Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part seven)

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

Today we turn our attention to the portion of the Apostles’ Creed which speaks of Jesus’ humiliation: "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried." We refer to these events as His humiliation, because every step of the way Jesus was denied the respect and privileges that should have been His as the Prince of heaven. Yet amazingly, Jesus endured this humiliation voluntarily; Paul says that although He was in very nature God, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Jesus did not insist on His royal prerogatives, but He set it all aside to come down to earth and be treated shamefully.

Jesus’ humiliation can be pictured as the Son of God climbing down a ladder into a black, nightmarish pit. There are six rungs on this ladder which descends into darkness:

"He was conceived by the Holy Spirit." Ordinarily it takes two human beings mixing their DNA together to cause the formation of a fetus. That Mary became pregnant without the help of another person shows that this conception was truly a miracle. It was the result of God’s promise delivered through the angel Gabriel: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). This miracle fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). And yet, even though it was a miracle from above, Jesus’ conception was the first step down into humiliation; He who filled the universe with His holiness allowed Himself to be confined within the womb of a sinful woman. What humiliation!

"He was born of the virgin Mary." No other event in all of history has resulted in so many songs, paintings and poetry. The Christmas season dominates our year in a way unlike any other holiday or event. More people know the Christmas story than any other portion of the Bible—how Caesar Augustus demanded a census of his people to determine the Empire’s taxable resources; how Joseph took his fiancee on a road trip during her ninth month of pregnancy, only to find the town of Bethlehem swamped with other travelers. How the young couple had to accept lodging with the animals, how the Son of God was born in those filthy surroundings, and how the only people to honor Him that night were shepherds come dusty from the nearby hills. Christmas cards make this event look so lovely, but it was certainly not the kind of arrival on earth appropriate for the King of kings. What humiliation!

"He suffered under Pontius Pilate." Of course, Jesus had suffered much even before He arrived in Pilate’s judgment hall. On the 8th day of His life, He bled as He was circumcised. When Herod tried to murder the Baby, He and His family spent much time on the road as they fled to Egypt. As He grew up in Nazareth, Jesus was probably taunted for being born out of wedlock—after all, who would believe Mary’s story of getting pregnant by the Spirit of God? Further, Jesus was without sin—can you imagine every child in town being told "why can’t you be more like Jesus?" I doubt that the Lord was very popular with the other kids.

As an adult, the suffering continued. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness without food or drink while Satan tempted Him. Most of the religious leadership hated Him and tried to smear His reputation. Jesus did not even have a permanent home; He said, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).

But all this was only a prelude to what Jesus endured under Pontius Pilate. He was put on trial for crimes He did not commit. Witnesses were summoned to tell lies about Him. The soldiers, bored with their duties, decided to have ‘fun’ with Jesus—insulting Him, hitting Him, spitting in His face, dressing Him like a poor man’s king. Pilate decided to make an example of Jesus; on his orders the Lord was stripped of His clothes, tied to a post and was whipped until the bloody flesh hung in strips from His back. Jesus Christ, the Lord of lords, who could have destroyed them all with just one word, patiently endured their brutality and laughs. What humiliation!

"He was crucified." By the law of Rome, crucifixion was only for slaves and hardened criminals. It was a means of execution too shameful and excruciating for anyone except the lowest of the low. But to keep Jesus’ enemies from rioting, Pilate ordered Jesus to the cross. He was forced to carry that heavy piece of wood on His bleeding back through the streets of Jerusalem and out the gate to a hill called the Place of the Skull. They stretched Him out on that cross and drove spikes through His hands and feet, then lifted Him up under the brutal sun to die, whether it be from blood loss, dehydration, exposure or sheer exhaustion. Yet even that was not the end of it; the prominent citizens came to laugh at Jesus’ pain. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.' " (Matthew 27:42) What humiliation!

"He died." After six hours of agony on the cross our Savior cried: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23:46). There is no question that He was truly dead. Before the soldiers took Him down from the cross, one of them ran a spear through His side to puncture His heart, making sure He had expired. He who is the Lord of Life experienced the chilling touch of death. What humiliation!

"He was buried." Yet even in the midst of this confusion and tragedy, there were a few who loved Jesus and had the courage to admit it. Joseph of Aramathea, who had a new tomb nearby, asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body and give it a decent burial. Nicodemus offered to help Joseph with the burial. But since the Sabbath began at sundown and no work would be permitted for the next 24 hours, the two men had to rush Jesus’ body into its resting-place. There was no funeral, no procession, no tolling of a bell, no eulogy. There wasn’t even time to embalm the body properly. Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb, with none of the respect we give to any of our dear departed. This was the final step down His ladder of humiliation.

Why? Why did Jesus submit to it all? This is an important question, because the answer gives Christ’s humiliation meaning for our lives.

Through His humiliation, Jesus redeemed the world. Jesus didn’t go through it all as a publicity stunt to draw attention to Himself, nor was He a helpless victim of circumstance. The humiliation was all part of God’s own plan, a plan Jesus and His Father designed together. Jesus Himself said, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He also said, The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (John 10:17-18). Jesus’ humiliation wasn’t defeat—it was the fulfillment of His own plan to save mankind.

When Jesus began His ministry, John the Baptist pointed Him out with the words: Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) Writing about Jesus many years later, the disciple John asserted: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Paul writes simply, he died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15). That’s why we pour money into colleges and seminaries for the training of pastors, teachers and missionaries. That’s why we bring our offerings to worship and pray Thy kingdom come. That’s why we build churches, call pastors, teach children, speak of Jesus with our friends and neighbors, come to church and bring guests with us. Christ died for all. He died for every man, woman and child; He died for those who are White, Black, Indian, Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern; He died for the people we regard as ‘good’ and the people we fear as ‘evil’. All who are sinners have been redeemed through Jesus’ awful humiliation.

Luther shows us how personal this redemption is when he writes: "He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil." The ultimate significance of His suffering and humiliation is that Christ has redeemed you. When you believe in your heart that you are the reason He endured all this, you have grasped the true meaning of the humiliation. This should move you to smile through the tears—because although you are heartbroken over what Jesus had to endure for you, you are also gladdened to know that by His suffering you have been redeemed.

Redeemed from what? From sin, death, and the power of the devil. Sin is rebellion against God’s leadership, and it results in alienation from God, a guilty conscience, fear, doubt, and a nagging feeling that things just aren’t right. But Christ’s humiliation changed all that. You have been rescued from sin and its terrible consequences because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). You can now enjoy God’s presence in your life; you can approach Him with song and prayer knowing that He welcomes you—all because Jesus has cleansed you of your sins.

Death is a daily part of life—every day you hear obituaries on the radio and see reports of death on TV. We know that we deserve to die, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a). But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23b). That’s why we don’t have to be wracked with despair at a funeral. That’s why we can face death without fear and say with confidence Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? …thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

And Jesus has brought you freedom from the power of the devil. Make no mistake—the devil is alive and fiendishly active. But Hebrews tells us, Because God's children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying (Hebrews 2:14-15). When Christ died, He stripped the devil of his power forever. Luther illustrated it this way. "When the devil says to me, ‘Luther, you are a great sinner,’ I have to answer him ‘You are right.’ But when he adds, ‘Because of your sins you are going to hell,’ I just laugh at him and say ‘You just go back to hell. Christ has redeemed me.’" With our sins forgiven by the Savior, Satan has no claim on our souls, no excuse that would allow him to drag us down into the black pit of hell.

This is the meaning of Christ’s humiliation—He was treated shamefully to save you and me from sin, death, and the power of the devil. 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).

Thursday, July 29, 2010


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

Today I’m going to start a series of devotions about the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a large tent used by Israelites to worship the Lord. It was the place where God made His presence known among them; for this reason it was also known as the Tent of Meeting.

The Tabernacle was built according to God’s design, given to Moses at Mount Sinai. There were three spaces in the structure. An outer courtyard was open to the sky. Inside the courtyard was a large enclosed space called the Holy Place. At the back of this room, screened from view by a heavy curtain, was a smaller chamber called the Most Holy Place. The courtyard was where people came to express their devotion to God. The Holy Place was reserved for priests and their work. The Most Holy Place belonged to God alone.

This floor plan was designed to teach people about our relationship with God. We are evil; sin makes us filthy through and through. God is holy; nothing impure may come before His presence. God stands in the Most Holy Place; we are outside where sin keeps us from seeing or approaching His glory.

But the Tabernacle was a Tent of Meeting; its purpose was to connect us to our Maker. And so God provided the Holy Place. The Holy Place is where the priests did their work—they acted as mediators between God and His people. The design of the Tabernacle taught every Jew that the only way to connect with God was through the work of the priesthood.

Eventually, the Tent of Meeting was replaced by a Temple of stone and wood. The same basic design remained—outer court, Holy Place, Most Holy Place. But when Jesus died on the cross, something remarkable happened—at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). When Jesus completed His suffering, He ripped away the sin separating us from God—through Jesus, we now have direct access to the Lord of heaven. Jesus is our High Priest; He is our Mediator with the Almighty. When Jesus speaks, we hear the words of God; when we pray to Jesus, God hears us. Jesus has replaced both Temple and Tabernacle; Jesus is where we now go to meet God.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Fathers are important. For decades, there have been efforts to convince us that fathers and mothers are interchangeable. Yet study after study has shown that children benefit most from having both a mother and a father in their lives.

Satan understands how important fathers are. The devil works tirelessly to split up families. He pits husbands and wives against each other; in some families, the man and the woman fight over who has the last word, while in other marriages there is tension because the father is lazy or frequently absent.

Thanks to the devil, men and women fight over parenting. Who should take time off from work when a child is sick? Who should take little ones to lessons and after-school activities? Who should attend parent/teacher conferences? Who should lay down the law, and who should offer comfort? If a father feels redundant or unimportant, he becomes easy prey to Satan’s whispered suggestion that he leave.

There is more to fatherhood than bringing home a paycheck. There is more to fatherhood than being the family disciplinarian. There is more to fatherhood than scheduling time to watch your son play ball or your daughter compete in gymnastics. There is more to fatherhood than taking the kids out to dinner every now and then.

God expects fathers to be the spiritual head of the family. If the kids don’t make it to church on Sunday morning, God holds their dad responsible. If the kids don’t say grace before eating or pray at bedtime, it is their father’s responsibility to change things. In many families, mom has taken charge of matters relating to church, but God will hold every father accountable for the spiritual development of his children.

This is why Satan wants men to shirk their responsibilities as fathers. God has given each dad the duty to protect his family from the devil’s attacks, but an absent or lazy father leaves his family without the defense they need and deserve. Fathers, honor the family God has entrusted to your care—insist that they attend church with you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part six)

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (John 10:17-18).

The Apostles’ Creed expresses the faith by which the Church lives. Because of that, all three articles of the Creed are of utmost importance. But if one had to choose which section of the Creed was most important, it would have to be the Second Article—because this is the paragraph that speaks about Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that He is the only foundation for anyone who wants to build a successful life; He is the chief cornerstone that makes the construction of the Church possible.

If you have studied the Bible, you know that in all of creation Jesus is totally unique. No one else is like Him. Our Father in heaven is God, and His nature is exclusively divine. We who are male and female, young and old, all have the nature of Man, and that is all we are. But Jesus alone is simultaneously God and man; He has the natures of both. And it is due to His uniqueness that people have always had difficulty accepting Jesus as He truly is. Some want to deny that He is God, others cannot accept that He is human.

In the years following Jesus’ return to heaven, many people who had seen His miracles were fully convinced that He was God’s Son, but they could not accept that He was at the same time also a man. They claimed that Jesus just looked like a man, the way that angels sometimes did. By the time that St. John was an old man, this false teaching had become such a problem that he had this to say in one of his letters: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist (1 John 4:2-3).

In our modern times, I’m not aware of anyone who doubts that Christ was a human being. What we have today are people who claim that Jesus never existed at all, that He is a myth invented by the church to separate gullible people from their money. Sadly, there are even people with religious training who are preaching in churches who doubt that Jesus is real. But most people in the world do believe that a man named Jesus lived in Palestine two thousand years ago, and that the Christian Church honors His memory.

Most often, what people have a hard time believing is that Jesus is divine. Rabbi Morris Kertzer wrote, "Jews do not accept the divinity of Jesus as the ‘only begotten son’ of God. We recognize him as a child of God only in the same way that we are all God’s children." We would naturally expect a rabbi who rejects Jesus as Savior to also reject His claim to godhood. What should shock us is that more and more ministers in Christian churches promote this same false teaching. For example, Bishop John Robinson, writing for the Anglican Church, said: "Jesus never claimed to be God. We cannot be sure what title Jesus claimed, and we would be wise…not to rest our faith on them." In Jesus’ day, most of the religious leaders refused to believe that He was the Son of God; today, Muslims have joined Jews and liberal Christian scholars in rejecting Christ as divine.

But thanks to the Spirit of God, we are confident in saying that Jesus is both God and Man united in one Person. We confess in the Creed that "I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary." Through the perspective of Luther’s Small Catechism, we get a better idea of what these words entail: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord."

There are many who claim that Jesus is a straw man invented by the Church. But our Creed points to the fact that Jesus is rooted not in myth but in history. He was born; He entered our world in a particular place at a certain time. In the familiar Christmas story, St. Luke gives us both historical events and physical locations that set Jesus’ birth in the realm of fact. Caesar Augustus, emperor of the Roman Empire, was a real historical figure. He commanded that a census be taken of all the people in the Empire for the purpose of recalculating his tax base. This event required each citizen to register in his ancestral town, forcing Joseph to take his pregnant fiancée on a difficult road trip through the mountains of Judea to the village of Bethlehem. The influx of travelers forced Mary and Joseph to sleep with the animals, and it was here that Jesus was born. Our humdrum reality was shattered by a miracle—the eternal Son of God became a man of flesh and bone and blood, filled with human needs and feelings, a man completely ordinary and like us except in one very important detail—He had no sinful impulses darkening His soul. Scripture tells us, he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).

This was no fantasy, no fairy tale. God’s Son came into our world to join us. When He grew old enough to be respected as a teacher, hundreds of people saw him, listened to Him preach, touched Him, ate with him, watched Him sleep, even saw Him cry. When the religious leaders grew jealous of His wisdom and popularity, they dragged Him before the Roman governor where He was whipped and made to bleed. He was forced to carry His cross until He collapsed under its weight. He cried in agony as He was nailed to that cross and lifted high above the ground to die as a public spectacle. When the spear was driven through His side to puncture His heart, both blood and water flowed out, mingled together. He was born, He lived, He suffered, He died, He was buried—Jesus was truly a human being.

Why was it necessary that Jesus become a man? Angels have no parents to honor and obey, nor do they have neighbors who need to be loved. The Ten Commandments do not apply to them, just as they do not apply to God. Jesus became a man so that He could submit to the Law which we have broken; He needed to be a man so that He could step in and shoulder our responsibilities. This why Paul writes in Galatians chapter four, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law.

Why was it necessary that Jesus become a man? By God’s decree, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Scripture warns us that Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law (Galatians 3:10). If we were to be rescued from death and the curse that comes from breaking God’s Law, then someone had to accept that curse and die for us. Since neither God nor the angels can die, Jesus willingly became a man so that He could do it. Jesus exchanged the glory of heaven for suffering on earth, prompting Paul to write: you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Why do we believe that Jesus is God? There are three reasons:

In the first place, the Bible says that Jesus is God. There were people who had known Jesus as a child and watched him grow into a man; when Jesus revealed Himself as Savior of the world, they asked, Isn't this the carpenter's son? (Matthew 13:55) But God the Father set the record straight at the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus took with him Peter, James and John…and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light…a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:1-2, 5)

Secondly, we believe that Jesus is God because He has the qualities of God. You and I change throughout our lives, but the Bible says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We are limited by the reach of our hands and the speed of our feet, but Jesus can be everywhere; He promised, I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). We might be able to guess how a person is feeling, but Jesus can look into our hearts: Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?" (Matthew 9:4) According to the Bible, Jesus is much more than we are; He is God, because only God is unchangeable, only God can be everywhere at once, only God can know everything.

The third reason that we believe Jesus is God is because He did things only God can do. Scripture tells us that Jesus made the world according to His Father’s command. Jesus has the ability to forgive sins, and it is He who will judge the living and the dead on the Last Day. These are things that only God can do. But the most magnificent demonstration of His godly power occurred when Jesus rose alive from the grave. He told His disciples, The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. Jesus raised Himself from the dead—only God could do such a wondrous thing.

It is for these reasons that we believe Jesus is indeed the Son of God. This is why the angels worship Him. But some people remain unimpressed. They ask, "So what? Why is it important to believe that Jesus is truly divine?"

Why was it necessary for our Savior to be God? He had to be, because no mere human being could pay the price for our sins. Psalm 49 says, no one can redeem the life of another by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave. Suppose a young man is convicted of multiple crimes. His father, a prominent member of the community, goes to the judge seeking leniency. He says, "You know that I’ve never broken any law." But the judge, if he is honest, will reply: "Sir, your obedience to the law does not make up for the crimes committed by your son." So it is in our relationship with God. Even if a human being could keep God’s Law perfectly, that obedience could not reach out and save someone else.

But by being God, Jesus could do that which is otherwise impossible. By being God, Jesus was able to overcome sin, death, and the devil. By being the infinite God, the perfect life He lived has unlimited value, value enough to make up for all our failed attempts at keeping God’s Law. By being the infinite God, Jesus was able to accept the hellish punishment every one of us had coming, and to suffer it all during the brief but terrible hours of Good Friday. By being the almighty God, Jesus was able to end the curse of sin and break the bonds of death, thus taking away the devil’s power. Show me any human being who can live a perfect life, fight and overcome the devil by his own power, and raise himself from the dead. Because Jesus is God, He could and did accomplish all three!

Because Jesus is God and man in one, we can be confident in saying: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil." This is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions. Only we acknowledge the humanity of Christ, a human nature that feels our sorrows and loves us as brothers and sisters. Only we acknowledge the deity of Christ, a divine nature that gives His love infinite value and power. Only we acknowledge that it is Christ’s work alone which frees us from guilt and promises us a place in heaven. He is man. He is God. And He calls us "friends."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tolerance (part 3)

Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

Jesus hates sin but loves sinners. It’s a good thing for us that He does, because we make Him put up with an awful lot of bad behavior. We don’t pray as often as we could. We treat God’s name like an exclamation point for a sentence. We disobey our parents, we make threats, we break promises, we cheat, we tell lies, we constantly whine and complain. We don’t show love or respect to God or to each other.

Jesus puts up with it all. Every time we come on our knees to the cross and say we’re sorry, He forgives us and embraces us with His love. He treats us with love and respect, hoping to encourage those qualities in each of us.

Jesus wants us to tolerate sinners, showing them respect and love. Jesus said, Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37). Paul writes, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. To this Peter adds, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). 1st Corinthians chapter 13 tells us, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

But while God wants us to love sinners, He does not want us tolerating their sin. Consider these words spoken by God to His prophet Ezekiel: If I warn the wicked, saying, 'You are under the penalty of death,' but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins—and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins—but you will have saved yourself because you obeyed me (Ezekiel 3:18-19). God curses sin with everlasting punishment; we do no one any favors by tolerating their sinful behavior without comment. Instead, we show our love by sharing God’s truth with them, so they might repent and ask Jesus to forgive them. Hate the sin, but show love to the sinner—that’s how God treats us, and that’s how He wants us to treat each other.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tolerance (part 2)

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Matthew 9:12).

We live in a world that urges tolerance for all. But is there a time when intolerance is appropriate?

The secular world says yes. Our society does not tolerate child abuse or neglect. Our country does not tolerate crime or political corruption. Our government does not tolerate acts of treason. Such behaviors are punished harshly.

But things change over time. 200 years ago, slavery was tolerated and women’s suffrage was not. Abortion used to be illegal. When I was young, no one could sell liquor on Sunday. Things have changed, and things will change.

And that is scary. What will be tolerated in the future? What will not be tolerated in the future? Suppose Christianity is pushed to the side as intolerable; will the value of life be defined by how much money you have or how much pleasure you can get out of your body? Without Jesus’ teachings and personal example, will people love and respect each other or will they brag and use each other?

When we decide what is tolerable and what is not, we need Jesus as our guide. Jesus tolerated sinners, but He did not tolerate sin. Jesus compared Himself to a physician, a man of healing who loves His patients but hates the disease that makes them sick.

Bedside manner is important. A doctor wants your respect and trust, but he must tell you the truth about your condition. The diagnosis is not good—sin will kill each and every one of us unless we undergo radical treatment. That radical treatment sounds scary—give up pride and control over your life; turn your back on anything that is self destructive or brings harm to others. Give your life over to Jesus; let Him guide all your decisions. Trust in His wisdom. Submit to His authority.

Our world values tolerance. But we cannot tolerate that which destroys us. We cannot tolerate sin. So we must tolerate Jesus’ diagnosis of our condition; we need to hear the truth so that Jesus can begin treatment on a willing patient.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).

We live in an age of tolerance. Teachers urge our children to respect people who are different. So how is it that intolerance still exists, is even sometimes regarded as acceptable?

We are asked to respect other religions, but when Christians say that Jesus is the only one who can rescue us from sin and hell, churches are burned and followers of Christ are threatened with violence. We are urged to respect gays and lesbians, but if someone says that same-sex marriage is wrong, there will be a flood of hate mail and negative attention from the media. We are told that in the interests of free speech, every opinion deserves a fair hearing, but when it comes to evolution, all schools are required to teach this theory alone as if it is unchallenged fact.

We live in an age of tolerance. Yet many who promote tolerance are unwilling to tolerate Jesus Christ. You dare not make jokes about Jews or Muslims, but Christians are fair game. All over the world, countries are passing hate crimes legislation—but Christians are never singled out for protection.

The world is filled with advocacy groups. You have watchdogs ready to pounce if a person says something negative about race, religion, or sexual orientation. You have people advocating for the rights of animals and in defense of the environment. But you don’t see advocacy groups jumping up and making noise in defense of Jesus Christ and those who follow Him.

Maybe it’s because Jesus did not defend Himself when He was arrested on false charges, tried unjustly, and sentenced to a death He did nothing to deserve. Jesus was the Son of God, yet people insulted Him. Jesus came to show the way to heaven, yet people would not tolerate His message. Jesus had every right to lash out at those who treated Him so badly; He had the power to end their lives with a word. But Jesus did not lash out; instead He prayed, Father, forgive them. Jesus did not use His power to destroy sinful men and women; He used His power to break the chains of sin that linked us to death and the devil. Jesus responded to intolerance and hate with respect and love. He urges us to do the same.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The content of the human heart

I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).

We are taught to respect other people, regardless of their skin color or social standing, their financial situation or their age. We are told that in order to show love, we must accept other people—accept their ideas and traditions, accept their lifestyle choices and behavior.

We must be taught to show love and respect, because such behavior does not come naturally. Children are born selfish and egotistical—every infant believes that he is the most important person in the universe and should have his needs catered to immediately. If you make a baby wait or tell her no, you can expect lots of big tears and loud screaming.

It goes against our grain to show love and respect to others. We’d rather boss people around than have to ask them nicely. We’re not interested in sharing or waiting our turn. We want to be complimented, not corrected.

Such behavior leads to the forming of cliques. We surround ourselves with people who think like we do and echo our opinions. This gives us the ability to treat others with disdain. We can sneer at people with bad fashion sense. We can throw insults at those who are poor or shy or disabled in some way. We can tell nasty jokes about people with differing political views. We can gang up on someone we dislike for being different, and teach them a lesson through the use of violence.

As we grow older, we discover that words of love and respect can be useful tools for manipulating others. A man can use words of love to get a woman into bed. A woman can use words of respect to sweet-talk a patrolman out of giving her a ticket.

Acting out of genuine love and respect does not come naturally to us. We have to be taught such behavior. We have to see it modeled by others. This is one reason why Jesus came to live among us. From ancient times, God has told us the importance of showing love and respect to others—that’s what the Ten Commandments are all about. But we don’t listen, so Jesus came and showed us Himself what a life of love and respect looks like. When compared to Jesus’ perfect example, our selfish and egotistical lives look empty and meaningless, giving us the desire for something better.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part five)

This God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end (Psalm 48:14).

For the past few weeks, we have been reflecting on what God the Father does for us. He gave us life; He feeds us and takes care of us every day. But there is one more thing our heavenly Father does for us. He guides us through life so that we will not end up bitter and unhappy; He guides us towards heaven so that we will not spend eternity suffering in hell.

Do you realize that God has a plan for your life? Even before we were conceived, the Lord knew exactly what He wanted us to be, and what He wanted us to do. And He is at work in our lives every day, trying to guide us according to His plan.

The Psalmist said, he will be our guide. Joseph is a perfect example of this. Joseph was the 11th son of a sheep rancher living in the hill country of Palestine. It was obvious to everyone that when he grew up, he would get married and tend sheep for the rest of his life. But God had other plans for the young shepherd. Joseph’s father loved him more than all the other children, which angered his older brothers; so to be rid of him, they sold him as a slave to a passing caravan. In this way, Joseph ended up in Egypt, the most powerful nation in the world. Joseph was purchased by a wealthy military officer and quickly learned how to be a valued worker in Egyptian society. When the officer’s wife invited Joseph to share her bed, he refused to commit adultery with her; enraged, she falsely accused him of attempted rape and got him tossed into prison. But while in jail, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams gave comfort to many people, including a member of the royal staff who was being punished for angering the king. In time, the servant was released and returned to his duties in the palace, and when the king began suffering nightmares which no one could explain, the servant suggested that Joseph might be able to help. Summoned to appear before the throne, Joseph explained what no one else could, saving the kingdom from impending disaster. In gratitude, the king promoted Joseph to second in command of the nation, passing over many other advisors who had served faithfully for years.

Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery—but God used that opportunity to get Joseph into Egypt. An adulterous wife hated Joseph for rejecting her advances and got him thrown into prison—but God used that opportunity to introduce Joseph to a member of the palace staff. God wanted Joseph to be a powerful leader in the premiere nation of the world, and in spite of every obstacle, Joseph the shepherd boy became royalty as God intended. And you know what? Joseph never doubted the Lord. When he was reunited with his brothers, they were terrified of what he would do to them, yet Joseph said: Don't be afraid of me. Do I have the right to judge you in God’s place? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people (Genesis 50:19-20).

In a similar way, we can see God at work guiding the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, just to name a few. God had a blueprint for their lives, and He has one for your life as well. And although none of us know all the details, there are some aspects of His plan that we can be sure about.

We can be sure that God’s plan for your life involves getting you into heaven. Long before your birth, God was at work; He knew that each of us would be born in spiritual poverty, and that the country of our childhood would be corrupted by sin. He also knew that unless He did something, it would never occur to us that there was something better elsewhere, a wonderful country where we could go and live like royalty. So God sent His Son to us. Jesus lived a perfect life, was cursed and crucified for our sins, rose from the dead after only a few days in the grave, and ascended back into heaven. All this was according to God’s plan—a plan for Jesus’ life, which has resulted in an offer to replace our slavery to sin with a royal crown in heaven.

But God did not stop with an offer of heavenly glory; He also acts to lead us there. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of getting lost; you know how hard it can be to get your bearings, even with the help of a map. But we can easily find the way to heaven, because the Lord Himself tells us the way through the pages of His Bible. Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). The Spirit moved Paul to say, believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). When some people in Ephesus wondered if simply believing in Jesus was enough, Paul said firmly: it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It is no accident that you are reading this blog. God has been at work—it is by His guidance that you are reading this right now. It is all part of His plan to lead you to heaven. This very minute He is urging you in the right direction when He says, Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20). He has brought you this far; He wants to take you all the way.

We can also be sure that God’s plan for you involves happiness during your life here on earth. A happy life is available to anyone who is ready to follow God’s plan. Many things that you buy come in pieces needing to be assembled; have you ever tried to put such things together without looking at the directions? That’s what many people try to do with their lives. They are overly of themselves or too lazy to read God’s instructions on how to build a happy life. That’s why there are so many unhappy people in the world—without the instructions, they can’t figure out how to build a life that works the way it should.

God gives us five instructions on how to build a happy life. The first step is this: let Jesus Christ be your Savior. If you don’t start with this, you’re never going to find true, lasting happiness. Jesus says, I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). A person can memorize all Ten Commandments and read the Bible from cover to cover, but he will still be restless, dissatisfied and unhappy unless he recognizes that he is a sinner and welcomes Jesus as the only One who can save him.

The second step is: read and study God’s commandments. Not just the big Ten, but everything the Lord has said about how to live with God and your neighbor and yourself. The Lord lists many activities that are not good for you. Don’t use God’s name carelessly in conversation, because it is angers the Lord and undermines your respect for Him. Don’t ignore church or let your Bible get dusty, because they are where you can get a look at God’s plans for you. Don’t disobey your parents, or ignore them once you are grown and gone. Don’t mistreat the person you married, and don’t get a divorce unless your partner has cheated on you or chooses to walk away. Don’t abuse others by injuring them with fists or words. Don’t abuse your own body by eating too much, drinking too much, or misusing drugs. Don’t cheat or steal, whether it be from a relative, a store, or the government. Don’t become so wrapped up in yourself that you miss the opportunity to show love for others. Don’t act as if the things money can buy are more important than those things which are spiritual and eternal.

Perhaps even more important are God’s directions as to what you should do if you want to build a happy life. God tells us to pray to Him and thank Him for His goodness. He wants us to tell our family, friends and co-workers about Him; He especially directs us to train our children in the faith. He wants us to respect everyone in authority. He expects us to help those in need. He tells us to give generously to the work of the church at home and throughout the world. He tells us to love everyone—family, friends, strangers, even enemies. He commands us to forgive everyone, no matter how badly they may have hurt us. Employers are to pay fair wages; employees are to do an honest day’s work. We are to speak well of God and His Church. God wants us to smile and lift the spirits of those who are down. He expects us to trust in Him and not worry about the future. These are only a few of our Lord’s directions, which we must hear and read over and over again so that we won’t forget them.

Of course, it does no good to know all this if we don’t live our lives accordingly—that is the third step. Whenever we ignore God’s plans for a happy life, we end up miserable. Who is happier: the person who is willing to forgive, or the person who nurses a grudge for years? Who is happier: the person who is willing to speak the truth, or the person who has to continually invent one lie after another to keep the truth hidden? Who is happier: the person who tries to make others happy, or the person who only associates with others in order to get some personal benefit from the relationship? Jesus said, Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28).

If all this sounds awfully tough, it is. Because we are sinners, we continually fail to follow God’s plans and we wind up unhappy. So the fourth step is this: when you have ignored God’s rules, ask Him to forgive you and then try again. God is our Father. When we accept Jesus’ invitation to come and say way we’re sorry, He tells us: "Of course you are forgiven. Let’s try again; I will help you." Building a happy life together with God—it’s the only way you can live with confidence.

Questions will come up which have no obvious answer in the Bible. Where should you live? Who should you marry, or should you get married at all? What career should you train for? Should you place an elderly parent in a nursing home or care for that person yourself? The list could go on and on. So the fifth step of God’s instructions is this: pray for the Lord’s guidance. Don’t let Satan trick you into making a hasty, ill-conceived decision. Ask the Lord to guide you and He will.

Don’t know who to ask out on a date? Consider what happened to Isaac. When he was old enough to get married, there were absolutely no women in the area who shared his faith in the true God. So Isaac’s father sent a servant back to the old country to look for a suitable candidate. As he journeyed, the servant prayed for God to guide him. Arriving at his destination, he prayed once more as he watered his camel; no sooner did he finish than a young woman approached the well to draw water. Her name was Rebekah, and a meeting with her family revealed them all to be devout believers in God. She agreed to meet Isaac and she became the love of his life. All because Isaac and his family trusted in the Lord’s guidance. Jesus said, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).

Are you irritable, dissatisfied, afraid or lonely? Your life doesn’t have to be that way—remember the five steps: trust in Jesus as your Savior, study God’s rules for a happy life, follow those rules, ask for forgiveness and a new start when you mess up, and pray to the Lord to guide you.

Of course, building a life is not like building a gazebo in your back yard. There is never a time where you can wipe your hands and say, "there it is—done, and doesn’t it look great!" Building your life according to God’s plan is never finished, and for that reason your life on earth will never be perfectly happy. But God has a plan for your life, and unless you get tired and give up or are too proud to ask for His help, He will fulfill His plan for you. That’s our confidence. That’s why we can join the psalmist in saying, This God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sharing Christianity

Patience is better than pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8).

A missionary was visiting India. He met a native who was a strict vegetarian; this man valued all forms of life and refused to kill in order to eat. The missionary was a bit of a naturalist; he had brought a microscope to India with him. So he made a slide using a drop of water from the vegetarians’ drinking cup. He had the Indian peer into the eyepiece; the microscope revealed all sorts of tiny organisms swimming around in the water the Indian had been drinking. This revelation infuriated the vegetarian; he smashed the microscope into pieces and threatened the missionary with similar treatment.

The Indian man believed that all life is sacred. Being a strict vegetarian was his religion. But the missionary knew that the only way to please God is by believing in Jesus, who died to forgive our sins. So the missionary tried to make the vegetarian abandon his religion by showing that he was killing tiny living things every time he took a drink of water. The missionary meant well, but what he did backfired. He showed the vegetarian a truth that man did not want to face. Instead of abandoning his religion, the Indian grew hostile and unwilling to listen any more.

Nobody likes being told they’re wrong. If we have any trace of pride in ourselves, we resent criticism. We believe that we are right and other people would do well by listening to us. This is why husbands fight with wives. This is why conservatives fight with liberals. This is why pride is a terrible sin. God hates pride, because pride won’t let us admit that we are wrong. Pride keeps us from going to Jesus to be forgiven. Pride separates us from God and damages our relationships with everyone else.

Jesus is the only way to escape sin, death, and hell. He tells us to share this important message with people of other faiths. But you can’t tell someone their religion is wrong and expect a postive response. Peter says, do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). When we talk to someone who does not believe as we do, Paul says to correct their false beliefs with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2). We have no call to be arrogant—we make plenty of our own mistakes every day, and we don’t deserve the mercy that God has shown us through Christ—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:5). Don’t put other people on the defensive; start by telling them how Jesus has changed your life for the better. Invite them to come with you to worship or Bible study. Give Jesus time to soften their hearts, so they become receptive to His Lordship.

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