Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Caretakers of the earth

Each of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:12).

God made us to be the caretakers of His creation. The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. He told Adam and Eve, "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" (Genesis 2:15, Genesis 1:28).

So how does a responsible caretaker behave? First of all, he remembers who owns the property; he does not use the things entrusted to him for selfish pleasure. Second, a good caretaker thinks about the consequences of his actions; he does not want to spoil any resources that belong to someone else or use them up wastefully.

One example of being a good caretaker is how you deal with food. On one occasion, Jesus fed a crowd of over 5,000 people using five loaves of bread and two small fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted" (John 6:12). How do you treat leftovers? Do you throw them away or save them for a future meal? When you eat out, do you order more than you can eat? Do you ask for a container so you can take the leftovers home?

Here’s another example—consider your driving habits. Do you drive to a gym or recreation center to work out? Why waste that gas when you could get exercise by just walking? Do you make lists before you go on a shopping trip so you don’t drive around unnecessarily? Do you carpool to school or work or out-of-town games?

We waste things because we don’t think or we don’t care. Either way, wasteful behavior insults the God who made everything, including us. When we use things foolishly or negligently, we fail in our duty as caretakers of creation. Thankfully, we can go to the Son of God for help. Christ forgives our wasteful behavior and casual attitude towards God’s creation. We anger God with our laziness and lack of respect, but on the cross Jesus suffered all the punishment that we deserve. With our sins forgiven, we can look forward to meeting our Maker, who will tell us "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:21)

Saturday, March 27, 2010


What do you feel passionate about? What activity demands your undivided attention? What dream occupies your thoughts and keeps you up late for nights on end?

Some people are passionate about their favorite sports team. They scrimp on other things in order to afford season passes. They bounce off the ceiling when their team wins a championship; they mope around for days when a game is lost or a player is sidelined with an injury.

Other people are passionate about causes. Whether it be the environment or civil rights or foreign policy, they attend rallies, write letters, even stand in groups holding up signs to influence public policy. If you disagree with their position, you can expect to get dragged into a long, heated debate.

People get passionate about the things that matter most deeply to them. This passion will shape how a person sets his priorities. One woman might be passionate about her job, with the result that she’s either at the office or has a cell phone glued to her ear; another might be passionate about her children, always on the run with her kids. When a man becomes passionately devoted to a new girlfriend, his buddies might start wondering where he’s disappeared to; a young man, who dreams of a career in the recording industry, will fill his family’s home with the music he is trying to master. In each case, that man or woman is driven by their passion.

On Palm Sunday, the people of Jerusalem showed their passion. Their city was occupied by the army of a foreign power. Their streets were patrolled by men in armor, carrying weapons. These men did not speak their language—or if they did, it was with a thick accent. These invaders did not fit in; they looked different, their sense of humor was barbaric, and some of the foods they liked were revolting. Jerusalem was filled with foreigners who ruthlessly crushed anyone who stood up to them, and the citizens hated it—hated it with a passion.

But recently, the streets were buzzing with news—news that offered hope. Jesus of Nazareth was on his way to the city. Jesus had been in the public eye for some time now; he had made a name for himself by performing some spectacular miracles and teaching with incredible wisdom. Many were convinced that God was with him; some wondered if Jesus might even be the Messiah God had promised to send, to free His people and to lead them.

Not only was Jesus coming to Jerusalem, but he was coming for the Passover festival. Passover celebrated the anniversary of God freeing the Israelites from slavery under the Egyptians; could it be that Jesus was coming to free the Jews from Roman occupation? Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was coming to declare himself as king, rally the people, and drive the hated foreigners out of the country!

Such thoughts stirred the passions of the people; when Jesus approached the city gates, he was met by crowds who greeted him passionately as their new king, a king sent by God to free them from political oppression. Imagine—the citizens of an occupied city publicly acclaiming one of their own as king! Didn’t they fear how the Roman forces would react? Not at all—their passion for God’s representative overwhelmed any fear in their hearts with enthusiastic joy and hope.

But this passionate reaction of the city-dwellers did not sit well with the religious establishment. The various parties that ran the temple and were responsible for religious training were alarmed. Jesus had already earned their hatred, because he dared tell the people that much of their religious education had been wrong. Jesus had accused the religious leaders of misleading the people, and the establishment was furious. How dare Jesus undermine their authority! And now, to make things worse, the citizenry were welcoming Jesus as a possible king? Intolerable! And so the religious elite experienced passion too—a passionate desire to see Jesus crushed, humiliated, and killed.

On Maundy Thursday, passion moved the religious leadership to action. Using one of the disciples as their willing tool, they managed to catch Jesus relatively unprotected and took him into custody with the public unaware of what was going on. Their passionate hatred of Jesus drove them into holding two closed door trials during the night, in clear violation of their own religious laws. They manufactured false witnesses to give credibility to these irregular proceedings. They pronounced Jesus a dangerous heretic, deserving of death.

But there was a problem. As an occupied country, they were not allowed to put anyone to death—capital punishment was solely at the discretion of the Roman governor. So they swallowed their pride and took Jesus before Pontius Pilate, a man who had hoped for a better posting in the empire than as governor of this backward, rebellious province at the edge of nowhere. There, early in the morning, they tried to convince the governor that Jesus was stirring up rebellion against Rome’s occupation and should be sentenced to death. But unlike everyone else, Pilate was not inflamed with passion; he calmly interviewed Jesus and soon determined that the Jewish teacher was no political threat.

Seeing Pilate’s lack of concern got the religious leaders worried. So they hand-picked a crowd and whipped them up into demanding Jesus’ death. Things rapidly escalated until the point that Pilate feared a riot—and a riot would be bad for his future political ambitions. And so Pilate caved in—the governor who should have been passionate about representing the law of Rome was swept away by the passionate hatred of the religious establishment. And so Jesus was condemned to a torturous, lingering death.

In all this, Jesus was quiet, reserved, dignified. Was Jesus unmoved by passion? Not at all. It is only because of Jesus’ passion that the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday took place at all. Jesus was passionate in his resolve to follow his Father’s plan, which would result in your salvation and mine. Jesus had not come to lead a rebellion against the Roman military, but he had come to bring freedom—freedom from sin, from death, and from the devil. Jesus was passionately committed to defeating Satan, breaking sin’s hold on us, and ending the curse of death. Jesus’ passion was the result of his great love for you and me. He was determined to turn us away from the path to hell and bring us safely through the gates of heaven.

And so Jesus had to suffer. He had to suffer so that we would not. God hates sin; God promises to punish sin, and the Almighty never goes back on a promise. Every day, we sin; we ignore God’s laws. We entertain terrible dark thoughts, we let opportunities to show love to others slip away unused, we misuse the resources that God has loaned to us. Every day, by our thoughts, words and deeds, we call down God’s wrath on ourselves.

So Jesus had to suffer. His passionate love for us was so great that he willingly took upon himself all the punishment that was rightly ours to bear. Jesus suffered body and soul, suffered so much that even thinking about it caused him to sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. How terrible must have been that load of suffering, that it should provoke such a strong reaction from God’s own Son? How deep must Jesus’ passion for us be, that he was willing to endure such awful torment in our place?

By suffering for us, Jesus settled your account and mine; with the punishment of our sins diverted to Jesus, our criminal record has been cleared. Thanks to the suffering and death of the Savior, we have been given freedom from responsibility for our mistakes; we stand acquitted, declared innocent by the Ruler of the universe. Sin results in punishment and death; by suffering and dying in our place, Jesus can offer us the alternative of forgiveness and life.

Jesus suffered the torments of hell during those awful hours on the cross, in order to spare us from an eternity of weeping locked in Satan’s prison. Jesus submitted to death and burial so that we could be freed from our graves and live in God’s kingdom forever. Only great passion could move the Savior to go through all this; you are the object of that passion. Jesus’ love and concern for you cannot be measured in any better way than by the bloodstained cross of Calvary; there he demonstrated the full extent of his love.

What are you passionate about? What grabs your heart and won’t let go? For Jesus, the passion He felt was for you—a passion so consuming that it raised him on the cross and laid him in the tomb, all out of concern for you. How do you feel about Jesus? Is he your passion? Or is your passion given to sports, a fancy home, or good times at the bar? Jesus’ passion calls for you; will you fall to your knees beneath the cross and beg forgiveness? Will you pledge to him your undivided heart? Will you thank him for the blood he shed that can wash you clean from every stain? I pray that remembering Jesus’ suffering and death will stir up a passionate response in you.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Working for a better future

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

A lot of people are environmentally conscious these days. But is living ‘green’ the most important thing that you can do?

What about curing disease? Cancer is still a major health problem. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Millions are infected with AIDS. Instead of spending money on ‘going green’, shouldn’t those dollars be spent on medical research?

What about war and terrorism and ethnic cleansing? Each year, uncounted numbers of people are forced from their homes, blown up, or gunned down because someone wants them gone. Instead of spending money on achieving a sustainable lifestyle, shouldn’t those dollars be spent on building the military?

What about public education? Our country’s future as a world leader depends on the minds of our youth, yet many kids drop out of school before graduation, college is becoming almost impossible to afford, and kids in other countries consistently outpace ours in math and science. Instead of spending money on reducing our carbon footprint, shouldn’t those dollars be spent on making our schools better and more affordable?

Most important of all, what about those who don’t know Jesus Christ? Over 2/3 of the world’s population has no idea that when they die, they will suffer in hell forever because Jesus has not forgiven their sins. What good will it be for a man, Jesus asks, if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? If we devote ourselves to saving the world but ignore the souls dying all around us, what kind of response can you and I expect from Jesus when summoned to meet Him face to face?

God put us on earth to serve Him and care for each other. It’s important to use our resources wisely. It’s important to minimize waste, fight disease, work for peace, and educate our children. But there is nothing more important than having a good relationship with Jesus. Do you support mission work with your wallet? Do you pray for your religious leaders? Do you invite others to join you in worshipping Christ, the Savior of mankind? If you want to make the world a better place, this is where to start.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Saving the earth

Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day" (John 5:17).

We can save the world. At least, that’s what we’re told. We can save the world by living ‘green.’ We can save the world if we reduce our carbon footprint. We can save the world if we reduce consumption and recycle our waste. We have to save the world, because we depend on it for life. If we foul it with pollution or exhaust its resources, it will lose the capacity to sustain us.

But how much are you prepared to sacrifice in order to save the world? Are you willing to endure hot summer days without air conditioning? Are you willing to wear a sweater at home during winter so you can turn down the heat? Are you willing to park the car and get around using your feet, a bike, or public transportation? Are you willing to give up consumer electronics like cell phones and computers because they contain toxic metals? Are you willing to reduce garbage by using cloth diapers instead of disposables? Since recycling consumes energy, are you willing to stop buying drinks that come in plastic bottles or aluminum cans? Are you willing to mend clothing and fix appliances instead of replacing them with something new?

Even if you are willing to do all these things, can your actions really save the planet? Can you persuade everyone in your family to live this way? Can you get your boss to make his business fully ‘green’? And what about people living in other countries? Can they all be convinced to live sustainable lifestyles? All things considered, how much impact will your sacrifices really make?

I like to breathe clean air. I like the taste of fresh water. I don’t like seeing litter blowing in the ditch, and I don’t like seeing leftovers being thrown away after a meal. God gave us the responsibility to care for this world and manage its resources wisely.

But I can’t save the world, and you can’t either. What we can do is use what God gives us responsibly. We don’t do it to make ourselves feel good; we do it to honor God for blessing us with His gifts. Saving the world is a job for the Lord; He made it and He cares for it, each and every day. If you trust in God, you can be sure that our world is safe in His mighty hands.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

"Oh, what an imagination you have!" When I was little, a remark like that was borderline insulting; it implied that having an imagination was a bad thing.

Imagination in children used to be discouraged. Daydreaming wasted time; even worse, a wandering mind was fertile ground for devilish ideas. Imagining things was a sign of childishness, something you were expected to grow out of. No adult would be caught dead reading a comic book; science fiction was considered juvenile, the kind of second-class literature that booksellers would put toward the back of their stores.

But you need imagination to be creative. Those kids who read science fiction and watched shows like Star Trek have gone on to create all sorts of scientific marvels. Many advances in medicine have resulted from a person asking the question ‘what if?’ and trying something no one had ever done before. Inventions and new medical treatments depend on imagination.

Sadly, our modern world still discourages imagination. A child can find all sorts of uses for a ball or stick or piece of string. But most toys made for children do not stimulate creativity. One Barbi doll isn’t enough; you need a different one for every career and activity. One video game is about racing, the next is about hitting targets, and a third is about solving problems; but because they are so specialized, each game has a certain way you have to play it in order to win. These kinds of toys don’t encourage thinking ‘outside the box’; they limit creative play.

God gave us our imagination. God gave us the ability to picture things in our minds that cannot be seen or heard or touched. God gave us the ability to respond in faith when He reveals Himself through the words of the Bible. He helps us to see past the problems of today and picture a better tomorrow. He gives us the capacity to imagine what life will be like in paradise, a place where there is no pain or disappointment, no need or want or cares to weigh us down. Imagination is God’s gift to us, especially when life is dreary; encourage it in your children, and challenge yourself to ‘think outside the box.’

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bad things, good people

Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).

Have you ever asked yourself why God lets bad things happen to good people? If you have, I’d like you to consider this question—who, exactly, is good?

Humanists would have you believe that people are basically good; those who misbehave do so because they themselves have been mistreated or are the victim of harsh circumstances. But this is not what the Bible teaches; David wrote there is no doubt that I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5). We enter life completely self-centered; children have to be taught to share and wait their turn, reminded to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

Yet despite every effort to shape us into loving, patient, generous people, we remain self-centered our whole lives through. The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single person! (Psalm 14:2-3) Even when we try to do good, our efforts are flawed and often backfire; Isaiah writes, all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Are you ‘basically good’? How many lies have you told? How many tests have you cheated on? How many promises have you broken? How many times have you lost your temper for no good reason? How many times have you mouthed off to your parents? Jesus said, `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 22:37-39). How well have you done keeping these commands?

‘Why does God let bad things happen to good people?’ That is the wrong question! No one is good—what we should ask is ‘why does God cause anything good to happen for bad people like us?’ The answer is simple: because of love. We deserve nothing from God except His punishment, yet He sent His Son to suffer hell on the cross in our place so we can be forgiven. Everything good in our lives is an undeserved gift, a blessing sent down from heaven to brighten our days on earth. Treasure each and every one of them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The excitement of something new

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree…they will stay fresh and green (Psalm 92:13, 15).

When a book or movie is successful, you can expect a sequel; if the sequel does well, a series will likely follow. But most of the time sequels are disappointing, and the quality goes down with each new release.

There is something special about beginnings. The characters are new, the situation is fresh. The future is uncharted territory, ripe with possibilities. But as each new installment comes out, creators make choices that disappoint or anger their fans. And a lot of the time people just get bored with a series; most TV shows are canceled because their viewers found something new to watch.

Sadly, we treat each other the same way. When a baby is born, we lavish the child with all sorts of attention. We take tons of pictures and brag about the infant to anyone who’ll listen. But as the years go by, the cuteness wears off. When the youth starts misbehaving, proud parents become embarrassed. Pretty soon, talk at coffee break is filled with complaints about trouble with the kids.

It happens in marriages too. When you fall in love, it’s easy to overlook another person’s flaws. But after you’ve been together for a while, quirky behavior starts to become annoying. You find yourself wishing that things were the way they used to be, back when the two of you first got together.

If you become dissatisfied with a series of books or movies, the solution is easy—you start spending your entertainment dollars elsewhere. But relationships are not entertainment; they don’t exist solely to make you feel good. When you get married or have a child, you are making a commitment to another human being, someone created by God with just as much care and love as He has lavished on you. Relationships should be enjoyable, of course, but since we are flawed human beings, every relationship will go through times of heartache. That’s why Jesus died on the cross—to heal damaged relationships with forgiveness. Shutting down emotionally or choosing to walk away only creates more pain; when someone disappoints you, forgiveness can provide you both with a brand new start.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Human wisdom and God's foolishness

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:18-31a).

Are there times when you feel dumb? You look everywhere for your keys before finding them in your pocket. You meet a lady on the street that you’ve known for years, but you can’t think of her name. You put a T-shirt on backwards. You can’t remember where you parked the car.

How many times have you felt dumb after finishing a quiz? How often have you talked with a brainy friend and just nodded as if you understood everything he said? How confident are you with filling out your tax return on your own? At a job interview, have you ever been asked a question you didn’t know how to answer?

How often have you kicked yourself for doing something foolish? Breaking up with someone you cared deeply about over a stupid little argument? Driving your friends home from the bar, even though you were drunk yourself? Buying something ridiculously expensive when you were scraping to make ends meet? Ignoring the warning signs when you should have gone straight to the doctor?

We all do stupid things. We all have moments when brains and common sense are in short supply. We’ve all had someone tell us, "you should have known better."

We operate on the assumption that if someone is properly educated, he will do the right thing. Young people are taught about sexually transmitted diseases with the hope that if they know the facts, they won’t participate in risky behavior. Crimes are punished because it is believed that fines and prison time will stop a criminal from becoming a repeat offender. Reporters do exposés on corrupt politicians and business leaders, figuring that once the word gets out, those people will be stripped of their authority.

I hope you see the problem. Teaching people about the dangers of drinking and driving does save lives, but it comes nowhere close to solving the problem. In spite of all the efforts to teach birth control, teenage girls are still getting pregnant. A top executive might be revealed as a scumbag, but the board of directors may still be quite pleased with his leadership. Being well educated does not guarantee that good decisions will be made.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, even at the best of times, we are not nearly as wise or clever as we think we are. Secondly, we are more than willing to disregard everything we know when the impulse strikes us.

There is a lot of information out there—more than anyone can absorb in a lifetime. Think of all the books that have been written. Think of all the magazines and journals that have been published. Think of all the websites available on the Internet. Of course, much of it is dreck—especially on the World Wide Web. Web-based information can be posted by anyone, and with no editorial oversight. Consider the case of Wikipedia; it is an online encyclopedia where the users decide what is correct and what is not. As if the truth can be established by majority vote!

But even scholarly work can be worse than useless. How much ink has been committed to paper in support of evolution? There was a time when most scientists believed that the sun revolved around the earth and that human flight was impossible. Penicillin, x-rays and the microwave oven all came from happy accidents, not brilliant research. To this day, no one can accurately predict the weather or the stock market, despite claims to the contrary.

What do the thinkers of our age have to say? Ideas that would be laughable if they were not so hurtful and destructive. We are told that homosexuality is normal and natural; psychologists used to label it as a treatable condition, but not anymore. We are taught that truth is relative; what is true for you might not be true for me, and what was true years ago has to change with the times. Scientists want us to believe that humans are nothing special, just a higher form of animal, and that a fetus is only a potential human being, not a person who needs love and respect.

These ideas impact you every day. They are woven into movies. They are featured in the news. Educators teach them to our children. Policy makers construct new laws on them, laws that we must obey.

God calls such misguided thoughts foolish. As soon as we step away from God’s wisdom to start thinking up stuff on our own, sin gets in the way. Sin is with us constantly. It fogs up our minds, making it impossible to see things clearly. Sin hides God from us, leaving our thoughts to wander in any direction except the right one.

Sadly, people who can’t see their way through the mental fog assume that nobody can. When Christians try to share God’s wisdom with them, they push it away as unnecessary, laugh it off as superstition, or resent a viewpoint that conflicts with their own. Paul says, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. This is because of sin; without God’s help, sin won’t let us comprehend the truth. Paul explains it this way: The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

As sinners, we take great pride in our human wisdom. We like to believe that when there is a conflict of opinion, we are right and everyone who disagrees is wrong. We don’t often consider that our knowledge might be incomplete, our wisdom faulty. There are times when it takes an act of God to reveal how dumb we’re being. It is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." God must strip away our sinful confusion so that we can finally see the truth. Truth can only be found through God’s perfect Son; Jesus said everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

Sadly, even when God reveals the truth to us, our sinful desires often lead us to ignore it. We know that God says to be patient with each other and forgive one another, yet when tempers flare we go for the jugular, spewing the nastiest words we can find. Jesus set us an example by worshipping every Lord’s Day, yet when the campground or lake is calling, Christians pack up and leave, not even taking a Bible along with them. The Savior says repent and believe the Good News (Mark 1:15), yet we keep on choosing sinful fun over God-pleasing behavior, and we worry about our problems instead of trusting the LORD to take care of us.

It’s a good thing that God loves us. If He did not, He wouldn’t have sent Jesus to the cross. If Jesus had not loved us despite our foolish ways, He would not have accepted the terrible punishment that should have been ours. If the Holy Spirit did not love us, He would just give up instead of constantly fighting to keep us from believing the devil’s attractive lies.

In Proverbs chapter nine we are told, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. We had better be afraid of making God angry, lest we walk blindly into hell. To avoid such a terrible end, we need to understand the Holy One of God—His Son Christ Jesus. Only Christ can reveal how to avoid God’s anger at foolishly making Him mad; only Jesus can forgive our sins and take away our guilt. True wisdom is found at the cross, where God did something that appears foolish to unbelievers—He sacrificed His own beloved Son, rather than give up on the sinful people who fill this world. Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

Praise the Almighty that He did something so foolish, something so unwise, that you might belong to him forever. Truly, the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I have given you authority to trample on snakes…and to overcome all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19).

When I was young, dragons were evil. Fairy tales always pitted the heroic knight against these powerful creatures, in order to rescue the princess from death or save the kingdom from destruction. But modern fantasy has rehabilitated the dragon. In books and movies, dragons are often friends or allies; some even allow humans to ride on their backs as they soar through the skies.

I wonder why dragons have lost their fearsome image. People generally don’t like reptiles, snakes in particular—and a dragon is a huge snake with wings. Maybe it has to do with the thrill that comes from flirting with danger, the kind of thrill that makes roller coaster rides so popular. Or maybe it’s about a fantasy of empowerment; a person might seem strong and confident if she can ride a dragon without fear of being eaten.

The Bible sometimes pictures Satan as a dragon. In the Garden of Eden, the devil spoke lies through the mouth of a serpent, lies that triggered sin and brought death into the world. God cursed all serpents as a result; many believe this is why most humans have an instinctive dislike for snakes. But the Old Serpent is no small threat; he is hugely dangerous, which is why Scripture refers to him as a dragon—a snake of tremendous size and power.

Even little snakes can be deadly. They can slip into a camper’s tent unnoticed and inject you with deadly poison. Larger snakes are killers too; every year there are news stories about snake owners found crushed to death by a constrictor they thought was friendly.

Despite the fantasy, dragons represent great danger. It is foolish to flirt with risk; making friends with evil will bite you in the end.

We can be thankful that God is on our side. Jesus came to crush the serpent’s head under His heel. Satan wants us dead, but Jesus died so we might be filled with His life. The Old Serpent is still dangerous, but he cannot destroy us—not so long as we have Jesus at our side, grinding the devil’s face down into the dirt.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

People like us

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Stories feature three different types of people. There are heroes, there are villains, and there are troubled characters called anti-heroes. Stories about villains usually result in the lead character getting his just desserts. Such a story is satisfying to read, but you don’t feel a connection with the protagonist. Stories about heroes can be thrilling adventures, but leave you feeling like a spectator—it’s hard to relate to a champion that has no significant personal faults.

It’s the anti-heroes that appeal to us—men or women who struggle to overcome their own personal shortcomings during the course of the story. Characters who wrestle with fear or anger, impatience or despair, overconfidence or lack of self-worth—these kinds of people we can relate to, sympathize with, root for. They struggle with problems that we understand quite well.

The Bible is full of such people. Eve did not respond well to having someone set limits on her behavior. Abraham wanted to trust God, but he was ready to tell lies when he was frightened. Jacob was a sneaky con artist who learned the hard way to treat others with respect. Moses struggled with self-confidence. Eli was unwilling to discipline his sons, and they became a public disgrace. Samson is a classic example of pride leading to disaster. David had everything a man could want, but he wasn’t satisfied and started an affair, then arranged the death of the woman’s husband to cover things up. Isaiah was one of God’s greatest prophets, yet he got so depressed that he wanted to die. Esther was reluctant to risk her life in order to protect her people. Peter was a man of courage and conviction, but he was also foolishly impulsive. John was a man with a tender heart, yet he could be arrogant and judgmental. Paul was highly educated, but it took an act of God to teach him humility.

The Bible is full of people like you and me. They struggled with personal weakness, just as we do; we can relate to their problems. But their stories also reassure us. When they messed up, God was willing to forgive them. When they needed help, God came through for them. God loves us the same way. Trust in the Lord, and you will see that it’s true.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is `the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:8-12).

How could a person be drowning and not realize it? How could a person be struggling to stay alive in shark-infested, freezing ocean water and not realize the danger he is in?

Yet many, perhaps even most people alive on the earth today are slowly dying in such an ocean, and a great many of them don’t even realize it. Yes, there are those who know that they cannot swim, and are panicking every time that they slip beneath the surface and take a gulp of salty water; these are the people who are wrestling with guilt or the trauma of tragedy, and realize that they need help or they will not survive. But there are many more who are slowly going numb from the freezing water and do not feel the life slipping away from them; there are many who do not see the shark slowly approaching unseen, just below the surface—these are the people whose lives seem to be going along just fine, although they do not devote much thought to matters of conscience or to the fate of souls after death.

There are many people who are dying every day in the ocean of their sins.

The tragedy is that rescue is available. There is a strong hand reaching out from a large boat that desires to pull them from the ocean to safety. That strong hand belongs to Jesus, and the lifeboat is His Church. But while there are those who are drowning who are grateful for the offer of rescue, there are so many others who do not realize the danger that they are in and dismiss Jesus’ hand as unnecessary. They don’t realize their need for rescue.

Jesus rescues us from three things. The first is drowning in the guilt of our sins. Each of us has a conscience—the conscience is God’s gift that warns us of spiritual danger. When we do something that hurts others or puts ourselves at foolish risk, our conscience tries to warn us of the danger. When we ignore our conscience, it nags us with feelings of guilt over what we have done. As we fill our lives with selfish and self-destructive behaviors, our burden of guilty feelings grows. Often, we try to alleviate the burden by trying to make up for our mistakes, but there are never enough words of sorrow, never enough expensive gifts, that can remove the memory of what we have done. Eventually, we feel as if we are drowning in guilt, unable to know a moment’s peace.

Jesus rescues us from guilt. Jesus suffered far more than we can imagine to settle the scales for us, to make up for what we have done wrong. Jesus did this on the cross, and He did it so that He can forgive us for our mistakes and lift our load of guilt. Jesus rescues us from drowning and breathes new life into us.

The second thing that Jesus rescues us from is the chill touch of death which wants to drag us down into a watery grave, never to resurface to see light and the warmth of life once more. People fear death. People fear dying because they don’t know what to expect afterwards—will they go to some kind of paradise? Will they be punished for their mistakes by being reborn again into a new body, suffering life after tragic life until they "get it right"? Will they cease to exist altogether, rendering everything that they have accomplished in life meaningless? The fear of the unknown brings fear of death.

Jesus has revealed to us what happens at the time of death. Those who believe in Him as their rescuer will be brought to heaven to live in the warmth of God’s love and care forever; those who had no relationship with Jesus at the time of their death will be rejected by God and sent to hell for eternity, a place that contains no warmth, no comfort, no happiness, a place that is characterized in the Bible as a prison of unending suffering and anguish. Jesus assures us that death is only to be feared if we reject Him as our Lord and Savior; Saint John writes, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (John 3:18).

The third thing that Jesus rescues us from is the control of the great enemy, the devil. Satan rejected God and was thus ejected from the paradise of heaven; in retaliation, this spiritual terrorist dedicated his existence to luring humanity away from God, because the only way that he could hurt God was through hurting God’s human children. He does this by telling us lies, by contradicting or misinterpreting what God tells us is good and right. Satan is like the great shark swimming unseen beneath us, whose mouth is full of lies like row upon row of jagged teeth, eager to eat away at us until we can no longer distinguish between what is helpful or harmful, true or false, right or wrong.

Jesus faced the great enemy head on during His life among us. Satan tried to trick Jesus into abandoning us through several temptations, concluding with the temptation to come down from the cross before He had suffered the price for every human sin. But Jesus resisted Satan—He resisted the enemy by quoting the Scriptures to him and by seeking strength from His heavenly Father through prayer. Jesus rescues us from Satan’s attacks by giving us the Holy Bible as our defense against falsehood, and by enabling each of us to pray to God directly for strength in the face of the jaws of temptation.

Saint Peter said, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Salvation is rescue—rescue from guilt and hell and Satan. And Peter tells us that this salvation only comes to us in one way—through Jesus the Son of God, anointed and set apart to be the Savior of all mankind. There are two reasons why Jesus is the only one through whom we can be saved:

First, Jesus is God’s designated representative. When Jesus’ true glory was glimpsed by the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father said of Him, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5) Jesus is whom the Bible is all about. God inspired the many writers of the Old Testament to write about only two things: why we need a rescuer and who that rescuer was going to be. God had the prophets write these things so that when Jesus arrived among us in the clothing of humanity, people would understand why it was so important to listen to Him. Jesus’ words reveal God; Saint John goes so far as to name Jesus as the Word of God. Jesus said, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father... Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me (John 14:9-11). And after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, God inspired the writers of the New Testament to preserve Jesus’ words for us and to show how the life, death and resurrection of the Lord has meaning for each and every one of us. God reveals Himself to us through Jesus alone, and the Bible was given by God to allow people throughout history to personally listen to our divine rescuer.

The other reason that Jesus is the only name by which we find salvation is that Jesus did what no other teacher has ever done. Jesus not only taught us about God and what He expects from us, Jesus also did the work of saving us from our guilt, eternal damnation, and the lure of the enemy. Jesus did this work through the shedding of His holy, innocent blood on the cross for our sins; Paul writes, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding (Ephesians 1:7-8). John tells us, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). Jesus did what no other great teacher has ever done. The Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius, Joseph Smith—none of these men gave their lives to save the souls of others. They may have been influential teachers, but all of them told their followers that each man has to make his own way through life, each person has to chart their own course and fix their own mistakes. In the end, each of them said "get out of the water or you’ll drown!", but none of them personally pulled a single victim out.

Our world is filled with people who are drowning in guilt, who are sinking into the clutches of everlasting death, who are being chewed to pieces by the devil’s vicious attacks. Satan’s messengers are everywhere: they advise us to visualize our goals and work hard to attain them, and we can be successful. We are told not to worry about the future, but to live each moment to its fullest before old age and death confront us. We are told that no one has a patent on spiritual truths, that there are as many ways to find God—whoever He is—as there are individuals (and if you choose not to believe in a Supreme Being, well, that’s okay too). Two-thirds of this world’s population have no idea who Jesus Christ is, or what He did for them in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, or what He wants to do for them today. Two-thirds of the people in our world have no idea how to get free of guilt, how to face death without terror, how to resist the constant urges of their human nature to indulge in every kind of selfish and self-destructive behavior.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. You and I have that name. You and I have been rescued from sin, hell and Satan’s domination. If your best friend was sick and her car wasn’t working, you’d help her get to the doctor’s office, wouldn’t you? When people are in need, you offer your help, don’t you? I invite you to take stock of the people in your life. Do you have a friend who is tortured by years of guilt? Do you have a relative who fears the approach of death? Do you know a co-worker who struggles with addictive or compulsive behavior? Do these people know that Jesus holds out His hand to rescue them? Do they believe that they have done wrong in their lives, but that all can be forgiven by faith in Jesus’ blood? Have they heard that a life without Jesus is a life of suffering without comfort, ending in a death without hope?

If they haven’t heard of Jesus, if they don’t know what He offers to those who are dying in the ocean of their sins, can you in love abandon them to death? Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. You have Jesus. You have hope for the future. You are given strength for the day. May our Lord Jesus move you to reach out with Him, in love, to those who are perishing.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Quiet time

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

We live in a culture that likes noise. Young people walk around with ipods plugged into their ears. Most stores and many businesses play music softly over the speaker system. Drivers have favorite stations programmed into their car radios. In most homes the television is on all day. Even people who work in the yard often hang wind chimes to tinkle in the breeze.

I wonder if there’s a drawback to all the constant noise. I don’t mean damage to the ears, although that can sometimes be a risk. I’m talking about the need our souls have for regular periods of quiet. So much of the time, life is a constant rush from one thing to another. We don’t make plans so much as we respond to one crisis after another. Many people have trouble getting to sleep at night because of the mental overload; sometimes they respond by using sleep medication.

The mind is a marvelous thing—no computer can even begin to approach what the human brain can do. But it does need regular downtime to maintain peak performance. Sleep is part of the solution—but it is not the entire answer.

We need time to slow down and reflect on things. We need time to put events into perspective so we can make plans for the future. And most of all, we need quiet time so we can communicate with God.

God speaks to us through His word, but when life is hectic, it’s hard to concentrate on worship or make time for Bible study. God nudges us in the right direction, but we don’t notice His attempts at guidance when we are bouncing from one thing to another like a Ping-Pong ball. God is always listening for our prayers, but who can pray when surrounded by constant noise?

It’s important to schedule a break for yourself every day. Go someplace private where you can shut out the noise and hear yourself think. Talk to God in prayer; open yourself to His word. Make ‘quiet time’ an important part of your routine--your life will be the better for it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Getting a great deal

There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

Buying a new car can be a wonderful experience. There are so many choices worth considering; it is fun trying to decide which vehicle is best for you. You have your pick of size, color, performance, and extra features—the decision is up to you. The sales staff also make you feel good—their attention is focused on you and how to make you happy. And when the deal is struck, you get to drive off the lot in a car that makes you feel special. You can’t wait to show off your new purchase to everyone you know.

Some people treat religion like they treat car ownership. After a while they get bored with their church; they want something different, something new and exciting, something that makes them feel special. So they go church shopping. They exmine buildings, songbooks, and preachers. They are curious to see which congregations make them feel welcome. They evaluate worship services for content that appeals to them.

But you cannot shop for religion like you shop for a car. When you look for a car, it’s all about you and your needs. When you look for God, it’s about establishing a relationship with the King of the Universe. Our world is filled with many different religions, but there is only one Supreme Being, and He is accessible solely through His Son. You cannot negotiate a deal with Him—salvation is on His terms, not yours. Thankfully, God offers you an incredible deal—He is willing to give you eternal life and unending happiness for free. No payment is needed; if you would like to make any financial contributions, that’s up to you as a way to show your gratitude. But there is a contract to sign; God expects a commitment from you. The terms are these: Love God so much that you would never do anything to make Him angry. If you are in breech of contract, ask His Son Jesus to forgive you. Pray to God daily; thank Him for His gifts and ask Him to help you deal with problems. In exchange, God will give you peace of mind, protect you from being destroyed by evil, and bless you with eternal happiness in paradise.

There is only one God and Jesus is His representative, the only one authorized to close on a deal. And what a deal He offers you! Sign the contract prepared by Jesus, a contract sealed with His holy blood. Then go brag to your friends about what a great deal you got. Refer them to Christ, so they can all get the same great deal.

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