Thursday, September 30, 2010

Personal experience

God, have mercy on me, a sinner (Luke 18:13).

Whether you’re writing a book, a magazine article, or a speech, one basic rule is this: write what you know. You can do extensive research, but nothing takes the place of personal experience. If you want to really communicate with others, share with them something from your life—tell them what you know.

What do I know about from personal experience? I know about sin. Sin has been part of my life from as far back as I can remember. I remember being in the store, begging Mom to buy me something I didn’t really need, not when money was so tight. I remember doing things Mom said not to do, making her so mad that she lost her temper; at those times, my sin made her a sinner as well.

I’ve been a sinner all my life. Once when I was in high school, I remember Grandma coming to stay for a week while Mom and Dad went on vacation together; when my little sister drove Grandma nuts with her antics, I took sinful pleasure in being Grandma’s favorite grandchild. When some bullies at school wanted to beat me up because I was the new kid, I outsmarted them—but then I sinned by thinking to myself how much smarter I was than them.

I’ve been a sinner all my life, and so have you. I have met lots of people throughout my life, and none of them were even remotely close to being perfect. I’ve met people who treated sex like it was just a part of dating. I’ve met people who were prejudiced against blacks. I’ve known people who did the least amount of work that they could get away with and still receive a paycheck. I’ve known people who could not be trusted to keep a promise and told lies to cover up their mistakes. Everyone is a sinner, including you.

But there’s another thing that I know as well. I know that Jesus is real. I know that the Son of God loves me and died to forgive my sins. I know that Christ rose from the dead, assuring me of everlasting life in paradise. How do I know these things? By faith—the Spirit of God has made me as sure of my salvation as I am sure that I’m a sinner. Faith gives me peace when my heart is troubled over all the ways that I’ve messed up. Faith lets me look back over my life and see how God pulled my bacon out of the fire over and over again. I know that Jesus is my Savior and my Friend. And, I know that He wants to be yours as well.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation (Philippians 4:12).

Childhood fantasies—we’ve all had them. A girl dreams of being a princess, someone who gets to wear glamorous clothes and is waited on hand and foot. A boy dreams of being a cowboy, someone who is free to live life on his own terms with no one bossing him around. We have all had dreams like these—dreams where we are free. Free from worry about money. Free from being having to obey endless rules. Free from the restrictions placed on us by gender or skin color. Free from being held back by a body that is not strong enough, attractive enough, young enough, or old enough.

As children, we were taught that if we worked hard, any dream was attainable. But life has not kept that promise, has it? There are people who want to fly a plane but can’t get a license because they have poor eyesight or a seizure disorder. There are people who want to improve our businesses and government, but they cannot afford a college education. Some are held back by prejudice and discrimination; others can’t achieve their dream job because no matter how hard they try to improve themselves, there is always someone else who is better qualified for the position.

When you were young, you had dreams for the future. Sadly, many of those dreams have not come to pass, and maybe they never will. Instead of being free to live as you want, you feel like a slave—a slave to the clock, a slave to your boss, a slave to your family, a slave to your addictions. Some people just give up—they accept their lot in life, and go through each day like a sleepwalker. Others try to get a taste of freedom by challenging the rules—having an affair, shoplifting, or sampling illegal drugs. A few get so depressed that they end their lives with suicide.

As we grow up, we discover that boundaries and limits are a fact of life. But your ability to be happy does not depend on how much freedom you have. Unrestricted freedom only results in chaos, as everyone pushes and shoves to get his own way. That’s why God gave us the Ten Commandments—they restrict individual freedom so that everyone can live together happily. If you feel as if life has got you trapped in a corner, it’s long past time that you pray to Jesus. If you give Him the chance, He will show you how to find happiness regardless of any restrictions that you feel are holding you back.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wine of foolishness, wine of wisdom

Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. "Let all who are simple come in here!" she says to those who lack judgment. "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding (Proverbs 9:1-6).

Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:15-20).

Have you ever been amazed because someone really smart did something very foolish? Did you ask yourself, "how could someone so bright do something so stupid? Of all people, she should have known better!"

Have you ever been surprised by a child who says something truly insightful? When a person who never finished high school is the first one to see right to the heart of the matter, do you ask yourself: "how on earth did he figure that out?"

We tend to view intelligence and wisdom as two sides of the same coin—but actually, they are two different things. Intelligence is your ability to solve problems. Intelligence has to do with learning facts, finding patterns in that information, and drawing reliable conclusions which can then be used to make decisions. Intelligent people can analyze a crime scene and determine what happened.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is your ability to make good decisions. Wisdom has to do with interpreting facial expressions and tone of voice; it is about understanding the urges people feel because of their emotions, and being able to anticipate how people will react in a given situation. Wise people can interview suspects involved in a crime and determine why the crime happened.

The intelligent motorcycle rider may know that wearing leathers and a helmet contribute greatly to his safety; still, he might choose to ride without them, preferring the wind on his skin and in his hair. The wise person, however, considers the impact on his wife and children should he die in a crash; not wanting to cause them emotional pain or economic hardship, he chooses to dress for safety.

After running all the required tests, an intelligent doctor might suggest a painful medical procedure as the best hope for her patient’s recovery. The wise physician, however, will take into account her patient’s quality of life and ability to tolerate discomfort, before making a treatment recommendation.

The intelligent atheist knows that committing murder carries with it a risk of prison time and maybe even the death penalty; however, he might go ahead with the crime if he believes that he can outsmart the authorities. The wise Christian, however, realizes that breaking God’s Laws angers the Judge of heaven and earth; knowing that there is no way to escape God’s notice or wiggle out of eternal punishment, the wise Christian steps back from committing the crime.

Intelligence can be considered "head knowledge"; wisdom can be called "heart knowledge." Obviously, both intelligence and wisdom are desirable, but if we have to choose one over the other, wisdom wins hands down.

In the Bible, Solomon and Paul speak about wisdom. Both of these men were gifted by God with tremendous wisdom and understanding, so they certainly knew what they were talking about. Interestingly, they both compare wisdom to wine—however, the wine of heaven imparts understanding, while the wine of earth yields only foolishness. The wine from heaven builds up, the wine made on earth destroys. Let’s consider these two wines.

The Bible does not condemn the production or drinking of wine. Wine was one of the things God accepted for sacrifice at His altar. Psalm 104 names wine as one of God’s gifts to those He loves. In the New Testament, Paul recommends wine as something to settle an upset stomach; and of course Jesus used wine when He gave us the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

But the Bible does condemn drunkenness. The abusing of alcohol caused problems for one of Noah’s sons, who did not handle his father’s inebriation appropriately. God forbade His priests from working in the Temple if they were intoxicated, promising them death if they disobeyed. In Proverbs chapter 20, Solomon warns against the dangers of alcohol: Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. And Paul says, Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

In fact, the Bible often uses wine as a word picture to illustrate God’s curse on sin. In Psalm 60 David says to God, You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger. Speaking to the Israelites, Isaiah said: You have drunk the cup of the LORD's fury. You have drained the cup of terror to its dregs (Isaiah 51:17). Most notable are Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).

Why does God hate the misuse of alcohol? Because it replaces wisdom with foolishness. When a person is drunk, she stops thinking about how others feel. She just blurts out whatever is on her mind, without considering the impact or consequences of her words. The wise person is thoughtful in what she says and how she says it, hoping to build others up instead of causing needless emotional pain. Too much alcohol makes it impossible to think clearly. How many fights happen after several drinks have been consumed? How many friendships have been ruined by thoughtless words let loose by alcohol? Misuse of wine and other intoxicants invariable leads to sinful behavior, words and deeds which anger God.

What God wants us to crave is the wine of wisdom. Both the wine of wisdom and the wine of foolishness have this in common: they tear down barriers of reluctance. Earthly wine, the wine of foolishness, tears down a good barrier—our reluctance to speak impulsively and carelessly. But heavenly wine, the wine of wisdom, tears down a bad barrier—our reluctance to speak with another human being about things that are deep and personal and truly important.

Wisdom builds relationships, because it helps us look at each other intimately; wisdom looks past the external and focuses on the soul. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in order to sense when a soul is in pain; a child can see hurt in the eyes as well as any adult. This is why Jesus said, I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). A child is not distracted by clocks and sales figures and shaking the right hands to get elected; in many ways, it is easier for a child to be wise than an adult.

Wisdom is essential for relationships to flourish. It should come as no surprise, then, that Paul speaks of Jesus as being God’s wisdom: you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). Jesus is the ultimate relationship expert. No one could fool Him; Jesus could tell immediately when people were lying—to Him or to themselves. In fact, Jesus’ primary reason for coming to earth was to repair broken relationships. People forced to live alone in the wilderness, because of highly contagious disease, were cured and restored to their families. People who were given the cold shoulder by respectable folks, because of sins they had committed, were forgiven and found a new family among Christ’s followers. Jesus had the wisdom to see into every heart and determine exactly what that person needed from Him to become happy and content.

But more than anything else, Jesus’ wisdom showed Him that we could never be happy permanently unless our relationship with God was fixed. Because we were drunk with sin, we could not see how our behavior was angering God and leading us to hell. So Jesus, in His wisdom, put us first—He suffered His Father’s punishment of our sins so that we could look forward to eternal happiness instead of eternal pain. Was suffering and dying in our place the smart thing to do? Atheists don’t think so. But that was irrelevant to Jesus—His wisdom dictated His loving actions.

Because of His sacrifice, our sins are forgiven. Because we are His, Jesus now shares His wisdom with us. He has torn down the barrier separating us from God; He enables us to understand His Father’s heart, and shows us how to please the One who created us and takes care of us every day. Jesus also tears down the barriers separating us from each other. The wine of His wisdom removes our hesitance to connect with others in a profoundly personal way. The wine of heaven takes away our fear of looking into another person’s eyes and seeing the pain in them; the wine of wisdom loosens our reluctant tongues so that we tell others of Jesus’ love, His sacrifice, and the need to replace love of sin with love for Christ.

The pleasures of this world can be intoxicating, whether it be sex or money or popularity or alcohol. But wisdom is not found in these things—if love for them consumes you, then your decisions can only be foolish and result in hurt. But if you drink deeply from the wine that Jesus offers, the Wisdom from on High, then your decisions can please God, benefit your neighbor, and give you satisfaction and happiness that will last forever.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not depend on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

As you live each day, you are faced with constant decisions. What should you wear? What should you eat? How should you react to an angry customer or family member? How should you spend your money? What should you do with your free time?

We are all creatures of habit. Each of us has favorite styles and colors that influence how we dress. Each of us gravitates towards certain foods, despite our intentions to stick with a balanced and nutritious diet. Each of us has a preferred way of dealing with problem people—some lean towards using a delicate touch, while others tend to steamroller their way through every confrontation. Each of us treats money differently—some see it as a limited resource to be managed carefully, while others use it as a way to escape the pressures of life by having fun. Some of us use leisure time to get projects done; others let the moments slip away by just relaxing.

But what shapes your habits? What influences your decisions? A desire for constant fun will make some people jump from one job to another as soon as they get bored. A desire for personal recognition will make some people put in long hours at the office, hoping to be promoted. A desire for intimacy leads some people to have sex early in a relationship instead of waiting until marriage. A desire for independence often results in marriage partners heading to divorce court.

Your decisions reveal what’s most important in your life. People who dress provocatively want to be noticed and appreciated for their looks. People who get into frequent arguments believe that they know what’s best and should be listened to.

But how much does your relationship with Jesus affect your decisions? If He is important to you, do you pray for His guidance before settling on a course of action? If you think of Jesus as your Lord and Master, do you make sure that your decisions reflect His priorities? Jesus viewed money as a tool to support church work and care for the needy—do you? Jesus viewed time as a limited resource that was to be used for showing love to others—do you feel the same way? Jesus believed that nothing was more important than honoring God by submitting to His authority—do you agree? What do your decisions say about your priorities?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It was just a little mistake

Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).

It was just a little mistake. Usually, Roger had an amazing memory. If his wife said to get something from the store on the way home from work, he never forgot. He was ready with a gift for every birthday on the calendar. But the one thing he did forget was his wedding anniversary. It was just a little mistake, but Roger paid a heavy price for it.

It was just a little mistake. The company was putting a new satellite into orbit. Everything was tested and triple checked. But one small wire was loose, and during lift off the connection came apart. Once in orbit, the multi-million dollar satellite refused to work.

It was just a little mistake. Henry had trusted his accountant to do his taxes for over 20 years. But this year, Henry’s tax-man made just one a little mistake: he put a decimal point in the wrong place. Imagine Henry’s surprise when the IRS called to schedule a complete audit.

It was just a little mistake. Karen was driving home late at night after an exhausting day at work. Her cell phone started ringing; fumbling in the dark, she dropped it to the floor. When she looked back up, a deer was standing in the road not ten feet in front of her. It was just a little mistake, but Karen’s inattention to the road landed her in the hospital and her car at the junkyard.

It was just a little mistake. For a brief moment, we lose control, say something stupid, waste money on something that we can’t afford. We take one drink too many, we flirt with a stranger even though we’re married, we tell an off-color joke to someone who is easily offended. But we console ourselves with the thought that it was just a little mistake; no harm done, right?

Sadly, even little mistakes result in big consequences. There is no such thing as a small or harmless sin; God expects perfect behavior, and even the smallest failure provokes His anger and earns His punishment. Thankfully, Jesus died to forgive all sins; if you take your mistakes seriously, you will find refuge in His arms.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part fourteen)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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 3:14-18).

Some years ago, death claimed a woman who was loved and respected by the members of her congregation. Many tears were shed during that funeral, but no one wept as much as the woman’s grieving husband. That evening, one of the grandchildren had a question for her mother: "Why did grandpa cry?" The mother replied, "I guess it’s because he will have to live alone now. Grandma can’t be with him anymore." After thinking about this, the little girl asked: "Why does God have people born when He knows they’re going to die?" That’s a question all of us need answered.

First of all, God creates people so that they can be a blessing to others during their years here on earth. Think of all the individuals who have brought goodness into your life—parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, friends and strangers. So many people have touched your life with an act of kindness, a word of encouragement, a hug of comfort. And so it is with you—by your life, your work, and your support of church and charity, you have brought goodness to the members of your family and your community, to casual acquaintances and to people you’ve never even met. God has blessed you, and made you a blessing.

Secondly, God continues to fill this world with new generations of people so that they might live in His kingdom forever. That’s the main reason. God does not create us that we might die, but that we might live. You see, when that grandmother died, she didn’t really die, she just moved on to a place which we call heaven. To properly understand this, remember that you and I are made up of two parts: the body and the soul. When the first man was created, God began by forming a body from the dust of the ground. Then the Lord breathed into that body the spirit of life, and Adam became a living being (Genesis chapter 2). Every person is made of these two parts. When death occurs, it separates the soul from its body. The body is laid in a grave and soon returns to dust, but the spirit goes back to the God who gave it. At the moment of death, the soul of each Christian is lifted up to heaven, where it remains until the day when Christ returns and the dead are raised. On that wonderful day, our bodies will be reborn in perfection and every believer will live with Christ, body and soul united once again and forever after. Though the body dies, the soul lives—and in the end, both will live together once more—this helps us understand Jesus’ words to Martha: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26). That deceased grandma lives. All who died with faith in Jesus are alive. If you die trusting in Jesus’ love and care for you, you will wake up in heaven. We believe this. Whenever we recite the words of the Apostles’ Creed, we conclude with this hope: "I believe in the life everlasting."

You might recall the famous atheist Madyln Murray O’Hare. During one interview, she was asked about life after death. She responded as follows: "Of course, I don’t believe in any life after death. We are just like all other animals. When we die that’s the end." I feel sorry for everyone who agrees with such a bleak philosophy. How blessed we are! It is by God’s grace that we have hope in life everlasting. Our hope is not wishful thinking or an attempt to avoid ugly reality. Death is not the end. There is life eternal for all who believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin, death and hell.

He gave His life to make our eternal life possible. The words of Jesus which began this message were spoken to Nicodemus. At that time the Jewish Church had a Supreme Court, and Nicodemus was one of its members. He had heard about Jesus, a man who was popular because of His teachings and miracles. So one night Nicodemus visited Jesus in private to find out just who He was and what His teaching was all about. During that evening together, Jesus emphasized two very important truths: first, all people are sinners and desperately need to be saved from God’s punishment. Second, Jesus is the Savior, the only one who can offer rescue from the grave where all sinners end up.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Nicodemus knew the story of the serpent well, even though it had taken place over a thousand years earlier when Moses led God’s people from Egypt to Palestine. In spite of the Almighty’s loving care and protection, the Israelites had repeatedly grumbled about their situation, even threatening to give up on the Promised Land as a hopeless dream and return to slavery in Egypt. Suddenly their campsite was overrun with poisonous snakes; thousands were bitten and hundreds died. When the terrified people pleaded with God for mercy, He told Moses to make a snake out of brass and lift it up on a pole where it could be easily seen. The Lord promised that anyone who looked at the brass snake would not die from snakebite. All who believed in God’s promise looked up at the pole and lived.

"So", Jesus said, "I must be lifted up." Of course, He was speaking of the day that He would be crucified. As the serpent was lifted up on a pole, so Jesus was lifted up on a cross. As everyone who looked up at the snake continued to live, so everyone who looks up to Jesus will receive life everlasting. Our Savior promised, whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. We can live in spite of sin’s attempts to poison us, when we have faith in God’s promise of salvation.

We believe in everlasting life because God gave His beloved Son to die for us. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. During World War II, America was fighting on multiple fronts. A father who had watched his son put on a uniform and fly overseas remarked sadly: "It isn’t easy to send him off when you don’t know where he’s going nor what’s going to happen to him." It wasn’t easy for our Father in heaven to send His Son to this miserable earth, knowing exactly what was going to happen to Him. Jesus would be ridiculed by the Church that should have welcomed Him. He would be condemned by the legal system that should have honored Him. He would be rejected by the people whom He came to save. In spite of knowing all this would happen, God the Father sent His Son anyway, because He loved the world—loved us. God sent His Son to face suffering and death for our benefit, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

King David rejoiced in the promise of life everlasting; the 23rd Psalm concludes with this hope: goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Jesus said, Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). In the 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of our hope in the face of death: Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…Death has been swallowed up in victory. Peter tells us that God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4). St. John sums it up when he writes, this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son (1 John 5:11). David, Jesus, Paul, Peter and John—these are only a few of the many voices in the Bible who reassure us of life everlasting.

How do you describe heaven to your children? Our words always seem inadequate. How do you describe ice to a man who has lived his life in a desert? How do you describe heaven using earthly language? Scripture begins by telling us what we will not have in heaven—there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death, no more tears. There will be no worry or sadness, fear or hatred, depression or loneliness. Instead, the Bible promises that we will have pleasure and joy, because we will join all the faithful in being close to God forever. Jesus described heaven like a wedding banquet where we celebrate coming home to live with our God; it will be like a holiday gathering and family reunion rolled into one, a time of love and companionship that is never marred by angry words, bad behavior, or a time when you have to leave.

These blessings were intended for everyone—Peter writes, The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But human beings are strong-willed, stubborn, and rebellious. In spite of God’s offer, some prefer to live life on their own terms. They feel no guilt for their actions and see no need for a Savior. Those who reject Christ also reject life everlasting. Jesus warned, whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. As tragic as this is for the unbeliever, the result is joy for us because heaven will be free from anyone who loves fighting, gossiping, cheating or being rude. None are allowed to spoil paradise with their sins; either you come to Jesus to be cleansed of your impurities, or you are denied entry into God’s eternal kingdom.

Heaven is for believers. Your race and ethnic background make no difference. It doesn’t matter if you were a success in life or a failure. Your age and intelligence are irrelevant. It doesn’t even matter if you were a ‘good’ person or a ‘bad’ person—so long as you face death trusting in Jesus’ mercy, eternal life is yours.

Now, what do we do about it? Suppose you were on an ocean cruise when the ship suddenly sank, taking all the lifeboats with it. You find yourself floating in the water with a bunch of other survivors, but there is nothing to hang onto and everyone is in danger of drowning. Then a ship comes along and drops a lifeboat; quickly you haul yourself in. But now what would you do? Would you row back to the ship to be pulled up, dried off, warmed up? Or would you first try to help other survivors get into the lifeboat with you?

We are drowning in an ocean of sin. God has sent us the lifeboat of His Church. You have been pulled from the dangerous water; soon you will be lifted up into heaven where you will be dried off and made comfortable. But before this happens, don’t you feel compassion for those still in the cold water, slowly losing hope as death approaches? Will you reach out and invite them to join you in the lifeboat, so that when you are lifted to heaven you won’t regret leaving them behind? How much do you care about the unbelievers in your life—people who are relatives, coworkers, friends and neighbors? You feel compassion when the evening news shows you the victims of disaster in other places—but do you feel the desire to pull them into the Church so that their suffering might be replaced with joy?

What are you doing to pull unbelievers into the Church, that Christ might lift them to heaven? Do you support mission work? Do you encourage people to consider working for the Lord professionally as pastors or teachers? Do you speak of Jesus’ love with others? Do you pray ceaselessly for the advancement of God’s kingdom? Praise the Lord if you do these things! But the time is short—every day people die and are condemned forever. Keep on working, giving, praying. There is life everlasting, and it is not just for us, but for everyone we help bring into God's lifeboat.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19).

We have a pretty casual attitude towards death. In the summer we are quick to swat flies and mosquitoes; in the winter, we hope that the cat will dispose of any mice that get into the house. When we hit a deer while driving, we’re more concerned with the state of our car and the health of our passengers than we are with the condition of the animal. Hunters see death as a sport. Most of us don’t think twice about where the meat on our plate came from. We can drive past a cemetery and barely spare it a passing glance. We can listen to reports of people killed on the news, and not lose our appetite while eating a meal.

We often treat death casually because it is a part of everyday existence. Every day, people die in accidents. Every day, sickness steals another life. Farm kids are frequently exposed to the bodies of dead and dying animals; big city kids sometimes hear gunshots in the night or see bloodstains on the sidewalk.

We make gory death a dazzling special effect in video games and horror movies. Kids feel no shame for tipping over grave markers. We even dedicate a major holiday in October to the theme of death and dying. Many wear Halloween costumes decorated with copious amounts of fake blood.

Death goes on all around us. People and animals, birds and fish, insects and plant life—each day, they contribute to a massive death toll that we hardly even notice. We flirt with death by doing dangerous things. We get a thrill from death in many forms of entertainment. Frankly, there is so much death in the world that we’ve grown numb to it.

That is, except when it touches us personally. Death is a very different matter when a favorite pet has to be put to sleep. Death is a terrible thing when it claims a loved one. Death seems huge and monstrous when it threatens to put us in the ground.

Death is an inevitable fact of life. But death doesn’t have to make you afraid or empty your life of contentment. Jesus has the power to bring the dead back to life. He proved that power by rising alive from His own grave after dying to forgive our wrongdoing. Jesus is the Lord of Life; as His friend, you can overcome death as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I was a stranger and you invited me in (Matthew 25:35).

We like to stereotype people. Stereotyping helps us to size up a stranger quickly so we know what to expect from them. I’m sure you’re familiar with all kinds of stereotypes. Irishmen like to fight. The British are stoic and reserved. Mexicans are lazy. The French are rude. You can’t tell what a Japanese man is thinking. Germans are good with technology. Native Americans are prone to drunkenness. People from India are well educated. Politicians and lawyers are crooked. Brunettes are smarter than blondes. Christians don’t have any fun, and they don’t want anyone else to have fun, either.

Did some of those stereotypes make you angry? They should. Every human being is a unique person with his own ideas and ways of doing things. Every person is a complex web of strengths and weaknesses, capable of brilliance one moment and utter stupidity the next. You cannot understand someone by hanging a label on them; they need time to get to know.

Sadly, most people are stingy with their time. They don’t want to make the effort to understand a stranger. We want everything to go fast. We aren’t willing to wait until marriage to participate in sex. We aren’t interested in a reading a book that looks too thick. We want pain to go away the instant that we swallow a pill. And when it comes to other people, we want quick answers to the question, 'should I get to know them?' So we look at hair and wardrobe; we notice skin color and language. In a few seconds we’ve assigned a stereotype, and use that snap judgment to strike up a conversation or just walk away.

My friend, you cannot use stereotypes to decide who is worthy of your time. Everyone is different; you cannot make accurate generalizations based on race or culture or even religion. Most Muslims are not terrorists committed to Jihad. Most Jews are not financial wizards out to swindle you. And Christians come in all types as well. Some of us are outgoing and friendly; others are shy or reserved. Some Christians grab life with both hands and find joy in every minute; others keep to themselves and committed to hard work. But we all have one thing in common—we know that Jesus loves us. He forgives us for being blind to our own faults. He forgives us for making mistakes, whether they are small or colossal. He knows each of us individually, and teaches us to respect each other despite our differences and failures. He urges us to befriend one another as He has befriended us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part thirteen)

A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out (John 5:28-29).

Have you had your daily dose of disappointment this morning? I’m referring to the news. Whether it comes by newspaper, radio, television or the Internet, the journalists of the world feed us a constant diet of fear and sadness. We are told of poverty, abortion, rape, mental illness, substance abuse, crime, war, and destructive weather. Everywhere you look, people are busy pointing fingers at each other instead of trying to find solutions. For many, life seems like nothing but an exercise in futility.

But we who trust in God feel differently. That’s because we don’t just get our news from journalists, we also get Good News from the Bible. This being the case, we can see a great future ahead for everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior. Some people are nearsighted—they can’t see anything beyond this world, with all its complexities and disappointments. We, however, are farsighted—we know that this world is filled with problems, but we can see beyond death into a new world. Like Abraham, we look for a home whose Designer and Builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

We believe in the resurrection of the body, but many in our world do not. I think this is why most have become so pessimistic. You’ve probably seen T-shirts that say something like this: "Life’s a hassle, then you die." Without hope for life after death, where can you find something positive to focus on when you’ve lost your job, your family, or your health?

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Unbelievers are cynical: "How do you know what’s beyond the grave? Have you been there?" No, we haven’t been there—but we know someone who has. Jesus the Son of God came down from heaven to reveal what awaits us after death. It is Jesus who says a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out. Notice what prompts the resurrection: the dead will hear his voice and come out. When God speaks, things happen. In the beginning, God said let there be light and there was light. God spoke and the earth was filled with grass, trees, flowers and fruit; God spoke and the land was filled with animals, the sea with fish, and the sky with birds.

Whenever God speaks, things happen. During a night sailing across the Sea of Galilee, a storm blew up. The ship was in danger of sinking, and the disciples cried to Jesus for help. The Son of God spoke to the storm—Quiet! Be still!—and peace settled over the lake (Mark 4). There was a religious leader named Jairus, whose 12-year-old daughter became gravely ill. The distraught father went to Jesus and pleaded for Him to come and heal the little girl. Yet even as they were speaking, word came that Jairus’ daughter had died. Jesus told the man not to fear—all would be well. When they reached the house, it was filled with crying mourners. Jesus cleared them out, took the girl by the hand, and spoke to her: My child, get up! And at Jesus’ command, Jairus’ daughter was returned to life (Luke 8). When God speaks, things happen—wonderful things! And on the last day, Jesus tells us that God will speak and the dead shall rise. This is why we believe in the resurrection of the body.

The resurrection is taught throughout the Bible. For example, listen to the hope voiced by Job: I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes (Job 19:25-27). In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (chapter 4), he has this to say about the last day: Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise. The men and women of the Bible believed in the resurrection of the dead, and so do we.

Jesus said, all who are in their graves will…come out. Not everyone wants to be resurrected. A queen in Africa had her tomb sealed in solid concrete to prevent being summoned from the grave. Many atheists demand that their bodies be burned and their ashes scattered, hoping that if there is a God, He will not be able to reassemble their bodies at some future time. Such people have no concept of God’s almighty power. The queen in Africa, the atheist in America, the baby who was stillborn, the grandfather who died after a century of life—all will hear God’s voice and stand alive on the earth once more. Whether you believe it or not, the dead shall be raised—every one of us.

In 1st Corinthians chapter 15, Paul devotes much ink to this subject. At one point he poses the question: what sort of body will these resurrected people have? Even though both believers and unbelievers will be raised, there will be a huge difference in the type of body each receives. Speaking of the unbelievers, Isaiah says (chapter 66): their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind. You’ve seen horror movies with zombies, maggots infesting their moving corpses—that’s the image we get from their worm will not die. But these bodies will never collapse in final decay—although burned by the fires of hell, they will continue to exist, feeling pain forever: nor will their fire be quenched. No wonder the prophet says, they will be loathsome to all mankind. The sin that consumed their souls in life will disfigure and eat away at their bodies everlastingly.

But our bodies will be completely different. Freed from sin by Jesus’ mercy, our bodies will have none of the decay brought by sin, meaning that we will be freed from every birth defect and impediment of age. Paul assures us that Christ will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). While we live on earth, we are filled with sin, and that sin weakens us, deforms us, and fills us with aches and pains. In the resurrection there will be no pimples, no arthritis, no diabetes; there will be no need for glasses or hearing aids or wheelchairs. Our bodies will be changed and made like the glorious body of Christ. Do you remember what we are told of Jesus’ Transfiguration? One day He took Peter, James and John up on a mountain where His appearance changed. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:2). When we are raised, our bodies will be made pure, holy, and perfect in every way, just like Christ’s body.

Dr. Michael Faraday was the English physicist who invented the electric motor and the generator. One day a young man working in his laboratory accidentally knocked a golden goblet off a shelf into a vat of acid. Before it could be retrieved, the goblet dissolved completely. When the young man told Faraday what he had done, the doctor told him not to feel too badly. When some chemicals were added to neutralize the acid, all the gold settled at the bottom of the tank. Dr. Faraday had this metal shaped into another goblet—a goblet which was more beautiful than the first, because now all the impurities and dirt had been removed.

So it will be with the resurrection of your body. As that goblet disintegrated in the acid, so will your body disintegrate in the grave; as the goblet was remade free from impurity, so will Christ rebuild your body freed from any trace of sin. Paul explains it this way: Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength…For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into bodies that are immortal (1 Corinthians 15). This is why we can have hope when we think about the future!

But when will the day of resurrection come? I don’t know—no one does. Jesus said: No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36). If anyone claims to know when Christ will return, he’s a liar—only God knows the day He has set.

When that day comes, God will speak; everyone who has ever lived will hear His voice and rise from the dead in response to His summons. Don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise; don’t lose heart as you wait. Peter wrote, the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus said that there will be no mistaking the day of His return: as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes (Matthew 24:27).

Okay, so God has something wonderful up His sleeve for us. What’s He waiting for? Why doesn’t He come right now? The reason God waits is because He is merciful; Peter writes: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus took His disciples up to the Mount of Olives. He spoke to His friends of many things, including the day when the beauty of Jerusalem would be destroyed by war. It was then that the disciples asked Him, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? Jesus did not speak of a bright future filled with peace; instead, He said that the days ahead would be filled with false religions, hatred, attacks on Christ’s followers, wars and threats of war, a widespread love for evil behavior, and great numbers of people abandoning the church. But then He added these significant words: this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24).

Salvation will be offered to all. Every nation will get the news that sinners can avoid decaying forever in hell. The entire world will hear that Jesus died for all sins, and that those who believe in Him can have everlasting life. This is why God waits—He waits because He knows there are still some who will become citizens in His eternal kingdom. Maybe He is waiting for someone you know. Maybe He is waiting for someone in Africa or Iraq or North Korea. He waits because He is merciful, giving everyone the opportunity to believe in His Son and thereby escape hell’s grasp. But the day is set when it will all end—for he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed, Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31). At the appointed time, God will speak and our dead ears will hear, our dead legs will push us from the darkness into the light of a glorious new day.

The future? It looks wonderful! So when someone complains that everything looks hopeless, tell him about Jesus; tell him to look beyond this world and beyond death. When you become tired of it all and life seems to serve no purpose, look ahead to the tremendous future God has prepared for those who are friends of Christ. Live life with enthusiasm, confidence and hope, as is fitting for people of God. In a world filled with decay and pessimism, you can be optimistic—when you believe in the resurrection of the body.

Thursday, September 09, 2010


Your word is truth (John 17:17).

From ancient times, people have used stories to teach children about good morals. Kids don’t like to be lectured, but if a tale is interesting enough, they will absorb a lesson without even noticing. The story of Hansel and Gretel shows that greedy behavior is dangerous, and children should be careful of strangers. Star Wars teaches how easy it can be to fall to the dark side. Cinderella holds out hope that dreams really can come true. Harry Potter teaches the importance of friendship and education. The Beauty and the Beast warns us not to judge people based on their outward appearance. Spider-Man emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility.

But stories can teach other lessons, too. The Golden Compass tells children to be wary of authority and the church in particular. Although they were criminals, newspaper coverage of Bonnie and Clyde made them into celebrities. Grand Theft Auto sends the message that police officers are the enemy, and killing people who get in your way is no big deal.

Children are bombarded by stories—programs on TV, books at the library, movies in the theater. And they are not the only ones having their morals shaped by these forms of entertainment—you are as well. Adults don’t like to be lectured to, either. Adults are just as likely to change their views because of a story as children are. That’s why journalists film documentaries—a story can change more opinions than basic news reporting.

God understands how to get our attention. That’s why the Bible is filled with stories—stories of men and women and even children whose adventures teach us about God and ourselves, about right conduct and wrong conduct. These stories are fascinating, filled with triumph and tragedy, mighty deeds and incredible wonders. But there is one thing that sets these stories apart—they all really happened!

Sadly, most people look at the Bible as just a collection of fairy tales and morality plays. They dismiss the message because God often speaks to us through story. But God’s Word is true, every bit of it. It is the story of God and His people. It is a story that He wants you to hear.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall (Ezekiel 18:30).

Human beings are stubborn. Take cranberries, for example. As they grow on the bush, cranberries are inedible. Yet man was too stubborn to let that little red fruit go to waste, and eventually someone figured out how to make it tasty. Or consider tobacco. How did anyone get the idea of setting those leaves on fire and sucking on the fumes? Sheer human stubbornness.

Stubbornness can sometimes be a good thing. Two stubborn brothers ignored the naysayers and eventually built the first working airplane. But stubbornness often results in trouble. How many politicians have stubbornly refused to admit that they did something wrong and it cost them their careers? How many husbands or wives have stubbornly insisted on having things their way and are now divorced?

Sometimes stubbornness comes from being sure that you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Sometimes stubbornness comes from a fear of change. Sometimes you are right and should stick to your guns; sometimes change is going to make things worse, and should be resisted. But sometimes you are wrong; you don’t have all the facts or you don’t really understand the situation. Sometimes change is needed, and you have to stop being selfish in wanting things to stay the same because that’s the way you like it.

Christians have trouble with stubbornness, just like everyone else. God has spoken to us through His Bible; sometimes we are faithful to His Word, other times we twist it to suit our own personal preferences and get mad when someone challenges our misinterpretation. Jesus wants us to share the Good News of His salvation with everyone; sometimes we are willing messengers, but other times we stubbornly refuse to associate with people who are different—different in skin color, native language, or favorite style of worship. Sometimes our stubbornness shows our commitment to Christ; but a lot of the time, our stubbornness just causes problems—especially when we refuse to admit that we are wrong and need Jesus to forgive us.

Thankfully, Christ is stubborn too. He doesn’t give up on us easily. He suffered and died to forgive our bad behavior. He went to such great lengths because he wants us to be covered with His righteousness and filled with His love. No matter what you’ve done in life, Jesus is not ready to give up on you.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Apostles' Creed (part twelve)

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).

Today’s text contains an important word: atoning. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Other ways to translate this word include sacrifice, payment, and cover. No matter how you say it, the meaning is clear—through Jesus, our sins are forgiven.

But there is something neat about translating atone as cover. Using this term draws our attention back to the Old Testament. When God designed the Tent of Meeting for the Israelites, the innermost room was called the Most Holy Place. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The Ark was a special box designed to hold the most important document on earth—the covenant God had made with His people at Mt. Sinai. Once each year, on the Day of Atonement, the Chief Priest would sacrifice an unblemished lamb and take its blood into the Most Holy Place, where he sprinkled it on the cover of the Ark. When this was done, God forgave all the sins of His covenant people.

This annual ceremony was a picture of what God planned to do in the future. The lamb’s blood anticipated the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. When Jesus shed His blood for us, our sins were covered up—covered forever. This is why King David wrote: Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (Psalm 32:1). Jesus is the atoning sacrifice, the One who covers our sins.

In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." The Catechism says that this is the single most important teaching of our Christian faith. Do you wonder why some people give up reading the Bible? It’s because they do not believe in the forgiveness of sins. If you cannot accept that God is willing to forgive you freely and completely for Jesus’ sake, then the Bible is nothing but a book of laws and regulations that must be stringently obeyed. If there is no forgiveness, then God is only a harsh judge who hates sinners, a God without compassion and whose heart is unmoved by love. If there is no forgiveness, then the only way for you to ever be free from guilt is to somehow make right everything you have ever done wrong. If there is no forgiveness, full and free, then Christianity is no different from any other religion—because all earthly religions demand that you escape hell and climb to heaven by your own determination and self-discipline.

But we believe in the forgiveness of sins. This belief has changed our whole attitude towards God. Because we know that Jesus will be merciful to us, we rush to Him for comfort when we have done wrong. In contrast, sinners who don’t trust in Jesus’ mercy want to get as far away from God as possible, because all they expect from Him is anger. We see it already in the Garden of Eden; after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they ran and hid as soon as they heard Him coming. When God confronted the first couple, they did not even think about asking for mercy; they just assumed that punishment would be God’s response. So each of them tried to escape responsibility for their actions by shifting the blame. It was only after God promised them a Savior that Adam and Eve felt comfortable standing before Him once more.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. This belief has changed our whole way of life. Romans chapter 3 tells us that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Over the years since Paul wrote these words, many have criticized this teaching. They claim that if you believe forgiveness is free, you won’t make any serious effort to live a godly life—why abandon sinful behavior when all you have to do is ask and you’re forgiven? But this is a groundless fear. When Zacchaeus found out from Jesus that his forgiveness was free, the little man immediately paid back everyone he had cheated and gave half his wealth to the poor. When forgiveness is free, it moves our hearts to thankfulness and generosity. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. That’s why we love our Lord and try to serve Him with everything we have. A man raised in slavery was purchased by a different owner, who then set him free. His friends asked him what he would do with his new life. He astonished them by saying that he was going to stay where he was and continue to do the work he’d always done. Frustrated by his attitude, they asked him: "then what’s the difference between being a slave and being free?" "The difference," he replied, "is that, as a slave, I had to do these things. Now I want to." In his gratitude for being freed, the former slave chose to serve the man who freed him. So it is with us. By forgiving us, Jesus bought us freedom from Satan’s control. Freed from slavery to sin, our grateful response is to serve our Lord. We don’t try to obey God’s commandments because we have to, we try because we want to live lives that please the Savior. We serve God,not out of fear, but out of love.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. This empowers us to forgive each other. A cornerstone of my premarital counseling is the session on forgiveness. If a man believes he never does anything wrong, he will expect the same from his fiancée. If a woman isn’t sure that God has truly forgiven her, she will have a hard time forgiving her partner. While issues regarding money and sex can cause significant problems in a marriage, they are not the leading cause of divorce. The chief problem in every troubled marriage has to do with a wrong attitude towards sin and forgiveness. Strong marriages happen when both spouses know that they are sinners and trust that Jesus forgives them; such couples have the honesty to admit their sins to each other and the compassion to forgive those transgressions. In the same way, parents and children cannot expect to get along with each other unless each is willing to admit their own sins and forgive the sins of those they live with. This also applies to church life; the members of a congregation must confess their sins and offer forgiveness if they wish to work together harmoniously in service to the Lord.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. This moves us to support churches and mission work. Note the reach of Jesus’ hands—our sermon text says: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died for everyone—but two-thirds of the world either doesn’t know this or doesn’t care. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross will do them no good if they don’t believe that His blood can cover their sins.

Way back in the days before planes or trains, the governor signed a pardon for a man on death row. The letter of pardon had to be delivered by horseback. The rider set off with haste, as only two days remained before the time of execution. But the messenger ran into all sorts of obstacles. The horse stepped in a hole and broke a leg; undaunted, the rider continued his mission on foot. Then it started raining; soon the creeks were overflowing their banks. In spite of wind, hail and high water, the messenger pressed on. Hungry, wet, bruised and totally exhausted, he reached the prison only 30 minutes before the execution. When the warden had read the pardon, he looked at the wreck of a man who had delivered it and asked: "Why did you risk your life for this scoundrel? Why didn’t you let him die? Are you a relative?" "No, sir." "Are you a friend?" "No, sir." "Do you know the man?" "No, sir. All I know is that I was once sentenced to die and was pardoned for my crime."

We, too, were once sentenced to die—die eternally in hell—but by God’s grace we were pardoned of all our crimes. That’s why we are interested in sending out missionaries; that’s why we’re interested in filling churches with guests.

We believe in the forgiveness of sins. This gives us comfort at the time of death. Most of you reading this have been to funerals. Most of you have lost someone dear to you. But forgiveness of sins gives us hope as the casket is closed, reassurance as it is lowered into the ground. When a person’s sins are forgiven by Jesus, their soul is welcome in paradise. While we miss them, we do not grieve for them, because right now they are far happier than we are. When our sins are forgiven, we do not fear death because heaven is our home.

There should be no doubts in your heart about God’s offer of mercy through His Son. John the Baptist pointed out Jesus with the words: Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) The disciple whom Jesus loved most dearly of all, wrote: the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Speaking of the Lord, His prophet said: We all, like sheep, have gone astray…and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Christ became our substitute. He suffered what we should have suffered, paid what we should have paid. And so David wrote: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103). How far is the east from the west? They are opposites that never touch. Through Jesus, our loving God has taken the guilt of our sin and sent them so far away that neither He nor we will ever think of it again!

We can believe in the forgiveness of sins because of the tremendous sacrifice God made by giving us His Son. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might gain the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). During a war many years ago, a father and son were walking along a city street. The boy noticed a star in a window and asked his dad what it meant. The father explained, "that means the parents living there had a son who was killed at the front line of the war." A little later, the first star of evening appeared in the sky over the rooftops; pointing to it, the child asked: "Did God also lose a son at the front?" After some thought the father replied, "He sure did. God looked down from heaven and saw man fighting a losing battle against the devil, sin and death, so He sent His Son into this world to fight for us. He fought hard and well and finally died at the front." God sent His Son to suffer, bleed and die to bring you the offer of pardon for your crimes. The almighty Father takes your forgiveness that seriously.

And we believe in the forgiveness of sins because Jesus Himself demonstrated forgiveness. Time and again he would tell people, Take heart…your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2). When our Lord was on trial for His life, Peter denied being Jesus’ friend for fear of being arrested—yet Jesus forgave him. Jesus even asked His Father to forgive the men who nailed Him to the cross and made fun of Him as the life dripped from His body. Jesus’ mission on earth was to bring us forgiveness, and He proved it over and over again.

Every Christian church sets up a cross where it will be the center of attention. Look at the cross. That cross represents forgiveness. That’s what Christianity is all about—God forgiving us, and our sharing that forgiveness with each other. Forgiveness repairs our broken relationship with God, replacing mistrust and fear with confidence and love. Forgiveness repairs our broken relationships with each other, healing families, strengthening friendships, and prompting enemies to set aside their differences and seek common ground. Forgiveness is what our world needs, and forgiveness is the gift that only Christ can bring.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The straight path

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:6).

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That’s what they taught you in school, right? But the matter isn’t all that simple.

Suppose you are driving through unfamiliar countryside. You want to know how far it is to the next town. A friendly local might tell you "it’s 20 miles as the crow flies." But if you ask another person the same question, she might answer "it’s about a 40 minute drive." Is someone yanking your chain? Not at all. If you could fly in a straight line, the distance is 20 miles; but if you are driving around hills and through construction, the actual route will take 40 minutes of travel. In this situation, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.

Or consider this. When you plot the path of a ship or airplane as it crosses the ocean, you don’t get a straight line—you get a curve. This is because the earth is round. Even though it seems as if you are traveling in a straight line, you really aren’t—your path follows the curvature of the earth.

It is easy to believe that we are on the straight and narrow. From our perspective, we’re doing everything right. But appearances can be deceiving. We don’t have the perspective of a flying sparrow; we don’t see that the path we are taking meanders all over the place and eventually terminates in a dead end. We think that our life is on course; we don’t have a high enough view to realize that the earth is curved and forces us to curve with it.

Only God has the perspective to see things as they truly are. Only He can see the straight path that leads to heaven. Sin puts up obstacles that get in our way. The world tries to influence the direction of our lives. A lot of the time, we don’t even realize how badly we are out of line. So God sent His Son to make our way straight. He revealed the way to everlasting happiness—it is a route that goes directly through Him. He suffered and died to clear the road for us; Jesus drives the pilot car that takes us safely past every obstacle and danger. In a world of crookedness, Jesus provides the straight truth.

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