that we are not a part of the world, even though we are living here. Our priorities and the way we go about doing things are dictated and shaped by God, not by the world around us. This means that we are not and cannot be partners with world or the people who are shaped by it; Paul warns: 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? (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

At the same time, however, we have been given work to do in this world, work that we cannot do if we go off by ourselves and ignore those around us who are dying in their sins. Although we are to avoid including unbelievers in our close circle of friends, that does not mean that we sever all contact with such people. It is said that a person will not care what you know, until they know that you care; while you can be an ambassador for Christ to a total stranger, most people are more likely to let their guard down and listen to you when you have invested time building a connection with them.

Monks used to be regarded as almost otherworldly. As we listen to Jesus praying to His Father for we who follow Him, it becomes clear that we are ‘otherworldly’! We are not of this world. But we must remember Luther’s concerns. First, we are otherworldly not because of our efforts, but because of Jesus’ efforts on the cross for us. Second, being otherworldly does not mean turning our backs on the world; it means that we have been uniquely equipped to represent God’s mercy to everyone who needs it! We are to be in the world, yet not of the world. No monastery for us.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Discard your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22).

People complain about change. They get concerned when a politician changes position on an issue. They get angry when a favorite TV show changes cast members or is moved to a different time slot.

But change is often a good thing. How many times have your computer programs been updated with patches? Don’t you like bugs being fixed and new features being added? Do you really want politicians in office who are so inflexible that they never adjust their thinking in light of new information?

We don’t like change because it forces us out of our comfort zone. We have to learn new ways of doing things, and that takes both time and careful attention. We have to slow down and think about what we’re doing. Change, even good change, is stressful. Since most people don’t like stress, most people don’t like change.

This explains why some people don’t want to become Christians. To follow Christ requires change. Jesus tells us to abandon love of sin, but that change of attitude is hard. Some bad things are fun; we don’t want to give them up. Other sinful things are a matter of habit, and we don’t want to go through the effort of changing our ways. Some fear loss of security; they shrink away from the idea of letting someone else take control of their lives, even if that person is the Son of God. Others are insulted by the suggestion that their decisions are flawed, or that their lifestyles need retooling.

But the gifts offered by Jesus are more than worth the stress brought by change. He forgives our sins, and He teaches us how to forgive others; this allows us to have peace with our past. He promises new life in paradise after we die; this frees us from worries about the future. And He tells us what’s true and what’s not; this gives us peace in a world full of conflicting opinions.

Change is rarely easy—no one knows that better than Jesus, who was crucified by people who were terrified of the changes that He advocated. But changing direction to follow Christ is well worth the effort, because His path leads to peace, happiness, and security.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Paint vs. siding

You will cover over my sin (Job 14:17).

When I was little, Mom and Dad repainted our house. I was drafted into the project—it seemed like I spent hours and hours scraping away old paint. It was slow, frustrating work, because no matter how hard I tried, I could never get all the old paint off. But Dad said that if we didn’t do a good job scraping, the new coat of paint would not stick the way it should.

As I got older, I found out one additional frustration that comes with painting—you have to do it over and over again. By the time I was an adult, I’d had enough of scraping and painting. When our first house started peeling, my wife and I hired someone else to do the work.

Of course, I knew about siding. Siding was a permanent solution. Siding did not require scraping or repainting—as a matter of fact, the sales rep told me that it is better to put siding over wood that was peeling than over a surface that was recently painted. But as attractive as siding was, we simply could not afford it. So repainting was the way to go, even though we knew it would someday have to be done again.

All of us are like houses that need to be scraped and repainted. Our souls are ugly—ugly with selfishness, prejudice, and laziness. We try to cover up our imperfections with a coat of paint; we dress well, we socialize with the right people, and we give to charity. But no matter how hard we try to make ourselves look good, the paint flakes off, revealing the ugliness underneath. We lose our temper for no good reason. We make fun of people that are different from us. We impulsively make bad decisions.

We need Jesus. The Carpenter from Nazareth will cover up our ugliness with His siding, a siding from God called righteousness. There is no backbreaking effort involved; we don’t need to be scraped down. And there’s no cost—the Son of God installs His siding for free. Covered by Jesus, our ugliness is permanently hidden—the work of Christ covers all of our flaws. Of course, the storms of life and the vandalism of Satan chip away at Jesus’ work, so it’s important that we have a close relationship with the Master Carpenter. If He lives with us, He’s always on hand to fix any damage caused by sin.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Envy and selfish ambition vs. the wisdom of heaven

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 3:16-4:6).

Today’s Epistle lesson sounds almost un-American. Our country is built on the foundation of competition and the pursuit of success. From childhood, we are encouraged to want it all. And if you are successful, people are willing to cut you some slack in how you achieved that success. Many coaches will let misbehavior slide when a team member makes big plays on a consistent basis. Management is willing to sweep improprieties under the rug if an employee rakes in big profits for the company. The American public is willing to reelect politicians to office in spite of scandal, so long as they do a good job on behalf of their constituents.

God’s message spoken through James is almost a slap in the face. We prize ambition, God values submission. We focus on getting things for ourselves; God tells us to be generous in giving to others. Our priority is having fun; God wants us dedicated to service. The Lord wants us to live in a way that few people would understand or appreciate.

James lays out God’s argument in a three-fold manner. His first point is this: For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

God warns us that envy and selfish ambition give rise to disorder and evil behavior. We see it all the time—in the news, in our community, even in our homes. Here’s just one example. A man is dissatisfied with his marriage. He meets someone new and exciting, and soon he’s having an affair. He is completely wrapped up in making himself feel good—he gives no thought to the needs of his wife or their children. His selfish ambition results in all sorts of evil behavior. He is committing adultery, and he is lying to cover it up. He is hurting his wife and children by neglecting them. When the affair comes to light, his wife will be filled with anger, and fear about the future. She might lose her self-confidence; she might become so bitter that trusting anyone becomes difficult. She might even do something drastic like kidnapping the kids, or killing the man who has betrayed her. And let’s not forget how the children are affected. Home stops being a refuge of emotional safety for them, because it has become a place of conflict or neglect. And by losing their respect for their father, they might lose respect for all authority figures in their lives, including God Himself. So much damage from one man’s selfish ambition.

Of course, selfish ambition can take as many forms as there are people on this earth. Kids are ready to do whatever it takes to be popular, to get good grades, or to be the Most Valuable Player. Adults are willing to do whatever it takes to get a promotion, get elected to office, or fill their homes with everything that catches their eye. Envy and selfish ambition result in lies and back talk, betrayals and broken promises, threats and backroom deal making. Envy and selfish ambition can even lead to assault and murder.

Through James, God shows us that there is another way to live our lives. The wisdom that God offers teaches us how to be peaceful, considerate, submissive, merciful, productive, impartial, and sincere. Imagine how the world would be if we all took God up on His offer to be guided by these principles! Peaceful people work for compromise instead of insisting on getting their own way at the expense of others. Considerate people think about how their words or actions might impact others, and are willing to take the needs of other people into account whenever they make a decision. Being submissive sounds weak, but God values submission greatly; it takes real strength of character to put your needs and desires to the side and submit to someone else. Submission is perhaps the ultimate expression of love and respect. Those who are merciful are slow to anger and quick to forgive. Those who are productive benefit many people with their time and talents, not just themselves. People who are impartial avoid making snap judgments or taking sides without careful thought; they want to see conflicts from all angles, so that a peaceful solution might be reached. And people who are sincere have great influence with others, because everyone knows that you can always trust them to speak the truth.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sadly, we are more likely to side with envy and selfish ambition than we are to embrace the wisdom that comes from heaven. This is because we all have strong desires that try to dictate our actions. This is the second point in James’ argument: What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

We are all driven by desire. For some, it’s a desire for money or security. For others, it’s a desire for respect or love. Some want authority or control; others want to be needed or appreciated. Some desires are healthy—we all need love and companionship, we all need to feel that we’re safe. But even healthy desires can take a dark turn and lead to destructive behavior. Wars happen when one nation wants to ensure its security by launching a preemptive military strike. Love can turn obsessive and lead to stalking, kidnapping, and murder.

The problem is that when we want something, we are often willing to do anything to get it. We ignore the risk of danger and the rights of others; we let desire override our conscience and our common sense. This results in angry words and acts of violence. This results in hasty decisions that rarely turn out well.

Psalm 145 says, The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. Knowing this, we should pray to God whenever we need or want something. But usually we don’t. When you’re sick, do you pray to God before visiting the doctor? When you’re cramming for a big test, do you ask the Holy Spirit to help you prepare and do well? When you’re considering whether or not to move in with your lover, do you ask Jesus to guide you in making the right decision? Most of time, when desire is pushing our buttons, we don’t think about turning to God first, even though He is in the best position to satisfy our needs. You do not have, because you do not ask God.

Of course, God does not want to be treated like a vending machine—put in a prayer and expect that He’ll dispense what you want. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. God cares about you, yes, but He is not interested in supporting your bad habits. God loves you, so He will not give you things that you will misuse to your detriment, or the detriment of others. If your only focus in life is yourself, God will answer your selfish prayers with silence.

As he wraps up his argument, James challenges us to see the world from God’s perspective. You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

James calls us adulterous people. He is repeating a charge that God has made against sinners since the Old Testament. One example is found in Jeremiah chapter 31: they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them. God made us, and we are His. He is not willing to share our affection or devotion with anything earthly that we might desire. When we lust after the desires of our hearts, we treat God like a husband who we’re cheating on. Our cravings lead to adultery against the Lord, spurning our relationship with the Almighty. Our adulterous behavior makes the Lord angry, so angry that He will deal with us as He would an enemy. And really, that is what we are, because when we choose the world over God, we have chosen to side with the prince of this world, the devil.

Thankfully, our sinful desires don’t have to get the final word. Because He loves us, God shows us His grace, His undeserved mercy and care. He loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus down from heaven to bring the wisdom of God to us personally. In Jesus, we see the wisdom of heaven personified: He is peaceful, considerate, submissive, merciful, productive, impartial, and sincere. Jesus brings us peace with God and each other through forgiveness. He is careful with us; in Isaiah 42:3 the prophet said of Him: A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Jesus was submissive; in Philippians chapter two Paul writes Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something He must hang on to, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Jesus is merciful; He forgives any sin, no matter how terrible, simply because we ask Him. Jesus is hard working; through His life and death, He atoned for everything we have done to anger God, and every day He guides and strengthens those who rely on Him. Jesus is impartial, a fact that Peter struggled to learn: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts 10:34). And Jesus is sincere; Peter also writes, He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22).

Jesus is the wisdom that comes from heaven; Jesus is the grace of God born as a man to save us from sin, death, and hell. But Jesus is not welcomed by the proud; people who think that they know what is best have no time for the Savior, no interest in submitting their lives to the guidance of His wisdom. This is why God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. People who are humble realize that giving in to desire leads to disaster. People who are humble have experienced the pain and disappointment that is caused by envy and selfish ambition. It is the humble who are ready for a different way of life; it is the humble who crave God’s wisdom that He offers through Christ. It takes humility to admit your mistakes and ask Jesus to forgive them. Humility is hard, but it is the humble who receive God’s grace.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Screening out trouble

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

You can put up a fence to keep cattle in a field, but sooner or later, one is going to get out. You can electrify the fence or put barbed wire on it, but eventually your going to have to chase an escaped animal.

You can put screens on your windows to keep insects out, but bugs make their way in anyway. You can keep the windows shut and run the AC, but insects still manage to find their way inside.

Vacuuming your house kicks up dust. Bag or bagless, every vacuum cleaner lets some dust escape into the air. Even a HEPA filter cannot guarantee that cleaning won’t make you sneeze.

We try to insulate ourselves from unpleasant things. Maybe you’re tired of getting bad news, so you turn off the TV and cancel your subscription to the paper. But there’s no escaping bad news when your spouse comes home from work stressed, or a child shows you a report card filled with Ds.

We try to shield ourselves from temptation to do wrong. But where can a recovering alcoholic go and not see a bar or liquor store? Where can a dieter go shopping and not face all sorts of candy at the check out line? How can a teen, hormones on fire, go on the Internet and avoid stumbling across a pornographic website?

Years ago, Simon and Garfunkel recorded "I am a Rock." It told the story of a man so hurt by failed love that he retreated from human contact, becoming a hermit in his personal library. He especially enjoyed books of poetry. The irony is that most poetry is written about love, so even a library could not offer protection from matters of the heart.

Nothing can completely protect us from aggravation, harm, and temptation. Thankfully, Jesus offers to help. He screens out things that we can’t handle and helps us deal with the rest. When we are hurt, He comforts us; when we yield to temptation, He forgives us. The world can be a nasty place; we can give thanks that Jesus has overcome the world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mid-life crisis

We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Mid-life crisis—it’s when men and women start reevaluating the direction of their lives. It might be triggered by having the last child leave home; it might happen in response to graying hair or changing health. Whatever the reason, a mid-life crisis can turn your world upside down.

A mid-life crisis calls into question everything that you thought was important. Will I be able to keep doing this type of job when I’m past 50? Will I still enjoy doing this work 20 years from now? Am I making the kind of money I need to retire in comfort?

Am I satisfied with my marriage? Does intimate time with my spouse still give me a thrill? With the kids gone, how will we spend our time together? When we are retired, will I still enjoy this person’s company?

Mid-life crisis happens when you realize that there is an end to life, and you can dimly see it on the horizon. Clocks start ticking louder and days go by faster. You start wondering if you will have time to achieve all your dreams for the future. This can be a good thing; it forces you to focus attention on what’s most important and shed things that leech away time and resources. But a mid-life crisis can be a bad thing if it results in panic—because no decision based on fear will turn out good. Impulsive actions result in affairs, divorces, and ill-advised career changes.

God designed you individually; He gave you the skills and abilities you have for a specific reason. If your life seems out of kilter, maybe you’ve been trying to do things God hasn’t designed you for. So stop fussing and fretting. Take some deep, cleansing breaths. Reflect on what you’re naturally good at, the kinds of activities that bring you satisfaction. Spend time reading the Bible, especially about men and women finding their destiny—I’d recommend Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Then pray—pray long and hard, not just for a day or two, but over a period of weeks. Ask the Lord to open your mind to His will. Be open to every possibility. Trust the Lord to nudge you in the right direction. Don’t make a major life decision with undo haste.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Men, listen up--this message is for you!

We constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:11-12).

Why do more women go to church than men? Not so long ago, I read an article on this subject; the author suggested that in modern America, worship services are more often geared towards the interests of women and children than they are towards men. It was suggested that when churches are lopsided in how they do ministry, men feel little interest in attending.

This article stuck with me. I wondered what a sermon specifically geared towards men might be like. So fellas, today is your day—this sermon is specifically for you. Ladies, take note—here is a chance to take a peek inside the men in your lives. And kids, this is an opportunity to find out what things Dad holds as important.

There are a lot of opinions floating around about what it means to be masculine, but I think that most men find their satisfaction in life tied to three things: being capable, being strong, and being needed.

Every man needs to feel capable. Most men define themselves by their jobs, because success in a career is largely tied to your skill as a worker. There are few better rewards in the workplace than a promotion, because a promotion is proof that your skills are recognized. The worst way that you can insult a man is to question his competence: "Do you know what you’re doing?" "Why don’t you stop and ask for directions?" Being capable means that you can get things done.

The need to be capable can show itself in many different ways. Some men value education as a measure of their ability; they take great pride in getting a Master’s Degree or a doctorate. Other men enter the field of construction to show their ability to build things. Some men find satisfaction in solving difficult problems; they gravitate towards careers in science or mathematics. Still others enter politics or business because organizing things and getting things done is where they shine the brightest.

It should come as no surprise, then, that men prize certain traits over others. Men value reasoning skills because intelligence enables them to solve problems. Men value strength and speed because these qualities get things built well and under budget. Men value independence, because to rely upon others is to suggest that you are less than fully capable. Men value positions of leadership, because being the leader validates them as the most skilled person in the group.

Yet our world is a challenging place to live in. Men who prize their education can never rest, because researchers are finding out new things every day; a man who became a surgeon 20 years ago would be hopelessly behind the times if he did not constantly keep up on the newest medical findings. Men in the construction business cannot help but shake their heads as they see buildings they have poured heart and soul into, slowly deteriorate from abuse and the ravages of time. Politicians may work years to get reforms into place, only to see their work swept away by a new administration with different priorities or by the ruling of a single court.

The Christian knows the reason for these problems—the cause is sin. Sin causes decay and death and destruction. Sin is the reason that hurricanes destroy cities and hail wipes out crops. Sin is the reason that politicians cannot agree on what is good public policy; sin is the reason that employees do not get the recognition that they deserve. Sin gets in our way, tears down all that we struggle so hard to achieve. Sin tempts us to give in to despair. This sad truth moved Solomon to write, I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Yet we have hope—hope in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Jesus is both solution and example to us. Jesus is the solution to sin. He proved His power over sin by ordering a storm to be quiet and curing a paralyzed man of his disability. He defeated sin by dying in our place on the cursed cross, a world-changing sacrifice that sent the devil scurrying in retreat and brought life and immortality to light, so that our efforts in life need not be in vain. He proved that sin no longer has final say over us by speaking these wonderful words: Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2).

Jesus also serves as an example to us. Operating under the Father’s direction, the Son of God built this world; John 1:3 tells us, Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. When He was born into this world with a man’s body, our Lord learned the trade of a carpenter. And when He comes again at the end of time, Jesus will gladden us with the words: I am making everything new! (Revelation 21:5) Our Savior shows us the importance of working for a brighter tomorrow.

Another important aspect of being a man is to be strong. It used to be a compliment to say of a man, "he can hold his liquor." What was being complimented was his toughness and self-control. Toughness and self-control are important if you want to achieve your goals. It has been said that there are three types of adversaries man faces in life: nature, your fellow man, and yourself. Nature opposes you with drought and storms, rust and rot, disease and pestilence. Your fellow man opposes you with crime and war, lies and cheating, disrespect and jealousy. Your betray yourself through broken promises and temperamental outbursts, uncontrollable lust and careless gambling, a weakness for alcohol or drugs. You cannot stand up to these challenges if you’re not tough; you can only achieve your goals if you have strong self-control.

We respect determination in the face of adversity. But who of us can claim to be strong all the time? Disease can steal our strength; dementia can dull our minds. Our families can be torn apart by divorce or adultery. Our lives can be shattered when events take away our homes, our jobs, our community. How can you be strong when your body betrays you? How can you be tough when those you have loved and trusted turn their backs on you? How can you maintain your determination when the things you have built your life upon are suddenly gone? How many times have you felt like the man who wrote Psalm 102: my days disappear like smoke, and my bones burn like red-hot coals. My heart is sick, withered like grass, and I have lost my appetite.

Again, Christ is the answer. He provides the example: even though He knew that most people would reject Him, He came into our world to pursue His objectives anyway. Even though it would cost Him repeated beatings, He told the truth about our sins and His identity as our Savior. Even though it resulted in the most awful execution ever recorded, Jesus laid down His life to free us from the power of sin, death, and the devil. For Him, the goal of our salvation was worth any price that He would be demanded to pay. Paul writes, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

Of course, none of us has the strength of the Son of God; yet we are permitted to sample it. Through the Holy Spirit, our Savior shares His strength with us, strength to endure when sin presses us hard. We gain access to this strength by the Means of Grace—the Holy Word delivering God’s promises as the Bible is read; the water, empowered by God’s Word, delivering His promises through Holy Baptism; and the bread and wine, empowered by God’s Word, delivering His promises through Holy Communion. The strength of Christ is available for your use, to keep you strong—all you need do is come and receive it. In Philippians chapter four Paul asserts: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

The third thing important to men is to be needed. When it comes to relationships, men see their contribution consisting in two things—to provide and to protect. Men feel a need to provide. Most will work tirelessly even at a job they hate if it is the best opportunity they have to support their family. What good is it to be capable if you cannot provide for your family in times of need? What good is strength if it cannot be used to support your loved ones through times of weakness? It is this need to provide that leads some men into agriculture, where their skills can be used to feed many people. Men also feel a need to protect. What better purpose can your skills and strength be put to, than to defend from harm those you love? It is this drive to protect that moves so many men to become policemen, firefighters, doctors, and soldiers. These two drives explain why men so often feel lost when a loved one leaves their life; without someone to defend and provide for, all the ability and strength in the world can seem meaningless, without purpose.

It doesn’t take too many years of adulthood to realize that as providers and protectors, we usually come up short. Most men cannot provide for their families with six-figure incomes. No husband can protect his wife from the ravages of old age. No father can shield his children from every danger that life throws their way. I’m sure your life is littered with regrets about misspent money, wasted opportunities, and misplaced priorities.

As Christians, we have a reassurance that is available to no one else. Jesus forgives you; He forgives you for not being the provider you should have been. He forgives you for every time you failed in your role as defender. He forgives you fully and completely; Psalm 103 says as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Furthermore, our Lord has a way for you to be the best possible provider and protector. Consider: what is the best gift you could ever give your loved ones? What is the worst danger that they need protection from? The best gift of all is eternal life with Jesus; the worst danger is dying apart from the Lord and suffering in hell with Satan for a cellmate. Men, what use are your skills, what value has your strength, if you are not using them to turn your loved ones away from sin and towards the Savior who holds out His nail-scarred hands in loving welcome? You may not have a lot of talent or toughness, but you can still be the best provider and defender in the lives of those who are precious to you. You can care enough to speak up when they commit a sin, and warn them that such deeds lead in the wrong direction. You can care enough to tell them about the hope you have in Jesus; you can care enough to be in church together with them at every opportunity; you can care enough to pray for them and with them. You can be the earthly hands through which Jesus the Master Carpenter both defends against evil and provides an eternal home with God.

The people who are precious to you need you to fulfill your purpose—to bring God’s blessings into their lives.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn (Matthew 13:30).

Why do children love dandelions? Can’t they tell that those aggravating plants are actually weeds? Or do they see something that we don’t?

I’ve heard weeds described this way: "a weed is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it." Weeds mess up the layout of our gardens. Weeds steal nutrients from our crops and get in the way at harvest time.

But a child doesn’t think about such things. When I was little, I just appreciated any plant that I thought looked interesting, regardless of where it was growing.

Many people think of Christians as weeds. We are scattered throughout their lives, and they don’t appreciate our presence. They don’t understand our morality. They want complete freedom to do as they please, and resent anyone who suggests limiting their behavior. Talk about Jesus annoys them, because they’d rather discuss fun stuff.

Since they see Christians as annoying weeds, they try to root us out. They make fun of Jesus and the Church. They try to get laws passed to limit religious talk and the distribution of Christian literature. They try to make us ashamed of God’s law by saying that we are narrow-minded and intolerant of others. In some parts of the world, Christians are targeted for kidnapping and murder.

But the Bible looks at weeds differently. When Jesus speaks of weeds, He’s referring to unbelievers. The world belongs to God, and He plants it with the seed of His holy Word. He sends pastors and missionaries to help the seedlings grow, and at the end of time His angels will separate the weeds from His harvest. The weeds will be burned in hell, and we will be brought to the Lord as the fruits of His labors.

Weeds don’t belong in God’s home. If you sometimes feel as if you don’t fit in because you follow Jesus, take heart—a day is coming when all weeds are uprooted, and you will have a place as part of God’s beautiful garden.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Praise the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits (Psalm 103:2).

It’s easy to grumble. One study reports that about 75% of the things we say are some sort of complaint. We complain about the high cost of food, fuel and medical care. We complain about our political leaders. We complain about our coworkers. We grumble about traffic and road repairs. We grumble about the teachers, principal and board of education. We grumble about our family. We grumble about our health. To hear us tell it, life is just one aggravation after another.

It’s easy to grumble; it’s harder to show gratitude. So often, we take good things for granted. When’s the last time that you looked at a deep blue sky and appreciated its color? When’s the last time that you took a walk and enjoyed the smell of freshly cut grass? How many times have you lain in bed with the widow open, and peacefully listened to the birds singing outside? When you drink your coffee, do you gulp it down in a rush, or do you enjoy the flavor as you sip at it?

Has it occurred to you what life would be like without a washer or dryer? Without a refrigerator or stove? Can you imagine living without a car or phone? What if you had to make your own clothes? You might complain about the kinds of shows on the air, but what if there were no television or radio?

How often have you thanked God for doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies? How often have you thanked Him for the fire department? How often have you been grateful that men and women are willing to serve our country in the military? How often have you been grateful for the rights of free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion?

When’s the last time you thanked Jesus for dying on the cross so that you can be forgiven? When’s the last time that you thanked Him for rising from the dead so that you can face death unafraid? When’s the last time you were grateful that the Holy Spirit has given you a church to worship in?

It’s easy to complain. But really, hasn’t God given you a lot to be thankful for? Today would be a good time to pause for prayer, and tell our Lord just how grateful you are.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

In defense of marriage (part 2)

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4).

Today, we wrap up a two-part series that looks at some of the ways in which marriage is being undermined in our modern world. At no time in history has marriage faced the challenges that it does today; what are the pressures being brought to bear on this oldest of holy institutions, and what does God have to say about these attacks?

The leading destroyer of marriage is divorce. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, even among people who identify themselves as Christian. This is an astonishing statistic, when you consider that God speaks His feelings on the matter quite clearly. Malachi chapter 2: "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel.

Why does God hate divorce? You have to understand what marriage and divorce mean to Him. God designed marriage to be an earthly illustration of our relationship with Him. The Bible often speaks of Jesus as a bridegroom and we, His church, as His bride. Jesus has described the event of our joining Him in heaven in terms of a wedding celebration. Ephesians chapter 5 contains an often-used wedding text that uses this imagery.

When we think of marriage as an earthly picture of our relationship with Jesus, what then does divorce communicate? Divorce is a public testimony that the relationship is hopeless, that reconciliation is impossible. From God’s perspective, divorce paints an ugly picture suggesting that when our relationship with God breaks down, reconciliation with Jesus our bridegroom is impossible—there is no longer any chance for forgiveness or a return to happiness.

This is why God hates divorce—it sends the false message that God’s mercy cannot forgive every sin, cannot heal every broken relationship. Earthly divorces carry terrible emotional consequences—but the consequence of a divorce from our bridegroom Jesus would be much, much worse. Earthly divorce results in a chain of damaged relationships and economic privation, but divorce from the Savior of mankind has an eternal result of life lost to hell. This is why Jesus does not want anyone to be divorced from Him!

Jesus did allow divorce, but only because we are sinners who make bad decisions—and even then, our Lord established tough guidelines: divorce only for being the victim of infidelity or abandonment. Our Savior expects us to do everything possible to avoid divorce. It starts with careful, prayer-led consideration of which fellow Christian you will marry. It involves making Jesus a part of your daily life together, in joint worship, devotion and prayer. And it requires a willingness to forgive, just as in Christ you have been forgiven for every one of the many ways you have hurt your heavenly bridegroom.

Divorce is not God’s way—reconciliation is. And so Paul can write, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:11).

Another significant challenge to marriage is the fact that, more and more these days, couples are choosing to live together. For some, the reason is financial—these are often widows and widowers who want to be together, but feel they cannot risk the loss of government benefits that happens when two senior citizens get married. Others view living together as a trial period, a ‘test run’ to see if marriage would be successful. Still others cohabit with no intention of ever getting married; some have seen their parents go through a painful divorce and consequently fear marriage, while others want the freedom to sample different intimate relationships without restriction.

Co-habitation before marriage does not guarantee a successful long-term relationship. In fact, study after study have shown that living together before getting married dramatically raises the likelihood of eventual divorce. Co-habitation tries to mix elements of a single lifestyle with elements of a married one; once such couples finally go ahead and get married, it is far too easy to carry elements of a singles’ mindset into the marriage, weakening the commitment to life-long partnering with one person. Living together is no replacement for a long, carefully considered engagement.

Co-habitation is not a good alternative to marriage, either. People want security from their relationships, assurance that when tough times come, they won’t be left to face things alone. Co-habitation can offer no such assurance; after all, the whole point of living together is to be free to go when the whim strikes you. No one who co-habits can be sure that when money runs out or health starts to fail, that they will not find themselves abandoned and alone. It is only in marriage that a commitment is made ‘for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.’ Only people who have sincerely made lifelong pledges to each other before God can have the security that we all desire.

It all comes down to trust. Do you trust your heavenly Father to care for you? Do you trust your Lord to guide you in choosing the right person for a life-long commitment? Do you trust God’s Spirit to help you find satisfaction in marriage even during the tough times? If you trust God, you don’t need to live together because you fear losing welfare benefits; if you trust in your Savior, you don’t need to fear a future where love has gone away.

A third growing threat to God’s institution of marriage is the pressure being brought to bear to legalize gay marriage. Most people are naturally repulsed by homosexual behavior. Yet there are a growing number who believe that if gays or lesbians want to get married, what’s the harm? Why is it that so many have come to feel this way? Why do some people accept an activity that our bodies were not designed to do?

Joseph Goebbels once said that it you repeat a lie often enough and vigorously enough, people will come to accept the lie as truth. Over the past few years, there has been a concerted effort to portray homosexual behavior as ordinary, just another way for people to express themselves. Gay and lesbian characters are featured in high-profile television shows that enter millions of homes every week. In some schools, children are required to participate in sensitivity training so that they will be accepting of homosexual behavior. We are told that if we are to be loving to all people, we must accept them just as they are.

But is this true? Jesus loves everyone, but does He accept us just as we are? If the Lord does not have expectations for our behavior, then why were we given the 10 Commandments? If Jesus does not look for change in the lives of His followers, why did He tell the people repent and believe the Good news? (Mark 1:15)

What does God say about homosexual activity? The Bible is quite clear—homosexual activity is sinful, repugnant to God. God created Adam and Eve, not ‘Adam and Steve.’ God’s first command to the prototype family was Be fruitful and increase in number (Genesis 1:22); this command is, by nature, impossible for a homosexual partnership to fulfill. In Leviticus chapter 20, God’s word says: If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. In Romans chapter one, gay and lesbian acts are named as unnatural; and 1st Corinthians chapter six warns that those who love homosexuality will not find a home in the kingdom of God.

God loves everyone, but He hates the sin that corrupts us. God hates sin so much that the sinner must die; but God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die the sinner’s death in our place. Jesus suffered to rescue us from God’s anger at our sins—we dare not respond to this great act of love by continuing to embrace that which led Jesus to the cross. We must exchange our love of sin--any sin--for love of Christ.

Why is it important to defend marriage as God instituted it? What’s the problem with gay marriage, or single parents hiring someone to help them conceive a child? Why do we even need marriage?

The answer to these questions is implicit in God’s command to Adam and Eve in the first chapter of Genesis: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." In these words, God gives the first family two instructions. First, they are to work together in raising children. At no time does God imply that one person is to raise children alone—the intent is clearly that each child have both a mother and a father. Modern scientific study has repeatedly shown the wisdom of God’s ways—children raised by both parents together are significantly better off going into adulthood than are children raised by one parent alone.

The other instruction to the family is this: Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. The family has a job to do—take care of God’s creation. Again, there is no suggestion that one person go off and do this work without the help and support of family—the intent is clearly that God’s wonderful world is to be tended and cared for by God’s family.

How then can we imagine a society that does not have marriage as its cornerstone? How can a culture thrive when the people don’t know how to build loving, committed relationships? How can our way of life be healthy if our families are unhealthy?

Marriage is the seed from which society grows. It is from being raised by loving parents who demonstrate mutual trust that a child learns that others can be trusted. It is by being held to high moral standards by parents who stand united in their expectations that a child learns to be a good citizen around everyone. The skills needed to be a team player are modeled by the teamwork between spouses. Most importantly, when a husband and wife belong to Christ, they are helped by the Holy Spirit to forgive each other as Christ has first forgiven them; their marriage shows their children and the community around them that Christ’s forgiveness makes long-term relationships possible and wonderful. Society can only thrive when marriage is everything God intended it to be.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Trouble makers

All have sinned and fall short of God’s high standards (Romans 3:23).

Computer viruses don’t just happen; someone has to create them. And a computer virus isn’t easy to make; it has to be sophisticated enough to get past security programs undetected, replicate itself, and transmit those copies to other machines.

Why would someone go through all that effort? Computer hackers don’t get paid for their effort, and if they’re caught they can go to jail. So why bother designing a virus? For some, it’s the challenge—beating a security system gives them a sense of pride in their abilities. Others do it for a thrill—they get a rush from doing something that affects thousands of people around the world. Some might even be driven by revenge—attacking the computer system of some organization that they’re mad at. But regardless of motivation, every designer of a computer virus has one thing in common—they have no regard for others. They feel no guilt about causing aggravation, corrupting important files, or forcing people they don’t even know to spend time and money on repairing damaged systems.

Most of us don’t have the skills or knowledge to create a computer virus. But we are like these criminals in one respect—there are times when we say and do things that hurt other people, and it really doesn’t bother us. Sometimes we’re motivated by pride—we get way too competitive, because we want to show everyone that we’re the best. Other times we get so wrapped up in having fun that we don’t consider the consequences of our actions. And sometimes we feel hurt, and want to ease that pain by hurting someone else.

No matter how current your virus protection is, someone is always working on a way to get past it. It is human nature to say and do things that are destructive. Our bad behavior results in crime, war, and civil unrest. Yet no matter how many police, soldiers and judges we put on the payroll, they can’t stop us from hurting each other.

We need Jesus. We need Him to set limits on our behavior, and forgive us when we cross the line. We need His love in our hearts, so that we can show proper concern and respect for everyone around us. When you belong to Jesus, you don’t want to cause problems for others.

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