Friday, February 25, 2011

Pinocchio and you

Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."

Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:22-30).

Do you know the story of Pinocchio? Pinocchio was a wooden puppet carved by a lonely toymaker who wanted a son. Magically, the puppet was given life. Before long, Pinocchio left the toymaker behind and got into several dangerous situations. Eventually, the puppet realized that he wanted live with his creator, and in the end he was reunited with the toymaker.

Pinocchio has been a favorite story with children for over 100 years because almost every child has, at some point, wondered what it would be like to run away from home. What most people don’t realize, however, was that originally the story of Pinocchio had a sinister ending. Pinocchio was written by Italian author Carlo Collodi and was serialized in a magazine over a two-year period; in the last episode of the story, Pinocchio’s adventures ended with his tragic death. It was only upon the urging of his editors that the author changed the ending and eventually reunited the puppet with the man who had carved him.

A sad ending for Pinocchio? Yet that is the reality for many children who actually do run away from home. Some are abused. Some are killed. Some become prostitutes or drug addicts. Life on the street is hard for anyone, but especially so for young people.

Why do children think about running away from home? Basically, there are three reasons. Some fantasize about leaving because they are bored. There’s nothing particularly wrong with their home life, but they crave excitement, maybe a hint of danger. Years ago, kids fantasized about running away to join the circus, a place that was filled with interesting people, bright lights, and was constantly moving from one new place to another. In our modern world, that same lure of adventure results in highschoolers applying to become foreign exchange students so that they experience life in far away places.

Other kids think about running away because they feel trapped in their home. They are tired of eating the same old meals. They chafe at having a curfew. They grumble about doing chores. They want the freedom to do what they want, when they want, with no one looking over their shoulder or criticizing them. Billy Joel gave voice to this frustration in his song "My Life."

The third reason kids think about running away is because of abuse. Some abuse is indirect, as when a child must take over running the house because a parent is always drunk or absent. Some abuse is verbal, whether it be constant criticism or frequent yelling. And some abuse is physical, ranging from beatings to sexual misuse. But the net effect of abuse is the same in all cases—the child becomes desperate to get away, and stay away forever.

In the Gospel of John chapter ten, Jesus tells us something reassuring: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. That’s great, we think—no one can tear us away from the Savior. But visit your church and look at the empty pews; think about the people you were confirmed with who haven’t been to worship in ages. We wonder—was Jesus telling the truth? Where are these people if no one can snatch them from Jesus’ hand?

God is stronger than Satan. When the devil led a rebellion in heaven, God was the winner. When Satan tried to tempt Jesus in the desert, it was Jesus who prevailed. When the devil used Judas to betray Jesus and send Him to the cross, Jesus rose from the dead victorious. Satan cannot compete with God as an equal—God has no equal. So we can have absolute confidence that Jesus was telling the truth when He said, My Father…is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.

But God does not pull our strings. Remember the story of Pinocchio? When the puppet was given life, the toymaker cut his strings. Pinocchio was given freedom. The toymaker did not want to force his creation to do anything; he wanted Pinocchio to love him without being pressured to. The same applies to God. He did not make us to be puppets, forced helplessly to do His will; He loves us and wants us to love Him in return, free from being pressured to do so.

So what happens when a Christian becomes unhappy? What happens when a Christian gets bored with religion and wants to experiment with something more exciting or edgy? What happens when a Christian gets tired of the same old meal of Jesus’ bread and wine, feels confined by the Ten Commandments, resents being told to love others as yourself? Sometimes Christians decide to run away from home—run away from God and His church. And although He has the power to prevent it, God lets them go.

And so we have youth who stop coming to church once they’ve been confirmed. We have young adults who stop attending once they head off to college. We have parents who drop their kids off for Sunday School but won’t stay for Bible study or worship. We have adults who move to a new city and never join a church. We have senior citizens who just lose interest in God’s house and eventually stop coming. These are the runaways. They were not snatched from God’s hand—it was their choice to leave.

Of course, Satan gave them a nudge. The devil has been giving nudges since the Garden of Eden. You’ll recall that Satan never forced anyone to disobey God—he only suggested an alternative. He implied that living under God’s rule was burdensome; he hinted that life could be more exciting if Adam and Eve lived it on their own terms. Yet Satan never snatched Adam or Eve from God’s hand; they chose for themselves to run away from their creator.

Why didn’t God stop them? Why doesn’t God stop us? Jesus revealed the reason in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Do you remember the story? The son asked his father for his share of the inheritance so he could take off and live however he wanted. The father did not have to give his son the money; he did not have to let the young man leave. But the father let the boy have his way, and soon the money was gone. When the high life was replaced with hardship and suffering, the son came to his senses—he regretted his foolish actions and returned home, where he was forgiven and restored as a member of the family.

Why did the father allow his son to go? In the father’s home there was love and safety; away from the father’s home there was disappointment and danger. But the father knew that it was pointless to keep the boy home against his will; such a situation would not fill their home with love. Instead he let the young man go, hoping that the unpleasant experiences awaiting him would serve as a wake-up call. Every day, the father went to the edge of his property, watching and hoping for his son’s return; yet he knew there was a very real possibility that the boy could meet an unpleasant end and never come back. He did not want his son to live apart from him; he did not want his son risking death because of his lifestyle. The father hoped that one day his son would return and want to live in his father’s house. And when that day came, he would be at the end of the lane, ready to offer forgiveness and welcome his son home.

When we are baptized, God makes a promise—no matter how badly we mess up, we can always neg Jesus for mercy and be forgiven. But baptism does not guarantee that we will be faithful to the end of life; many who have been baptized have wandered from the faith, never to return. Paul speaks of this in 1st Timothy chapter 6: the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows…Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness. Money and false knowledge—just two examples of things that can lure a Christian away from the saving faith.

Like Pinocchio, there are times when we want out of our creator’s house. Sometimes we get bored—bored with the same old songs, bored with the same old sermons. Sometimes we chafe living under God’s rules—we want to have fun without worrying about what Jesus will say. And sometimes we resent God for allowing pain into our lives—we falsely accuse Him of being abusive when in reality He is only disciplining us. But there is a difference—discipline is intended to make us pay attention and try harder to be good. Abuse, on the other hand, is nothing more than an outlet for negative emotions. Discipline builds character; abuse destroys self-worth. Discipline leads to respect; abuse results in hatred and fear. Satan abuses; God disciplines those He loves. Hebrews chapter twelve tells us, No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God allows us to walk away, if that is what we truly want—but He knows that Satan has filled the world with danger, and those who depart God’s house might never return. This is a terrible tragedy, because if we die apart from Jesus we will find heaven’s gates closed to us. Jesus described this awful situation in Luke chapter 13: Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, `I don't know you or where you come from.'

Satan hates God with every fiber of his being; as a result, the devil spares no effort in trying to lure us away from God’s home to be lost forever. Like the second version of Pinocchio, some eventually come to their senses, remember God’s promise of love made in baptism, and return to the church before it’s too late. But not every runaway story has a happy ending; like the first version of Pinocchio, many die tragically, forever separated from God’s love. Since no one knows when death will come, leaving God’s house for a time is a very risky proposition.

Since no one can snatch us from God’s hand, the only thing Satan can do is lie to us—lie about how much fun we can have when we run away from God. Satan is a master showman; he promotes sin with great care, emphasizing fun and excitement while downplaying risk and consequences. We need God’s help to see through all this false advertising. We need to make prayer a part of our daily routine, where we tell Jesus about the temptations we are facing and ask His help in resisting them. We need to be in church regularly, so that we can hear the truth through His word and receive strength in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Originally, when Pinocchio ran away from home his misadventures ended in tragedy; thankfully, the author was persuaded to rewrite the ending of his story and Pinocchio lived happily ever after with his creator. When you run away from God, it need not end in tragedy. Christ is willing to write a new ending to the story of your life, an ending where you can live happily ever after with your creator in His home. And if you look closely, you’ll see that the Author of life wrote that new ending with blood—His blood, shed on the cross for you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fear and prejudice

Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

How does it make you feel when a group of people is chatting away in a language that you don’t understand? Are you uncomfortable around people whose skin color and choice of clothing are different than yours? Do you fear that your community is changing because minorities are moving in?

Most people are comfortable with the familiar and uncomfortable with things that are out of the ordinary. This is especially true of people who don’t share our language or culture. When meeting someone who is quite a bit different from what we’re used to, most of us act differently than we typically do around strangers. There is curiosity that makes a person want to stare. There is a trace of fear that makes one hesitant to say "hello".

Some people take their discomfort into the realm of hostility. How many times have you heard someone grumble about people who are different taking our jobs and dating our kids? How many of these people are the target of nasty jokes? How many are denied decent housing and can’t get a promotion at work? How many are singled out for mistreatment because of how they speak or how they look?

We are all descended from two people—Adam and Eve. Despite outward differences, we are all members of one extended family. That’s how God looks at things. Scripture says, The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. Peter struggled with prejudice against non-Jews, but eventually he came around: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts 10:34). In Galatians chapter three Paul writes, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Jesus suffered and died for every single person, regardless of background. He does not favor one skin color over another; He does not favor one language over another; He does not favor one cultural background over another. Jesus is interested in the contents of the heart. If we share His focus, bigotry and discrimination won’t put up barriers between us.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The size and role of government

The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1).

Republicans and Democrats constantly argue about how much power and reach government should have. Republicans believe that small government is better; they fear loss of freedom if there is too much regulation. Democrats worry about the rich and powerful trampling the poor and weak; they want government to protect the common man against abuses of power. But what should a Christian make of these arguments? We know that God establishes government for our good, but how much should government affect our lives?

When Jesus was asked to offer an opinion on paying taxes He said, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21). Caesar was the emperor—he represented the rule of government. Jesus taught that government and religion both make claims on us, and we have obligations to each of them. But in Acts chapter five, when there was tension between government and religion, Peter said we must obey God rather than any human authority. In other words, we are to obey the government so long as it does not contradict what God commands.

Governments are expected to organize soldiers for national defense. God expects government officials to protect the defenseless from exploitation. But how big or far-reaching does government need to be? The Bible does not say. Jesus did say let nothing be wasted (John 6:12); we can infer that wasteful government spending does not meet with God’s approval. The Lord commands judges to look out for the rights of victims; since judges work for the government, we can conclude that the Lord looks favorably on government assistance to those suffering from poverty or disability. In the Old Treatment, God issued laws regarding business and commerce; clearly, the government is expected to regulate such things.

But government exceeds its authority when it tries to overwrite God’s commands. The Lord forbids homosexuality; the government has no right to legalize gay marriage. God sees all children as a precious gift originating in His love; the government has no right to legalize abortion. Jesus commands us to speak of Him to all people; the government has no right to regulate where and when people can pray, distribute Bibles, or tell others about the Son of God who suffered and died that we might live forever in paradise.

Government has a big job to do—but it dare not overstep its bounds.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where do you find security?

This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

There are people who claim that modern Americans are cynical and untrusting. They suggest that our nation lost it’s innocence during the years 1950 through 1964, when Joseph McCarthy’s ‘red scare’ had everyone suspecting his neighbor of being a communist and the assassination of President Kennedy shook the confidence of a generation. Historians believe that the years from 1965 to 1975, filled with violent disagreement over Vietnam and scandalized by Watergate, caused people to lose their faith in government and led to young folks claiming that you can’t trust anyone over 30. A quarter century of turmoil has supposedly undermined our willingness to trust in any kind of organization or authority.

But in spite of all the terrible things that have happened in our lives, we still put our faith in a lot of things. For example, we trust in the medical profession. We assume that whatever is making us feel sick can be spotted by an x-ray or found by analyzing a blood sample. We are confident that surgeons can correct any problem and that physicians will prescribe effect treatments. We take it for granted that the medicine from the pharmacy is safe to use and will bring relief.

In the same way, we place trust in businesses and the economy. Whenever we go to the sink or start a load of laundry, we assume that the twist of a knob will provide us with clean water. Whenever we flip on a light switch, we assume the electricity will be working. We expect a dial tone when we need to make a phone call, and that there will be gasoline available when we go to fill up. We take it for granted that the grocery store will be well stocked with food that is safe to eat. We assume that banks will handle our money responsibly, and that each new car we buy will be dependable. We assume that there will always be something on the radio and television when we turn them on, and whether we get it from the paper or a television network, that the news will be fair and accurate.

Nor does it stop there; we trust in government services as well. We expect that there will be a school for our children to attend, and we are confident that good education is being provided. When we call 911, we assume that we will quickly get whatever kind of help we need, whether it be police protection, a crew of fire fighters, or an ambulance. When we pay the bills, we trust the postal service to get our checks delivered before the due date has passed. Everyone assumes that when money is tight, the government will step in and help through Welfare, food stamps, and any number of other programs. And we trust in the power of our government—we rarely think about the work of the diplomatic corps or the nation’s border patrol agents; we are confident that the CIA and our military forces will keep us safe from attack.

And we trust in relationships. Husbands and wives trust in each other’s commitment to love and laugh together for the rest of their lives. Children assume that their parents will feed them, clothe them, and always tell them the truth. Brothers and sisters expect their siblings to always have their back. Parents assume that their children will listen to them and obey them. We are sure that our friends will drop everything when we need to share our joys or sorrows. We take it for granted that our neighbors will respect our privacy, but offer a helping hand if needed. When employed, we expect the boss to pay us on time and for the work we did. And we expect the other employees to do their fair share of the work.

As you can see, each of us trusts in others quite a bit. What a shame, then, that such trust is so often unwarranted. You can’t always trust in the medical profession; lab technicians can botch tests, doctors misdiagnose symptoms, and sometimes pharmaceutical companies have to recall their drugs.

Nor can you depend on public utilities or telecommunication providers; power can be disrupted by anything from an ice storm to a squirrel stepping in the wrong spot, and a mistake made while digging can cut fiber optic cables and natural gas lines. You cannot rely on the economy—the Great Depression of the 1930s shows how suddenly a person can lose everything. Oil prices fluctuate according to the weather and the political climate overseas; in spite of government inspections, tainted food still results in sickness and death. Even news services as respected as CBS and the BBC are found to report biased news on occasion.

You cannot always depend on government services. The news is filled with stories about teachers who abuse their students and school districts that cannot fund essential programs; calling 911 does not guarantee help if your community had to cut the police staff because of funding shortfalls. The postal service can lose an envelope for months or even years. There is no guarantee that a bunch of newly elected officials won’t cut various programs that serve the needy. The 9/11 terrorist attack proved dramatically that the government cannot guarantee your safety.

And you cannot depend on relationships with other people, even those whom you love dearly. Every business has employees who are lazy, or a boss that has no business sense. Some neighbors are nosy, some live like hermits, and some annoy you with their overgrown yards, loud parties, or trash blowing in the wind. Some friends move away and stop calling you. There are children who will sass you or ignore you. You might have a brother or sister that talks about you behind your back. Your parents might be so wrapped up in their own problems that they don’t realize how desperately you need their attention. And the person you married may cheat on you, abuse you, or file for divorce.

But so what if you can’t trust in others—at least you can rely on yourself. Perhaps you trust in your education and training to provide the answer when life hands you a challenge; and even if you don’t have a lot of schooling, you might be pretty good at thinking things through and solving tough problems just by using your brain. Or maybe you trust your instincts; when faced with a tough decision, you are confident that your own moral compass will lead you in the right direction. You are sensitive to your gut reaction and let your feelings be your guide.

Could it be that your confidence is based on your health? Maybe you’ve always been healthy, or you work hard at eating a healthy diet and maintaining your muscle tone through exercise and an active lifestyle. Or you might trust in your charm, your ability to get other people to listen to you and do what you want. Maybe you find security in your investment portfolio. You’ve worked hard and invested wisely; no matter what comes, you’re pretty sure that you’re set for life. No worries, right?

Too bad that you cannot count on yourself any more than you can count on others. Sometimes life presents you with a problem that you can’t figure out, that none of your studying has prepared you for. You certainly can’t trust your instincts—more often than not, decisions made in the heat of the moment turn out to be decisions we regret for years afterwards. A lifetime of good health and vigorous activity can end suddenly with a car crash. Your ability to influence others can be destroyed by one accusation of improper conduct. Your assets can be wiped out by any one of many addictions—compulsive shopping, gambling, drinking, or doing drugs.

Putting your trust in other people or yourself is often foolish, sometimes even dangerous. Sooner or later, others will let you down; inevitably, one day you will let yourself down. No wonder then that God warns us away from trusting in human power, wisdom and commitment: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength. Every human being is fatally flawed—flawed in body, mind and soul. Every one of us makes mistakes; we base decisions on arrogant pride, we act impulsively without considering long-term implications, we let what is urgent trump what is important. When push comes to shove, we love ourselves first and foremost, ignoring God’s law of love: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). That is the reason we cannot trust ourselves or each other—we cannot be counted upon to love as we should.

Thankfully, there is someone you can depend upon, someone who never makes errors in judgment, never gets lazy or does haphazard work. There is someone who never turns you away because He is too busy, or demands that you bribe or flatter Him before He will respond. There is someone who always keeps His promises, who loves you unselfishly and forever. That someone is the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through Jeremiah, our God says I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). In Hebrews chapter 13 He tells us, I will never leave you; I will never turn you away. No matter how terribly we mess up, we have this security: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail (Lamentations 3:22). God’s compassionate nature moved Him to send His Son to die for us. By breaking God’s laws, we have called down His curse on ourselves—but Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Paul writes, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus accepted the curse for our sins and paid the ultimate price—He did this out of love, to spare us from the hell we deserve for loving so poorly. And we can count on the salvation Christ offers: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Through Isaiah God says, my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail (Isaiah 51:6). Over and over again, Holy Scripture reminds us that God can be depended on when no one else can. And so God says, blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. It is only when you trust in the Lord that you can have true peace of mind.

At the beginning of this devotion, I said that the betrayals of life make us cynical, but in spite of that we keep on trusting others. We have to—we cannot survive on our own, we need the security of knowing that someone has our back, that others are willing to reach out and offer us a helping hand. But so long as we look for support from other human beings, so long as we lean on our own abilities, we will get those crutches kicked out from under us over and over again. There is only one place to look for confidence in the face of uncertainty; there is only one source of dependability in a world of failures and broken promises. Only God has the power to get you through life’s troubles. Only God has the wisdom to use that power for your best interests, regardless of how complicated your problems may seem. Only God has the patience to put up with your foolish words and rash actions, and still be there to forgive you when you start thinking clearly again. Only God has the kind of love that does not give up on you, no matter how many times you push Him away so you can indulge your sinful appetites. It is God alone who can ease your pain, forgive your sins, reassure you with hope, strengthen your resolve, and open heaven’s gates to you. To look for security anywhere else is both foolish and an insult to the only one who loves you with total commitment. Make time for God in your day, every day, because He is the only one you can depend on without reservation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war (Joshua 22:33).

Whether you think it is justified or not, war is part of the human experience. Our oldest written documents include references to armed conflict between different groups of people. War was commonplace; in the Old Testament we read that spring was the season when kings went off to war. As soon as the crops were planted and the weather was favorable, men took up arms and marched off to shed blood.

There are several reasons for declaring war. The two most common are greed and safety. One country will invade another to get more land for growing food, acquire valuable resources needed for economic growth, or to increase the population for tax purposes. Countries will also launch a preemptive strike if they fear a military build up on the other side.

War has also been used for internal reasons. A government might prepare for war to get factories reopened and unemployed citizens back to work. If a nation is troubled by social unrest, the ruler can unify his people by declaring war on an enemy that everyone fears and hates.

Countries often get dragged into war because of international treaties—if one nation is attacked, its friends are obligated to assist. And sometimes wars are fought over matters of principle—to bring freedom to a suffering people, or to enlighten them with a different culture and religion.

But when is a war justified in the eyes of God? He doesn’t tell us when we should send in troops and when we should mind our own business. Still, the teachings of Holy Scripture can guide us. Greed a sin; war is evil if its purpose is to make one nation richer at the expense of another. Jesus invites people to believe in Him, but He never uses force; war is wrong if it is used to make others believe as we do. But God did establish government to protect people from harm and allow them to live in peace; war is an option when national safety is at risk. Still, human lives should never be taken casually—the Lord made us all, and He wants everyone to experience His love through Christ.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day

I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

Valentine’s Day. It’s supposed to be the ultimate feel-good holiday, a time to celebrate the joys of love. But Valentine’s Day can be also be frustrating and depressing.

If you are single and don’t have any dates penciled into your schedule, Valentine’s Day is a chore to get through. You don’t want to eat out and watch all the happy couples sharing a special evening. It’s not much fun to go to a movie by yourself. Maybe you’ll stay late at work, eat a quart of ice cream while watching TV, or go to bed early.

Dating can be treacherous at this time of the year. What kind of card do you buy? How much should you spend on a gift? If you are unsure how the relationship is going, you could undermine things with a gift that is too personal or a card that is too casual. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be so stressful, should it?

Couples aren’t immune from trouble either. Some guys forget about Valentine’s Day—almost as big a mistake as forgetting your anniversary. Some women have unrealistic expectations for a night of pure romance. And sometimes, after dealing with work or the kids, you just don’t have much enthusiasm for anything except a good night’s sleep. As a result, Valentine’s Day becomes a disappointment.

The sad reality is this: relationships come and go. Relationships swing between peace and drama, happiness and anger, satisfaction and frustration. Some Valentine celebrations are wonderful, others you’d just as soon forget about.

I hope that Valentine’s Day 2011 leaves you with pleasant memories. But if it does not, I want you to remember this—Jesus loves you. He loves you with an unchanging, everlasting love. He knows you and understands you. He sees the potential in you and wants to bring it out. He always listens to you and never forgets about you. He gives you gifts big and small throughout the year, often at unexpected times. He is committed to your welfare, so committed that He gave up His life to make you His. This year and every year, Jesus wants to be your valentine.

Won’t you be His?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Good fun vs. bad fun

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Some religions say that playing cards is sinful. Some forbid dancing. There are people who believe that most types of music are evil—rock & roll, country and rap, to name a few. Others won’t let their children watch TV or go to the movies, let alone play video games.

How do you decide which kinds of entertainment are God-pleasing and which are not? The measuring stick to use is the Bible; Paul says whatever you do, do it…for the glory of God. Whether it is dancing or playing games or watching a show, the first question should always be, 'does this activity serve God in some way?' Let’s consider a variety of examples.

In the Bible, people danced—they danced a lot. And God approves of dancing; when the nation of Israel was being punished for the sins of her people, listen to the promise God speaks to give them hope: I will build you up again…O…Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful (Jeremiah 31:4). So when does dancing become inappropriate behavior? If you dance because you are happy, there’s nothing wrong with that—after all, God wants us to enjoy life. In the Bible, God’s people frequently danced as a way to show how happy they were because of God’s blessings. But dancing can take on another character; it can be a way to show off, which is selfish and can stimulate unhealthy sexual appetites in others. When dancing is about vanity or seduction, it does not give glory to God and should be avoided.

The Bible is also full of music—as a matter of fact, the Psalms were written to be sung. People frequently sang praises to the Lord, accompanied by stringed instruments, woodwinds and trumpets. Psalm 150 says, Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Music also aids in learning—it is much easier to memorize words when they are accompanied with melody, which is why we use music to teach children the alphabet, basic math, the states of the nation and the books of the Bible. Studies show that students enrolled in music programs perform better academically than those who do not. A pleasant melody can lift the soul; the words of a hymn can teach you God’s word as surely as any sermon. But music can also have a dark side. Depressing melodies can reinforce dark emotions. Hateful words can encourage acts of violence. Music can seduce people into behaviors that God does not approve of, by making perversion seem interesting, exciting, and pleasurable. Such music does not encourage behavior that glorifies God.

Watching TV shows and movies raises a different kind of concern. In a country where most people sit at desks or behind the wheel of a vehicle, time spent watching is time when much needed exercise does not take place. Furthermore, movies and television shows need to make a profit, and the most consistent profit-makers are sex and violence. Many believe that what we watch shapes our values, that Hollywood is destroying the morals of America. Of course, the Bible has nothing to say about television broadcasts or the cinema; but God does speak about the kinds of ideas that you fill your head with. In Colossians chapter 2 Paul writes, See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Television and movies can make the Bible come alive by recreating the historical events found in its pages. TV can keep us up to date on the news, so we know who needs our prayers. Documentaries can help us understand the world around us. Even a fictional story can reinforce good morals and show what God-pleasing behavior looks like in a world distorted by sin. But TV and the movies often promote immoral behavior as good and acceptable; these types of ideas do not lead to Christian growth and should be avoided.

What about playing sports? Sometimes the Bible refers to athletic competition as a way to teach us about training for life. For instance, Hebrews chapter 12 says let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Sports can develop muscles and coordination; this is good, because we need healthy bodies to serve God to the best of our abilities. Team sports also teach cooperation, a skill that every person needs. But sports can get ugly when winning becomes the chief objective. When competition gets out of control, you get problems like steroid abuse and gambling; you get players who brag and teammates who are consumed with jealousy. A drive to win at all costs does not give glory to God.

For a long time, religious leaders have frowned on card playing. At best, it was seen as a waste of time; at its worst, it was a gateway to gambling. Card games are not mentioned in the Bible, meaning that we have no clear word of God on the subject. Scripture does tell us to use God’s gifts responsibly, which is why we discourage gambling; but what about card games that don’t involve the exchange of money? Playing cards can exercise our minds as we try to remember which cards were played and calculate our odds of winning a hand. Every Christian needs their wits about them as they try to be effective workers for Christ in a sinful world—in fact, Jesus said I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). A sharp mind is definitely an asset. At the same time, however, gambling is a very real addiction for many people, depleting bank accounts and destroying marriages. Paul warned, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10). When card playing starts consuming your time or resources, God is not being honored or served.

Video games have exploded in popularity in recent years, but in some ways they are really nothing new—they are simply the outgrowth of pinball machines and foosball tables. What worries many parents are the types of games that involve shooting people, stealing cars, or blowing things up. Are video games a bad influence on those who play them? Recent studies have shown that kids who play benefit from improved eye/hand coordination and develop superior reflexes, so there are some benefits that can be gained for use in service to God. However, games that show antisocial behavior without significant consequences do not encourage Christian behavior, and should be avoided.

In 1st Corinthians chapter six Paul writes, "Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything. As we consider Paul’s warning, addictive behavior comes to mind. For example, the Bible does not forbid drinking alcohol, but it does forbid drunkenness. When a person becomes drunk, her love for alcohol has taken control of her, damaging her health and encouraging behavior that might hurt others as well. Our sinful inclinations can take any kind of fun and run off in a direction that ignores God and gets us into trouble.

It is important to remember that life is not about fun, but about loving service. Fun is to life as dessert is to a meal. You can’t remain healthy if you skip meats, vegetables and fruit so you can fill up on chocolate; in the same way, you cannot be the kind of person who honors God if the bulk of your energy is focused on making yourself feel good. Paul writes, Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthisna 6:19-20).

You were bought at a price—that price was the life of God’s own Son. He suffered to purchase your freedom from living under the compulsion to sin. He died to purchase your release from a never ending, sick fascination with everything that is ugly, degrading, and deadly to your spiritual health. Jesus endured hell on the cross, the hell that your sins deserved. You were bought at a price so staggering that we cannot begin to grasp its full extent.

Jesus did this because He cares about you. He wants you to find joy in your life, but far more importantly, He wants you to enjoy heaven instead of suffering in hell. But Jesus did not go through everything He did just so you can live it up; He freed you from evil’s grip so that you can serve God with your life. Paul says, We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). And why do we do these good works? Jesus says, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). These words take us back to how I started this meditation: Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Recreational activities can be a way to share with others the joy that God has given us. Leisure pursuits can also be a release when we are feeling stressed by the pressures of life, a way to blow off steam in an appropriate way. Having fun only becomes a problem when we let it distract us from God-pleasing behavior. True happiness is not found by attending parties or playing games; true happiness comes from saying "thank you" to Jesus by living your life in His service. Remember that back in December many people were saying "Jesus is the reason for the season"? I’d like to rephrase that motto just a little: "Jesus is the reason for every season."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A life of value and purpose

My Father will honor the one who serves me (John 12:26).

Have you ever felt as if your life serves no purpose? That question inspired the Jimmy Stewart movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The central character reaches a point where he feels as if his whole life was a waste; it takes an angel to show him what a profound effect he’s had on others. The simple fact is this—no matter your failures or shortcomings, God can make use of you. Let’s consider a few examples.

Do you have children? If so, you can do a lot for them. If you just read Bible stories to them or take them to church, God will build faith in their hearts, faith that leads to eternal life. Heaven is the greatest family reunion of all, and I’m sure that you want your kids to be part of it.

Are you married? You honor God by keeping your wedding promises of sticking together through thick and thin, when other people would just give up and file for divorce. A successful marriage is built on forgiveness, and forgiveness is what the cross of Jesus is all about.

Are you humble? Humble people know that their achievements come from God who helps them. When you respond to a compliment by giving the Lord credit for your success, you remind everyone how important God is in our lives.

Are you a peacemaker? When coworkers, friends or relatives start choosing sides and spout hateful words, trying to calm things down and bring people together makes you an agent of Christ, who gave His life to bring about peace and reconciliation.

Are you employed in agriculture, medicine, law enforcement, or public utilities? Such work shows the loving care of God by feeding His people, caring for them when sick, protecting them from danger, and making difficult lives easier.

God touches lives through you—your words, your work, your acts of kindness. If you think that your life has no value, you’re wrong—but Jesus can make your days even more productive if you ask Him to be your guide.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Extreme positions vs. taking the middle ground

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).

Most Americans believe that extremes are bad. People speak of a bitter winter’s night as "colder than hell"; during a sweltering summer’s day, these same people might say that it’s "hotter than hell". Hell, it seems, is a place of dangerous extremes.

We have all kinds of sayings that label extreme positions as bad. Left wing politicians are dangerous anarchists, while those on the far right are rigid in their thinking. Saying that someone sees everything in terms of black and white is an insult, because it implies an inability to see various shades of gray. In the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the little girl always rejected uncomfortable extremes for a nice middle ground where everything was "just right."

Of course, we have our share of extremists—Bill Mahr and Rush Limbaugh are as far away from each other as two personalities can be. Yet while each man has his devoted followers, most people are wary of extremists. Fanatics often make us feel uncomfortable, whether in the political arena or the sphere of religion. Those who believe in Political Correctness want us to accept each other without controversy or conflict; taking an extreme position makes it impossible to ignore our differences.

A lot of people hold to the credo of "moderation in all things." But the Bible doesn’t say that. God’s Word takes one extreme position after another, and offers no apologies for doing so. God says that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you are a helpless pawn that Satan can push around as he pleases. God says that friends of Jesus have exclusive access to heaven. God says that to be a friend of Jesus, you must reject everything impure and depend on Christ alone as your savior and leader, your teacher and supporter. God hates the corruption of sin, hates it so much that He will allow nothing sinful to enter His home. God also loves us so much that He sent His Son to suffer the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven.

God sees everything in terms of black and white—bad or good, sinful or holy. Through Jesus, you can be moved from darkness into light. Take His offer seriously—there is no middle ground.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Fearing Jesus

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him (Luke 5:1-11).

Do you believe in a ‘cuddly’ Jesus? Do you think of Him as a comforting Teddy Bear to hug when you are scared or depressed? Do you regard Him as a friend that you share morning coffee with while you make your plans for the coming day? Do you treat Jesus as your psychiatrist, counselor, or therapist? Do you value Jesus because He makes you feel comfortable?

If you believe in a ‘cuddly’ Jesus—and many American Christians do—then how do you account for Peter’s behavior in the boat? When he realized that Jesus had caused the huge catch of fish, Peter dropped to his knees and begged Jesus to leave; he said: "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" Peter did not grab Jesus’ hand to shake it; he did not throw His arms around the Lord in a hug. Peter’s reaction was to back away from the Lord; to him, Jesus was anything but cuddly.

Throughout the Bible, people were afraid when they were contacted by someone from heaven. When God spoke to Abram in a vision, He started by saying: Do not be afraid, Abram (Genesis 15:1). When He spoke to Isaac, the Lord said: I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid (Genesis 26:24). When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, He spoke these words of reassurance: Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die (Judges 6:23). And when God’s angel spoke to Daniel, he said: Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed…Peace! Be strong now; be strong (Daniel 10:19).

In the New Testament, people who saw angels also reacted with fear. Although he was a priest, Zechariah was still terrified when an angel came to speak with him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard (Luke 1:13). Mary did not know what to make of Gabriel, prompting him to say: Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God (Luke 1:30). When the shepherds outside of Bethlehem were approached by an angel, the first words they heard were: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy (Luke 2:10). And when the women entered Jesus’ tomb early on Easter morning, the angel who met them said: Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen (Matthew 28:5).

In fact, Jesus Himself sometimes provoked fear in those around Him. When Jesus calmed a storm with nothing but His spoken command, the disciples were scared of Him. When He drove legions of demons out of a possessed man into a herd of pigs, the people who saw it were afraid and asked Jesus to leave. When the disciples saw the Lord walking on the water towards their boat during a storm, they were terrified. And when Jesus appeared to them alive after His crucifixion, He had to offer words of reassurance because His visit frightened the disciples.

Throughout history, people have been afraid when God’s power and authority are revealed. This is only natural. Fear is a manifestation of our instinct for survival. Fear causes us to be careful when danger threatens. And when God appears, we know that we are in danger.

God is pure holiness; there is nothing evil within Him, and nothing evil can even approach Him. A sinner who dares come near to God is like a moth that gets too close to the flame—a flash of brilliance and life is reduced to ashes. We see it happen in the Old Testament. While camped at Mount Sinai, God told Moses: Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, `Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death (Exodus 19:12). During their stay, God was present on Sinai, making the mountain holy ground—sinners dared not approach, on pain of death. When the Ark of the Covenant was built, God treated it as His throne on earth—anyone who touched it died instantly. When the Temple was built, God’s glory was so intense that no one could approach the innermost room where the Ark was stored. It is no wonder that Isaiah responded as he did when given a vision of God’s heavenly throne room: "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty" (Isaiah 6:5).

Now some people think of Jesus and God in different ways. They have a mental picture of God the Father as a harsh judge, and of His Son as our gentle friend who protects us from His Father’s anger. But this artificial distinction is wrong, and does a disservice to both the Father and the Son. God the Father is not just an angry judge; He is also our loving Father. He designed a beautiful, perfect world to be our home. He made Adam and Eve beautiful and perfect as well, people who could walk with Him in the Garden of Eden side by side, unafraid. And when their sin ruined everything, God did not strike them dead, instead He promised His Son to suffer and die in their place. The Father is a God of both law and love.

Nor is Jesus just a teacher, healer, or sacrifice for our sins. Jesus hates sin with the same passion as His Father; remember how He braided a whip and cleared the Temple grounds of people who were only there to make money? What about all those times Jesus issued words of warning to repent before it is too late? Remember, on the Last Day it is Jesus who will judge the world; it is Jesus who will welcome the faithful into paradise and condemn the unbelievers to everlasting torment in hell. The Son of God is committed to both law and love.

Jesus and His Father have the same hatred of sin and the same desire to save us from our cursed wretchedness. Jesus makes this clear when He says, I and the Father are one (John 10:30). On one occasion Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:8-11).

The morning when Jesus showed His power in Peter’s boat, it was only natural that Peter react in fear—in fact, such a display of humility was quite appropriate. There is more to fearing God than just being afraid of His holiness. There is also the matter of shame. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by ignoring His rules, the first thing they did was make clothing for themselves. They were ashamed—ashamed of what they had done, ashamed of the kind of people they had become. And when God let them hear Him coming, they did not come forward to admit what they had done and beg for mercy—they tried to hide from God, and when He forced them to come out, they each tried to shift the blame rather than take responsibility for their actions. Shame made them try to flee from God and cover up the truth.

When the majesty of God is revealed, the sinful human being becomes afraid. Afraid of being revealed as a despicable person, unworthy of love or respect. Afraid of being held accountable for breaking God’s laws and being punished as any criminal should. And the sinner is right to be afraid—the Father and the Son hate sin. God hates chaos, disobedience, and imperfection. The Great Flood that destroyed everyone except Noah and his family is proof of how much God hates sin. The cross where Christ died for our sins naked and in shame is proof of how much God hates sin. The fact that God made hell to punish faithless sinners is proof of how much God hates sin. We are right to fear the anger of the Almighty.

But there is one other reason why we fear our Lord. It is only through God’s Son that we have the avenue of forgiveness. It is only by the blood of Jesus given in sacrifice on the cross that we can be forgiven and find peace with God. Our God has the ultimate power over us—the power of welcoming you to heaven or condemning you to hell, all dependent on whether or not your sins are forgiven. And so Psalm 130 says, with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. As Jesus said, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:4-5).

Yes, Peter was right to fall to his knees and tell Jesus that he was not worthy of being in the same boat with the Savior. We are not worthy, either. But notice how Jesus responded to Peter; He said Don’t be afraid. When Jesus reaches out to us, He takes away our fear of standing in the presence of God. In Jesus there is forgiveness; the reason He suffered and died was to make Peter clean, make me clean, make you clean. John writes: the blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Knowing that Jesus offers forgiveness to all who seek it, we don’t have to cover up what we have done. Cleansed by His sacrifice, we no longer have anything to be ashamed of, no reason to distance ourselves from God. In fact, Jesus shares His holiness with us, making it safe to come before God and bask in the beauty of His glory. Jesus reaches out to we who are sinners because He loves us and wants to free us from the sin He hates, the sin that makes our lives miserable.

In the Catechism, Luther repeatedly says "we should fear and love God…" If you only fear God, you will doubt His love for you; if you only love God, you will not take the danger of sin seriously. Luther said that a sermon must crush the listener into utter despair over his sins; only when this happens will the love of God be seen for the wonderful gift that it truly is.

If you look at Jesus carefully, you see that He is ‘masculine’ in the best sense of the word. Jesus was powerful. He could change water into wine and feed thousands from a few scraps of food. He could change the weather and exorcise demons. He could heal diseases and correct birth defects. He could even raise the dead. Yet although He had all this power, He never misused it—He never lost His temper or did anything He later regretted. Jesus hates sin with a passion we cannot begin to understand, yet He never let that anger overwhelm His loving concern for us. All of His vast power was strictly controlled, used only in service of the goal to free us from Satan, sin and hell. Great power under total control, used only to serve the good of others—Jesus was and is the perfect man.

Is Jesus ‘cuddly’? No, I don’t think so. If you want to know how to think of Jesus, look at His disciples. For three years they walked with Him, ate with Him, shared times of joy and sorrow. During those years they listened to Him, they asked Him questions, and they sought His mercy when they did things that were thoughtless or stupid. They loved Him, and He called them friends. But they never forgot that He was their Master, and there were times when they were scared of Him. Everyone who looks at Jesus with awareness of His true glory instinctively draws back in fear, as Peter did. To look at Jesus without some fear is to fail to give Him the respect that He is due.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Light in the darkness

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:4-5).

The more time you spend in darkness, the more you crave the light. During these long dark days of winter, many start suffering depression because they are not getting enough sunshine. Yet sadly, some get so used to the darkness that bright light becomes uncomfortable to the unprotected eye. How many times have you worn sunglasses on a sunny winter’s day because the dazzling snow was painful to look at?

When Jesus came into the world, it was an epiphany. The light of God was revealed to a world shrouded in darkness. Evil had made the world dark. Ignorance of God had made the world dark. When Jesus came to live with us, He worked to get rid of that darkness. He taught about God to dispel our ignorance. He suffered and died for us to forgive our evil ways. Everything about Him was a revelation, an epiphany of God’s holy light.

Sadly, humanity had become so used to living in darkness that the holy light of God was hard to look at. The light of truth reveals us as ugly and deformed because of the darkness that fills our hearts. In the darkness, we could fool ourselves into thinking we were pretty special; the light of Christ makes that illusion impossible to maintain.

You can respond to the epiphany of Jesus in one of two ways. The best way to respond is to embrace the light, even though it can be uncomfortable; as you get used to standing in the glare of holiness, your eyes will start to adjust and you will learn to appreciate the light that has been missing from your life. The other way to respond is tragically unhealthy; instead of embracing the light from heaven, you can crawl back into the darkness, shutting your eyes so you don’t have to face any uncomfortable truths. You can claim that Jesus is a fraud or just ignore Him altogether; but you need to be aware that such a choice will leave you alone in the cold, unfeeling darkness forever.

Far better to face the light and ask Jesus to help you open your eyes fully to the truth. The Son of God came down from heaven to give you the light of life; His goal is freeing you from the darkness so you can live with Him in the light forever. You need light to thrive and be happy; look to Jesus and let Him fill your heart with brightness.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An invisible touch

The wind blows wherever it pleases (John 3:8).

The wind can howl anytime throughout the year, but somehow it seems worse during the depths of winter. During the day, it lashes your face as you try to clear away snowdrifts. At night, the rattling of windows keeps you awake, wondering if the power might go off. Just listening to the wind can make you feel cold, deep down in your bones.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, what something invisible can do? You cannot see the wind, yet it can knock down branches and rip the shingles from your roof. It can force you to change your plans. It can make you feel scared or depressed.

God’s word was committed to paper in the languages of Hebrew and Greek. In both of those ancient tongues, the word for wind and spirit is the same. Consider how Adam was given the spirit of life: the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:2:7). Jesus compared the Spirit of God to the wind: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

When speaking of the wind or of a spirit, Holy Scripture uses the same word for both. Wind and spirits are invisible, yet they can have a powerful effect on our lives. Evil spirits are frightening and destructive, like the winds that howl in winter. They create obstacles in our lives, they try to push us according to their whims, and they whisper things that chill us to the bone.

Thankfully, winter gives way to spring. The nasty wind that kicks up snow becomes the refreshing breeze that brings showers to the fields. And when the long days of relentless heat arrive, we all crave the cooling touch of a pleasant summer wind.

God is spirit, and He is served by a host of spirits who work at making our lives better. You cannot see these agents of God, but their work can be noticed if you just pay attention. They bring you relief when life is unpleasant. They try to nudge you in the right direction when temptation weakens your resolve. They show God’s love to you and urge you to rejoice in His goodness. They are a breath of warmth when life has you feeling cold.

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