Saturday, February 27, 2010


Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, `For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'

" `Sir,' the man replied, `leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' " (Luke 13:1-9b)

When Hurricane Katrina struck the gulf coast and devastated New Orleans, people asked, "why did God let this happen?" When the Christmas tsunami of 2004 killed hundreds of thousands living in 13 different countries, people wondered what kind of message God was trying to send. And when Haiti was devastated by a record-breaking earthquake, people speculated on what the Haitians had done to deserve such horrendous punishment.

We live in a world where love and tolerance are king and queen. You dare not criticize another person’s behavior lest you be called hateful and bigoted. We are a nation founded on freedoms like the freedom of speech, yet many are reluctant to voice their opinions for fear of being publicly censured.

Sadly, the morality of our society has invaded churches throughout the land. It’s the rare minister who dares to preach like men of previous generations; these days, if you criticize sinners and demand change in their behavior, pretty soon the church will be mostly empty. People don’t want to hear that they are doing wrong; they want to be reassured that God loves and accepts them just the way they are. They expect God to be kind and loving always; the thought of an angry God who punishes sin harshly makes them feel uncomfortable.

How often have you heard someone say, "I could never believe in a god who would let that happen"? How often have you heard someone say, "I could never believe in a god who would punish someone for doing that"? Most people don’t want religion to scare them; they want to be reassured, affirmed, comforted. They don’t want to believe that God punishes behavior they feel comfortable with. They don’t want to believe that God lets bad things happen to good people.

Frankly, I want God to take a hard stand against evil. I don’t want to live in a world where rape and murder are excusable mistakes instead of serious crimes. I don’t want heaven to be filled with awful people who never felt a moment’s regret in life for their horrific actions. I rejoice that God is just and righteous.

Of course I realize that, like you, I am a sinner who deserves nothing from God except harsh condemnation. Like you, I have violated God’s laws in more ways than can be counted. Like you, I would have no hope for merciful treatment from the Almighty were it not for Jesus.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus responds to a recent tragedy by relating a parable. The parable is about a landowner, his servant, and a fig tree. The landowner is God our Father; our world is His vineyard. The servant is Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior. The fig tree represents you and me and every person who lives on God’s green earth.

Fig trees are planted to bear fruit. Unproductive plants are dug up and replaced. God the Father has planted each of us in this world to grow and bear fruit. What kind of fruit? Paul gives a partial list in Galatians chapter five: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Sadly, we usually produce just the opposite. Instead of love, we show hatred. Instead of being joyful, we complain. We ruin peace by fighting. We are often impatient and rude. We get a thrill from evil. We break promises when they are inconvenient. We treat each other harshly and we indulge our sinful appetites with little thought for the consequences.

God expects us the bear good fruit but sin makes us barren, a waste of earth’s resources. Even non-Christians realize the truth of this; some radical environmentalists claim that our world would be better off without humanity living here, making a constant mess of things. God would be entirely justified in ridding His vineyard of us.

But our heavenly Father is patient. If you had a mature plant growing in your garden, would you tolerate three years of no produce coming from it? I think not. But God is patient—although our failures anger Him, He is slow to reveal His wrath. Yet even His great patience has its limits.

Thankfully, we have Jesus as our gardener. He pleads with the Father for more time to work a change in us. He digs around us, pulling up the weeds of earthly distractions that limit our growth. He fertilizes us with His word and sacraments, that we might be invigorated and grow strong in the faith. Without Jesus we would be lying dead at the edge of the field, unwanted and unloved.

But even with Jesus’ help, the future is not guaranteed. Eventually God will end our lives, and if we are still barren despite Jesus’ efforts, tragedy awaits. God is loving and merciful, but He is also holy and just. Hell waits for those who die while under God’s terrible wrath.

When news came of a recent tragedy, Jesus took the opportunity to warn the complacent. To those who anticipated living to old age, Jesus warned that life could end at any time so they’d best be ready. To those who believed that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, Jesus made it clear that no one can claim moral superiority—all people are sinners who deserve nothing from God save for His punishment.

You see, we look at things from the wrong perspective. When disasters occur, we ask why God didn’t save more people. The truth of the matter is that no one deserves God’s mercy. When hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes cause mass destruction, we should be asking why God spared anyone at all? Instead of getting angry over loss of life, we should rejoice in every life that was unexpectedly spared and saved.

Because of the sin introduced to the world by humanity’s foolishness, the universe crumbles everywhere with decay and collapse, leading to death. Were it not for God’s loving concern and mighty power, everything would fall to pieces in an instant. Scripture says, in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Whenever order prevails over chaos, it is because of God. Whenever life wins out over death, it is because of God. When bad things happen, they happen because sin has ruined creation. When good things happen, they are evidence of God’s undeserved mercy and love.

Bad things don’t happen to good people. Psalm 14 says, The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have become united in corruption; there is no one who does good, not a single person. Jesus said, no one is good, except for God alone (Mark 10:18). Bad things only happen to bad people because everyone is bad, so we have no right to complain.

Thankfully, The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14).

Earlier I mentioned the kind of fruit God expects from us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Paul tells us that such fruit only grows by the power of God working in us. Jesus digs around us, uprooting the weeds that want to choke us—weeds of hatred, greed, lust, gluttony, pride, envy, and laziness. It hurts when Jesus tears away the sinful things we love—if a bush could speak during pruning, I’m sure it would cry out in protest. But for us to grow and be fruitful, unnecessary things must be torn away. Such times can seem tragic, even if we’re the only ones affected.

Jesus also fertilizes us with the words of Holy Scripture and the cleansing touch of the Sacraments. Sin has made this world a spiritual desert; in order to grow strong, we must have nutrients from heaven. How can you expect to grow and bear fruit if you avoid being fertilized by staying away from church and letting your Bible collect dust?

Jesus suffered on the cross to forgive your sins and revitalize your life with His own blood. He looks for three things in response: contrition, devotion, and service. The Lord expects you to confess your sins and seek the mercy that He offers to sinners. The Son of God expects you to reject sinful things for Him, and to seek His help in doing so. Jesus expects you to give your life as an offering to Him in thanks for being saved, seeking His guidance in how to use the time and resources He has placed at your disposal.

When Jesus revitalizes your life, you will bear fruit that is pleasing to God. You will also find satisfaction as a planting in His vineyard, even in times of pain and tragedy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tips on how to share your faith

He who listens to you listens to me (Luke 10:16).

How do you share Jesus with other people? Let me suggest a couple of ideas.

A lot of people spend time communicating through the Internet. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable speaking with complete strangers. Chat rooms and message boards are great places to share your faith. For example, a while back I was reading a series of posts about a Muslim woman who wanted to give her life purpose by being a suicide bomber. The posters could not understand how anyone could think that way, prompting a discussion about religion. One person suggested that we would all be better off without religion, because if you believe in heaven, life on earth becomes easier to give up. I replied to that comment, saying that Jesus died to forgive our sins; as a result, we not only have heaven in the future, but life is also worth living today. This post prompted two other Christians to also speak of their belief in Jesus as God’s Son and our Savior.

Personal hardship can also be a good time for sharing your faith. You might have a colleague who has lost his job. You might have a friend who is considering divorce. You might have a relative who has been diagnosed with cancer. These kinds of situations raise all sorts of concerns. How will I make ends meet? Can I forgive someone who’s hurt me deeply? How can I face death and what comes after? If you care about your colleague, your friend, your relative, then you want to help. The best way you can do this is to pray for them. Pray that God would help them cope with the stress and give them peace of mind. Pray that God’s Spirit would point them in the right direction, so they don’t waste precious time stuck motionless in depression. And do something else—tell them that you are praying for them. Ask them to share their emotional pain with you. Tell them about a time when you didn’t know what to do, and how Christ got you through. Share some favorite Bible verses that have spoken to your heart, and ask if it’s all right to pray out loud while the two of you are sitting together or talking on the phone. And don’t let this be just a one time conversation; whenever the two of you visit, invite Christ to participate in your conversation.

Jesus said, He who listens to you listens to me. When an opportunity comes along to speak about Jesus, don’t let it slip away unused; there are many people who need the gift of God’s love that you carry in your heart.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chaos in Washington

"There is hope for your future," declares the LORD (Jeremiah 31:17).

How satisfied are you with the political leadership in Washington? Are the senators and representatives making decisions you support? Do you agree with the President's priorities? Are you happy or disgusted with the direction our leaders are taking us?

A lot of Americans are frustrated by all the rigid partisanship and resultant gridlock--they want our leaders to work together and get problems solved. But how is that even remotely possible? With all the negative talk from both sides, all the words of hatred and fear mongering, how can America find better days through unity?

Jesus gave us the answer 2,000 years ago on the cross—He said, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34). The Son of God suffered and died for one reason—to forgive our sins so we can be united in love. And He calls on us to follow His example—Jesus said, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7). Paul wrote, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

Forgiveness is essential in order for relationships to have a future. Forgiveness leads to reconciliation. And forgiveness is what this country needs to heal the wounds caused by a divisive political landscape. Most politicians and their supporters have told lies and warped the truth in order to get where they are. It is time for every person who is guilty to ask Jesus to forgive them. Then, bolstered with God’s love, they need to reach out and apologize to those they hurt. The more this happens, the quicker our political wounds can start to heal.

The worst part of it all is the fear mongering—the thought that if the wrong people get their way, America is doomed. I’d like to remind you of something quite important—voters can’t wreck the future. No administration can wreck the future. Regardless of what we do, God is in control. He is infinitely wise, infinitely loving, and infinitely powerful. There is no mess we can make that He cannot clean up. So if you are concerned about what's going on in Washington, pray to God and entrust the future to Him.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Personal sacrifice

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"

"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.

"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your Offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me" (Genesis 22:1-18).

Abraham had just about everything a man could want. He had a wife who was so beautiful that even in middle age, Abraham sometimes worried that she might be taken from him by force. Abraham was also wealthy; he had a large herd of livestock and a personal servant for his wife. He was a powerful figure in the region; when an alliance of five cities raided the town where his nephew was living, Abraham mustered his own force of fighting men and rescued everyone and everything that had been taken, prompting local kings to sign peace treaties with him. And Abraham was close to God; he was so close that God spoke with him personally on many occasions.

But there was one thing Abraham did not have—he did not have any children. God had promised Abraham a son, and through that son many descendants; but Abraham had to wait until he was 100 years old for that son to be born. The boy was named Isaac, which means "laughter"—a name that shows how much joy Abraham and his wife experienced at being blessed with a son in their old age. At last, it seemed, Abraham had everything a man could possibly want.

What a shock, then, for Abraham to hear God’s command that came a few years later: "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Of all the things to ask of Abraham! His wife would soon be dead of old age; he would willingly give up his money and influence in an instant. But to sacrifice his son? The boy he had waited a lifetime for? The young man who would carry on the family line after Abraham was finally laid to rest? Isaac was the joy of Abraham’s life and his promise for the future—there was nothing on earth more precious to the old man. And it is clear that God knew this—look at His words again: Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love.

God asked Abraham to give up the most precious thing in the world to him—and Abraham obeyed. He assembled a little group and set out for the highlands of Moriah. As he and the boy climbed the mountain selected by God, Isaac asked his father about the sacrifice: where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham replied, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. Abraham loved God more than anything or anyone else, even more than his own dear son; he knew that Isaac had been a gift from God, and that the Lord had every right to demand the return of that gift at any time. As Abraham wearily climbed that mountain, he believed that God had already provided the lamb--in the person of the boy walking energetically at his side.

The time came for the sacrifice. Abraham arranged everything perfectly and readied himself to plunge the knife into the beating heart of his precious son. Abraham trusted God; God had promised that the old man would have descendants through Isaac, so Abraham reasoned that God, who had given a son to a man and women past the years of childbirth, could raise the young man from the dead to make good on His promise (Hebrews 11:17-19). Knowing that, however, could not diminish the pain in Abraham’s heart as he tensed his arm for the killing blow; even if his son were to be raised from the dead, the act of killing him would still be hurtful beyond imagining.

At just that moment, God intervened. Abraham had proven his love and trust—he had come to the place where he would hold nothing back from God, not even the life of his son—and God was satisfied. Fulfilling what Abraham had said to Isaac, God did provide the sacrifice—a ram entangled in the brush. God gave a male lamb to take Isaac’s place as the sacrifice, and Abraham named the place "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." God blessed Abraham’s faith with the promise that the Savior would be one of his descendants, the Offspring who would be a blessing for the entire world!

Of course, there is more to this event than just the testing of Abraham’s faith; through this drama the Lord also foretold important truths about the Savior descended from Abraham through Isaac. Like Abraham, God the Father had only one Son, a Son whom He loved and treasured more than anything else—that Son is known to us by the name Jesus. Like Abraham, God the Father sent His Son to the mountainous region of Moriah where He walked the streets of Jerusalem, taught in the Temple, and carried His cross to the Place of the Skull. Like Abraham, God the Father arranged a personal sacrifice, a sacrifice whereby all human sin would be atoned for by the loss of just one innocent life. The sacrifice was provided by God—He provided His one and only Son, the Son whom He loved, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He sacrificed His Son, knowing that on the third day He would raise Jesus from the dead to live forevermore; nevertheless, the act of ending His Son’s life would still hurt God the Father beyond our ability to imagine. On Calvary’s holy mountain, Abraham’s inscription was fulfilled: "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." On the mountain of God’s choosing, He provided the sacrifice that has freed us from our sins and offered us life everlasting beyond the grave.

God the Father sacrificed that which was most precious to Him for your benefit. Abraham held nothing back from God, because he loved God more than anyone or anything else. Jesus said, Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37-38). The most precious thing in our lives must be our relationship with the Lord; no one and nothing can be more important to us than loving and trusting in our God.

This being the case, what do you sacrifice for the Lord? He doesn’t ask you to offer up your firstborn child to Him, but He does look for evidence that He is more important in your life than anyone or anything else.

Do you hold anything back from God? Does He get your time ungrudgingly, time for weekly worship, time for daily prayer? Is time sleeping in bed more important than time worshipping in the Lord’s house? Is time spent fishing or partying or watching TV more important than time offered to the church as an officer, teacher, or volunteer?

Do you hold anything back from God? Does He get your money ungrudgingly, money for maintaining the church, money to support foreign missions? Is your giving based on how much money you have left over once the bills are paid? When you figure out how much to put in the plate each year, how does that total compare with your spending on vacation trips, recreational vehicles, cigarettes, or nights out with friends? How much money did you spend last year on clothing that you don’t wear or collectibles that only collect dust? When you analyze your spending habits, do you honor God with your gifts, or is your money lavished on yourself? Are you holding back from God?

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that God usually gets our leftovers, not our first and best. What this tells Him is that we love ourselves more than we love Him—and this means that we are not worthy of Him. We have just entered the season of Lent, the time of the year when we look long and hard at our shortcomings and drop to our knees beneath the cross, faces wet with hot tears of shame. God gave His Son for us, a costly gift we have in no way deserved. God arranged His Son’s death for us, a sacrifice that we don’t honor as we should. Lent is the time to admit the error of our ways, and ask for the opportunity to change things.

Thankfully, our Lord is gracious to us throughout the year, regardless of the season. Jesus carried that cross to the Place of the Skull willingly, and He allowed Himself to be put to death because He loves each and every one of us. Jesus bled and died in your place, that you might go free as Isaac did; Jesus suffered unto death so that you might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

This season of humble contrition is a perfect time to ask God’s help in changing your priorities. Many people give up something for Lent—meat on Fridays, for example. I suggest that you give up being selfish for Lent—rather than using up your time and money for your own enjoyment, devote your resources to God. And not just for Lent—instead, let this season of contrition be the start of a whole new lifestyle where God gets your first and your best!

God gave His very best for you; it is time to consider how you can show Him your appreciation.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A chance to win

O LORD, come quickly to help me (Psalm 40:13).

More than ever before, a lot of people play electronic games. There are console games that simulate sports. There are on-line games that let you join friends in a role-playing adventure. Computer games have come a long way from playing solitaire without a deck of cards.

Game designers want to appeal to the widest audience possible; for this reason, many games allow you to set the level of difficulty. Some players like a stiff challenge; others are just looking for a few hours of pleasant diversion. By offering several levels of difficulty, a game can be fun for a wide range of players.

We do the same thing in sports. In golf, some players accept a handicap so everyone in the group can have a good time together. Baseball players are divided between minor and major leagues. It all comes down to fun—no one likes to get into a situation where there is little chance of winning.

Sadly, the most important things in life don’t make these kinds of allowances. When you bollix up a relationship, you can’t stop the game and reload from an earlier save point—every mistake you make has lasting consequences. If you’re in marketing, you cannot expect that every customer will be an easy sale.

Most critical of all is your battle with the devil. Satan does not go easy on anyone; he is ruthless in exploiting your weaknesses. If you need time to make good decisions, Satan will try and rush you. If you are shy, Satan will seek to embarrass you. If you struggle to keep your anger in check, the devil will provoke you. If you are afraid of making people mad at you, the devil will suggest that you tell lies. Satan is a major league player, and when you go up against him the game is set to the highest level of difficulty.

This is why we need Jesus. He has beaten Satan in every match-up. The Son of God partners with us, and His ability to do good more than compensates for our failures. If you try to win at life without Jesus on your side, you are going up against Satan by yourself and you are hopelessly outmatched.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The importance of Christ

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

How important is it to believe in Jesus?

God loves everyone; He sent Jesus to die for us all. But some people take this truth and run with it in the wrong direction. Their reasoning goes like this: "If God loves everyone, and Jesus died for everyone, then everyone will go to heaven." Regrettably, that conclusion is not true.

God wants everyone to be free from sin and live with Him forever. Jesus made this possible; He did everything needed to forgive our sins. But our sins are not forgiven unless we ask them to be. I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32)

Jesus is the only way for sinful people to approach the holy God and be welcome. We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). But Jesus only speaks in defense of those who are His friends. When asked Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? Jesus said, Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, `I don't know you' (Luke chapter 13).

Without Jesus, heaven is closed to us. Our Lord said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). The apostles said, believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. God has appointed the Savior to be our go-between with heaven; this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 3:23).

In Mark chapter one Jesus said, repent and believe the Good News! Forgiveness is free to anyone who asks for mercy in Jesus’ name, trusting that His blood poured out in death washes away our sins and gives us new life. There is no other requirement—just trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. He forgives your sins so you can live with Him forever in paradise.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Walking in faith

When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "but do not speak of it."

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," he replied, "but do not speak of it."

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.

Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied. "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise not."

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more (2 King s 2:1-12c).

The theme of today’s Old Testament lesson is traveling. We see Elijah and Elisha traveling from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan. We see Elijah travel up to heaven, riding in a chariot of fire. And there is a third journey as well, although we’ll talk about that one a little later.

Elijah was a man used to traveling. His ministry as God’s chief prophet took him to Samaria, the capital of the northern nation of Israel, where he confronted King Ahab and Queen Jezebel over leading the people in the worship of false gods. After warning of severe famine as a punishment for abandoning God, he went to a city on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, where by God’s power he kept a widow and her son alive and well fed while everyone else was starving. Three years later, Elijah traveled south to Mount Carmel, where he challenged the priests of Baal to show the power of their god; when fire from heaven took Elijah’s sacrifice and the priests of Baal were left with their frantic prayers unanswered, Elijah ordered the 450 false prophets put to death, according to God’s Law. Threatened with death for doing this, Elijah traveled south out of Israel, through the nation of Judah, and out into the desert, going all the way to Mount Sinai where God had given Moses the Ten Commandments. But although a fierce wind tore at the mountain, a thundering earthquake split the rocks, and these were followed by a blazing fire, the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper and gave him new instructions. Elijah was sent back north along the Jordan River to the desert of Damascus, far to the northeast of Israel. There he placed God’s blessing on a new king to replace Ahab, and he also anointed Elisha as the man who would one day succeed him as God’s prophet.

Elijah was used to traveling as he went about the Lord’s business, so it was no surprise that Elijah’s last day on earth would involve considerable walking. Elijah and Elisha were already on the road when God sent instructions to visit the prophets in Bethel, a town in the Judean mountains about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. Probably Elijah was being sent to give these prophets their final instructions before he left this world. From Bethel, the man of God was sent down the mountainside to the prophets living in Jericho, a trip of about 14 miles. After a brief stop there, Elijah was sent on 5 miles more to the Jordan River, where after crossing on dry ground, he was to be taken up into heaven. Altogether, Elijah and his protégé must have walked over 20 miles that day; assuming that they had arrived in Bethel fairly early in the morning, it was probably close to dark by the time they crossed the Jordan.

We aren’t told much about Elijah’s appearance; although artists usually depict him with gray hair, we have no indication from Scripture as to how old he was. The only description we are given is that he dressed clothing made from hair and wore a leather belt, a style of dress later seen on John the Baptist. Most likely, Elijah was not a young man; nevertheless, right up through the end of his last day on earth, God had work for him to do, work that involved dedication and effort. Elijah’s last day shows us that as long as God permits us to draw breath, He has things for us to be doing on His behalf.

Elijah’s travels took him from the top of mountains to the bottom of valleys; he visited the palace of a king and found shelter with a poverty-stricken widow. Elijah’s life shows us that when we accept the Lord’s invitation to follow Him, the resulting journey can take us to some unexpected places and unforeseeable situations.

But Elijah’s last day on earth was the beginning of a new journey for the man of God; Elijah was taken up into heaven bodily in a whirlwind. Elijah received a remarkable blessing; he was permitted to leave this world without first tasting death. Only one other person in the Bible received such a gift—that other man was Enoch, who lived back in the early days of Genesis. No one else has gone into heaven without first dying—not even the Son of God, who died to pay the penalty for our sins before He rose from the grave and ascended into heaven.

What made Elijah so special that he was spared the agony of death? Was his life so perfect that he deserved this special treatment? Not at all—like everyone else, Elijah was a sinner. When Queen Jezebel put a price on his head for ordering the deaths of her 450 priests, Elijah’s confidence broke. In the past, Elijah had always waited for God to tell him where to go; but with his life threatened, Elijah became terrified and fled into the wilderness. There, alone in the desert, Elijah asked God to take his life, a request both selfish and lacking in faith. It was a selfish request, because Elijah did not ask God what he should do next--he simply wanted out from the hard work the Lord had assigned him. If was also a request that demonstrated a lack of faith; Elijah had lost hope that God could salvage things and make tomorrow a better day.

Thankfully, God did not show the anger He must have felt upon hearing Elijah’s despairing words. Instead, God showed His mercy by sending an angel to refresh the prophet with food and encouragement. Thus strengthened, Elijah went to God’s holy mountain, where the Lord, rather than beating Elijah down, instead gave him renewed purpose and sent him back to work. Elijah, like each of us, was a sinner who could only find renewed life through God’s undeserved mercy. Elijah was obviously someone close to God’s heart to be spared death the way he was, but this wonderful gift was not something Elijah earned by being a holy man.

But there is one more journey that we need to consider—that is the journey of Elisha. Elisha had been committed to following Elijah from the first day that the two men met near Damascus; although a member of a wealthy family, Elisha left everything behind without hesitation to serve God’s prophet and learn from him. So when the day came for Elijah to be taken up into heaven, Elisha insisted on staying by his master’s side; he followed Elijah every step of his final journey to the Jordan. When their time together was nearly at an end, Elijah asked the younger man if there was anything he could do for him before the two were parted; in response, Elisha asked: "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit." To understand this request, you must know something about Old Testament customs regarding inheritance. When a man died, his property was divided into equal shares for each of his sons; however, the eldest son received a double share from his father’s estate. So when Elisha asked his mentor for a double share of his spirit, he was requesting the privilege of the first-born, to inherit Elijah’s position as God’s chief prophet. However, this was not something that Elijah had the authority to promise—and so he left it in God’s hands, saying: "You have asked a difficult thing…yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise not." If God allowed Elisha to see his master’s miraculous departure, this would be evidence that the Lord approved Elisha’s request.

Why did Elisha want the job of chief prophet? Was he like some modern televangelists, who soak up public attention like a sponge? No, because Elisha continued to live a life of relative solitude. Did Elisha seek the position for the rewards it could bring? Again, no—when Naaman later tried to reward Elisha with gifts in thanks for curing him of leprosy, Elisha refused to accept them. The reason that Elisha asked to be appointed as Elijah’s successor was simply this: he wanted to serve the Lord with his life. He was grateful for the opportunity to grow closer to God through his years at Elijah’s side and wanted to show his gratitude to the Lord by serving Him. He also knew how important and demanding the job of God’s chief prophet was, and he wanted to be properly equipped to carry on Elijah’s work—so he expressed his need by asking for a double portion of the spirit that had lived within Elijah—the Spirit of God. And because his request was honorable, God rewarded Elisha with a breath-taking vision—he was allowed to see a chariot of fire, drawn by a team of blazing horses, sweep Elijah away in a wind of tornado-like force. Elisha was so astonished that all he could do was cry out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" Because of his sincere devotion to the Lord, Elisha was permitted a glimpse of the Almighty’s glorious power. And because of Elisha’s commitment to the Lord’s service, he did become God’s chief prophet, and was empowered to perform miracles even more dramatic than those done by his mentor Elijah.

What can we learn from the journeys of Elijah and Elisha? Elijah’s journeys through life teach us two things. First, being a follower of God can take you in unexpected directions and land you in some surprising situations. Nevertheless, we should never be afraid—God promises to be with us and to guide us as we seek to do His will. Paul reassures us in Romans chapter eight that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him. Second, we learn that from cradle to grave, our lives have purpose; God always has something useful for us to do in His service, right up to the hour of our death. Regardless of age or sickness or disability, no one should think of themselves as useless to the Lord, not when Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Elijah’s journey into heaven also reminds us of two things. First, we are reminded that even the best of us are sinners, people who do not trust God as firmly as we should and make decisions that do not conform to His perfect will. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Second, we learn that there is more to our God than justice; He is also a God of mercy who speaks to us softly and restores us to the paths of righteousness. This is demonstrated most clearly through the sending of His Son Jesus, who suffered and died in our place to spare us the punishment that our sins deserved. Because of this great act of mercy, we are offered forgiveness on Jesus’ credit and the opportunity to join Elijah in God’s eternal kingdom. Hebrews chapter nine states: Christ is the one who mediates a new covenant, so that all who are invited can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under the first covenant.

Elisha’s journey reminds us what God wants from us. The Lord wants us to value our life with Him over earthly lives dedicated to wealth and popularity. He wants us to be unwavering as we devote ourselves to serving Him. And we are shown that those who put God first in their lives are allowed to see things that are reserved only for the eyes of the faithful—we who follow are permitted to see the glory of God at work in the world around us. We might not see anything as dramatic as fiery horses and chariots, but is there any greater miracle than a baby being washed clean of sin by holy Baptism? Is there any miracle more impressive than seeing an unbeliever renounce his sin and turn to Christ in faith? God’s glory is at work in the world every day, but only people of faith can see what’s really going on.

Elijah and Elisha’s journeys are over; they are at rest in the eternal home of God. As your life’s journey continues, commit yourself to walking with Christ, and He will one day transport you to a place so magnificent that fiery horses and chariots seem merely commonplace.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Forgiveness--God's gift to you

Do not call anything impure that God has made clean (Acts 10:15).

God offers us forgiveness as a gift, pure and simple. Picture it like a court of law. You have been brought to trial; everyone knows that you’re an habitual offender. The case is open and shut—there is no question as to your guilt. When the judge asks if you have anything to say before announcing his verdict, you fall to your knees and beg him for mercy. Then, to your astonishment, the judge shows leniency—he declares you not guilty and sets you free. You are made innocent solely by the judge’s authority, because He has a merciful heart. That’s how God forgives you. When He speaks words of mercy, past mistakes are forgotten. Psalm 103 says, he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Why would God show you such undeserved leniency? It’s all because of Jesus. Life and forgiveness and love are all linked together by Christ. Without love, forgiveness does not exist; without forgiveness, life ends in hell.

Life and forgiveness are connected. Hebrews chapter nine says, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Paul says, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); it is only by sacrificing life that sin can be forgiven. If sin is not forgiven, the result is eternal death in hell.

But who would be willing to die so that another might live? Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends (John 15:13-14). Paul writes, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Love took Jesus to the cross—love that wanted to keep us forever at His side. On the cross, Jesus suffered and died so you could be forgiven and rise from the grave. In Christ, we see love and forgiveness and life tied together in a beautiful, mysterious way. Love, forgiveness, and life: these are God’s gifts to you; He gives them freely through the hands of His Son.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How does God forgive sins?

Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).

How does God forgive us? What is the process that He uses to free us from our sins?

Some people think that God just waves His hand and makes sin go away. But God doesn’t act like that. God values justice; to let a crime go unpunished would go against His very nature. Besides, God never breaks His promises, and He has said repeatedly that sin will be punished. God does not make idle threats; you can always take Him at His word.

So how does God forgive sin? Does He expect us to pay it off somehow? No, because that is impossible. Jesus showed how impossible this is when He asked the question, what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26) Everything we have comes from God; whatever we would offer in restitution belongs to Him already.

Does God expect us to earn His forgiveness by working hard for it? Again, the answer is no—such a thing is impossible. God expects us to be holy every moment of our lives. Each minute used to commit sin is lost forever; we cannot add extra years to our time on earth to make up for what’s been wasted.

Does God offer forgiveness when we meet certain conditions? This too is wrong. Paul writes, it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). We can only please God when He acts within us; anything good that we do is to His credit, not ours.

God forgives us by transferring our guilt to someone else. This is why Jesus came into the world. The Son of God became our elder brother to take responsibility for our sins. When He suffered on the cross, Christ bore the punishment our sins had incurred. Despite our sins, God loves us; He does not want us suffer, even though we deserve to. There was just one way to punish sin yet spare us at the same time—and so Jesus became our scapegoat. This satisfied holy justice and ensured that God’s promises were kept—yet at the same time, this tremendous act of love spared us from eternal agony in hell.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Conservatives, moderates, and liberals

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

You can be both a conservative and a Christian. A conservative is someone who believes "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Conservatives value tradition. Traditions help guide us in living successfully; they show us what has worked well for other people in the past, which offers us security as we try to figure out how to live for today. Traditions also give us roots; they connect us to our ancestors and a way of life that gives us identity in a world where things are constantly changing.

Political conservatives don’t like seeing the Constitution reinterpreted by the Supreme Court; they believe that our Founding Fathers wrote a document that doesn’t need to be stretched or flexed to meet the needs of modern society. Religious conservatives don’t like seeing the Bible reinterpreted by church leaders to accommodate modern trends in society; they believe that God’s word is unchanging truth, a rock of stability in a world where people seek the freedom to do whatever they want without being criticized.

Conservatives are generally suspicious of change; they fear that hasty decisions will result in unfortunate precedents that can never be taken back. Conservatives find our modern world a frightening place in which to live, because things change so quickly these days.

Conservatives can often be in the right. The Bible tells us that God does not change; James assures us that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). In the Book of the Law, God’s messenger Moses warns us against adding any teachings of our own to His words, or concealing any of His words by being selective in what we teach: Carefully obey all the commands I give you. Do not add to them or subtract from them (Deuteronomy 4:1-2). God does not want us trying to take His unchangeable truths and massaging them to become politically correct. It is not God who has to change to fit into our modern world; our sin-filled world needs to return to the unchanging One who gave it life.

And yet, conservatives can also be wrong. Jesus showed the religious leaders of His day that they did not understand God’s word correctly, but they would not even consider the possibility that their traditions might be in error. Jesus was labeled a dangerous radical and was relentless persecuted until the time came for His crucifixion. We who are conservative in today’s world must be careful to not let our loyalty to the past become an inflexibility that blinds us to God’s truth.

You can be also both a liberal and a Christian. A liberal is someone who believes that there is always room for improvement. Liberals value fresh ideas. They are always looking for ways to improve the quality of life; they look at how the old ways are coming up short and suggest changes to make our time here on earth better for everyone. Liberals hope that tomorrow can be made better than today.

Political liberals see our society in terms of process. Things are better than they used to be, but we still have a long way to go before things will be as good as they could be; this means that laws must be constantly reviewed and rewritten. Religious liberals fear that the church is not reaching out to unbelievers as effectively as it could; they believe that God has something powerful to say to our modern world, and the church must be creative in finding ways to touch lives with the message of Christ.

Liberals are generally supportive of change; they fear that inflexibility leads to stagnation and atrophy. Liberals find our chaotic modern world to be an exciting place, full of new ways to introduce people to the Savior who died to give them eternal life.

Liberals can often be in the right. Scripture tells us that we are all sinners and that nothing we do is up to snuff from God’s perspective; in Romans chapter three Paul says bluntly, all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard. Because we are all imperfect, there is always room for improvement in anything done by humans. In addition, the Bible shows us the importance of being flexible in how we reach out to others; Paul tells us that as he introduced Christ to unbelievers, he made adjustments to his approach depending on who he was talking to: I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ…When I am with the Gentiles…I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ…When I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ (1 Corinthians chapter nine).

And yet, liberals can also be wrong. Many have looked at Jesus’ ministry and concluded that He was a revolutionary, someone who left the past behind as He tried to establish a new social order. Yet Jesus was quite clear that He fully embraced the past; He said: Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them. I assure you, until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved (Matthew 5:17-18). The Bible urges us to change as we live life, abandoning what is sinful and embracing what is good; Paul writes: let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (Romans 12:2). Christians are expected to change; however, it is not up to us to chart the course. We are called to humbly submit ourselves to the Spirit and let Him lead us to the bright shining future that God has laid out. We who are liberal in today’s world must be careful to not let our enthusiasm for improvement result in foolishly heading in a different direction than the way God is leading.

And you can be both a moderate and a Christian. A moderate is someone who believes that taking extreme positions can be dangerous. Moderates value traditions when they help a person make sense of life, but are willing to discard traditions that have lost their usefulness. Moderates are interested in fresh ideas, but they are reluctant to change things just for the sake of change; they know that novelty never lasts for very long.

Political moderates want to retain the best of our country’s heritage while at the same time redressing the mistakes of the past. Religious moderates see God’s word as the only source of stability in an increasingly chaotic world, yet they are also interested in finding new ways to express that word in a modern context.

Moderates are cautious about change; they try to find a middle ground between hasty carelessness and rigid inflexibility. Moderates find our modern world to be a place of both challenges and opportunities, filled with times when the truth must be rigorously defended as well as times when lost souls must be gently invited to the Savior’s waiting arms.

Moderates can often be in the right. Scripture says, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13). Peter advises, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Moderates try to honor these commands by seeking common ground between conservatives and liberals. Moderates respect the faith of all Christians as a gift from the Savior.

And yet, moderates can also be wrong. Some people are moderates because they are afraid of taking a position; they worry that the decision they make might be the wrong one or might embroil them in controversy, so they put off making any decision at all. Other people are moderates because they just don’t care; there is no passion in their hearts to move them to take a stand. But our Lord does not want us to be timid or apathetic; He compares such people to lukewarm water. In Revelation chapter three our Master calls one congregation on the carpet, saying: I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth! Cold beverages are good; hot beverages are good. But lukewarm beverages are completely unappealing--and so Jesus threatens to spit out, to reject those who don’t have the courage or passion to take a stand in His name. We who are moderate in today’s world must be careful to not let our reluctance to take a firm position result in our faith life losing its passion or commitment.

Conservatives. Moderates. Liberals. Our world seems to be polarized into competing groups. Our political arena is polarized, and as a result time is wasted in squabbling that could instead be used to improve conditions in our country and abroad. Even more tragically, we have allowed polarization to infect the Church. This infighting results in hurt feelings and wasted resources; it draws attention away from ministering to the needs of a world confused by sin and dominated by Satan.

The problem, of course, is that sin infects us all. Christians are just as tempted to form cliques as unbelievers. Christians are just as tempted to acts of pride and arrogance as are people of other faiths. Christians are just as tempted to selfishly insist on getting their own way as everybody else. In Romans chapter seven, Paul speaks of the daily struggle every Christian goes through, trying to resist the evil impulses that rot us from within: No matter which way I turn, I can't make myself do right. I want to, but I can't. When I want to do good, I don't. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don't want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it.

Our only hope for things to get better comes to us through Christ. Jesus is our example—the Son of God insisted that God be respected and obeyed in all ways and at all times, yet He showed mercy to everyone who humbly admitted their failures, and gave them the new start they so desperately desired. Jesus is our Savior—knowing that we could never be the perfect people God expects, He lived a holy life on our behalf and suffered the punishment for evil that our misspent lives had earned us. And Jesus is our helper—He helps us to exchange arrogance for humility, trade unforgiving hearts for ones that reach out to others with mercy and love.

Conservatives. Moderates. Liberals. These labels do not unite us, they divide us. Instead of dividing people into groups, let us instead consider how God wants us to live together as we follow His Son. He wants us to honor the Word of God as pure and holy, an unchanging truth that offers the only stability in a world made chaotic by sin. He wants us to be flexible in how we take this unchanging truth and introduce it to people who have no knowledge of Jesus. He wants us to do this work with passion and courage, knowing that He will bless our efforts and forgive our mistakes.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What's the big deal about forgiveness?

Be holy, because I the LORD your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2).

Why do you need to be forgiven? That’s what Christians always talk about—the need to be forgiven. But what’s the big deal?

Part of it has to do with guilt. Every one of us has reason to feel guilty—we break promises, we say hurtful things, we ignore people who need our attention. Carrying guilt around can be exhausting and depressing. Guilt can make your heart shut down, cutting you off from others. Guilt can even drive some people to suicide.

Forgiveness takes away your guilt. Forgiveness cuts the chains that tie you to past mistakes. Forgiveness gives you a future that’s worth living for.

Another reason that forgiveness is necessary has to do with relationships. We all hurt each other. We get stubborn when we should compromise. We use people instead of appreciating them. When we don’t get our way, we insult others or make fun of them. Such behavior tears down relationships, leaving us bitter and alone.

Forgiveness restores broken relationships. Forgiveness calls a truce to hostilities so that healing can take place. Forgiveness is a lubricant that allows people to work together without friction.

But the most important reason you need forgiveness is because you’re a sinner. God made you and me and everyone else; He gives us food and shelter, family and friends, work and leisure. But He does have expectations—we are to be perfect like Him. God gives us rules to follow so we know what He expects. But we don’t obey Him, not perfectly. We ignore His rules when following them is inconvenient. We don’t pray to Him unless we want something. We act as if He can’t see and hear what we’re doing.

This makes God angry. His punishment is awful and eternal. That’s why you need forgiveness. When you are forgiven, God smiles on you. When you are forgiven, God opens heaven to you. When you are forgiven, you can have confidence because God is on your side.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The monster in the mirror

Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean' (Matthew 15:19-20).

What is the worst monster you can think of? Is it the vampire, who can only live by feeding off of others? Is it the werewolf, who loses all control under the influence of a full moon? Is it the ghost, who wants revenge for the all the hurts experienced in life?

If you think about it, those monsters are us. We act like monsters when we use others to satisfy our own needs. We act like monsters when passion overrides common sense. We act like monsters when revenge dominates our thoughts. The worst monsters of all are human and very, very real.

We see monsters on the news every single day. Terrorists. Serial killers. Kidnappers. Rapists. Our prisons are full of human monsters, but many more run free. People who lie. People who break promises. People who treat their parents shamefully. People who act irresponsibly and then expect someone else to bail them out. Every one of us has a monster inside, just waiting for a chance to bare its fangs and do some damage.

Many people believe that Satan is the worst monster of all. Yet we are often his willing accomplices. We know that the devil cannot be trusted; he lies, spins the truth, and makes empty promises. Yet we listen to him anyway. We do things that we know are wrong because he convinces us that no one will notice or care.

But God notices; God cares. He always tells the truth, and the truth is that sin causes hurt. Sinful behavior undermines love, and God wants us to love Him and each other with all our hearts. God also keeps His promises, and He promises eternity in hell to all who choose sin over love.

God also made another promise. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and ask Him for mercy, God will forgive our sins and welcome us into heaven. Even though we act like monsters, Jesus loves us—loves us so much that He suffered our hellish punishment on the cross so we could live forever in paradise. If you look in the mirror and see an ugly monster, look up to the cross—there you will see the beauty of God’s love for you.

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