Thursday, March 31, 2011

Broken relationships restored

Christ died for sins…to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

During the season of Lent, it is traditional for Christians to slow down and reflect on why Jesus suffered for our sins.

God is the Maker of everything. As such, He has the right to establish laws for human conduct. His commands are focused on relationships—love and respect God, love and respect each other. So far as God is concerned, nothing is more important than healthy relationships.

Sin is breaking God’s law. Sin perverts love. Sin treats others with disrespect. Sin focuses our attention on ourselves and ignores the God who made us. Sin destroys relationships.

God created us to be His children. Because of sin, we became runaways. But a child out on his own is in a lot of danger—he is at risk of being abused, exploited, even killed. The devil pretends to be our friend, but he is really sick and twisted, eager to have degraded fun at our expense.

God was very angry at our disobedient behavior. He had every right to leave us under Satan’s domination forever. But God is still our Father, and He was unwilling to let His wayward children suffer such a fate. So God sent His Son to restore the relationships broken by sin.

Jesus taught the world what true love is. Love is patient and kind. Love is slow to get angry and quick to forgive. Love is willing to sacrifice for others. Love respects everyone as a child of God, yet is willing to challenge the sinful behavior that causes so much grief.

Jesus taught the world about love by word and deed. His words are preserved between the covers of the Holy Bible. His actions have changed the world through a bloody death on a cross. God’s Son has dealt with the problem of sin; as a result, we can have loving and respectful relationships with God and each other, just as it should be.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ransoming and redemption, Jesus and you

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death (Hosea 13:14).

Jesus died to redeem us. ‘Redeem’ means to buy back. Picture it this way. There was a boy who spent weeks building a model ship. It was the kind that has sails and rigging, all sorts of tiny knots and little pulleys. It was a complicated model, but the boy was careful and took his time—in the end, he had a ship to be proud of.

Excited with the results, the boy took his ship to the city park. He wanted to float it in the water outside, so he could take some authentic looking pictures. But as he was lining up the camera, the wind picked up and his ship sailed away. Before he could catch up, it was lost to sight.

A few weeks later, the boy was walking by a pawnshop downtown when he saw something amazing—there was his model ship in the window! He had done a good job building her; the asking price was steep. So the boy hurried home and scraped together all the money he had. Then he returned to the pawnshop and bought back the ship that really belonged to him.

That boy loved his model ship—loved it so much that he not only built it carefully, but He paid for it a second time in order to get it back. So it is with Jesus. We are precious to Him—He designed our bodies and He filled us with life. But we sailed away; we let the winds of life blow us wherever they wanted. We ended up in Satan’s pawnshop, alone and unloved. But then Jesus came along and bought us back. He spent everything He had—He gave up His life in order to make us His. He redeemed us from the devil’s control at the cost of His own life. That’s how much He loves us.

Or think of it this way. We are God’s children, but we didn’t like His rules so we ran away from home. Satan kidnapped us and refused to let us go. So Jesus offered Himself to the devil in exchange for our freedom—and Satan used that opportunity to have Jesus arrested, insulted, beaten, ridiculed, and put to death. Jesus knew perfectly well what He was getting into, but He swapped places with us anyway—He was willing to do anything to get us out of Satan’s clutches.

Jesus paid your ransom price; how are you using the freedom that He paid so dearly to give you?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Foolishness and consequences

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

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

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

At the edge of town, there was a mine. Every morning, people gathered at the top of the main shaft, waiting their turn to descend hundreds of feet into the earth. At the bottom, they set to work—cutting away at the rock in search of precious metals. It was hot, sweaty, dirty work. Thankfully, this was a mine rich with high-grade ore; when the workers collapsed into bed each night, they took pride in the piles of wealth they had dug from the earth.

Two miners deserve closer attention. Carl was a hard working man. He was dependable; when he made a promise, you could take it to the bank. He was careful with money, insisting on saving a portion of his income for the future. After supper he helped the kids with their homework, then discussed the day’s events while washing dishes with his wife. Carl also made time to serve on the school board; his was the voice of reason when discussions got heated. Carl was the kind of guy everyone in town respected and thought well of.

Evan was another worker at the mine. Evan was an easygoing guy. The quality of his work was often marginal. He had a hard time keeping promises; sometimes he overestimated his abilities, other times things would just slip his mind. His wallet must have had a hole in it, because he could never hang on to money for very long. Evan was scatterbrained, never finishing a project because something else new and interesting would come along and distract him. He liked a few beers in the evening, and sometimes needed a ride to get him home safely. Evan was a guy no one counted on, and most people pretty much ignored him.

One day there was a tragic accident at the mine; both Carl and Evan were caught in an explosion. When Carl came to his senses, he realized that Evan was no longer with him. Looking around, it became apparent that although it was still dark, he was now outside. He looked up, but no stars were visible. As a matter of fact, there were no lights to be seen in any direction; everything was hazy and details were hard to make out.

Out of the shadows, a figure approach Carl. A handsome face slowly became visible, but Carl was frightened by the man’s cold dark eyes. The stranger greeted Carl by name, then took him by the arm and started walking. Soon Carl saw that they were approaching a prison complex. On either side of the wide road leading to the gate were huge piles—but piles of what? Tugging free of the stranger, Carl went over to look at one of the mounds; to his astonishment, it was made up of gold nuggets! Carl examined the next pile—this one was a heap of precious gemstones! It appeared that the wealth of countless mines lined the road ending at the prison gates. Utterly confused by all this, Carl turned to the stranger and asked him, "What is going on here? Who are you, why are you leading me towards a prison, and why is all this wealth laying out here unprotected?"

The man’s face split in an ugly smile. He replied, "You really don’t know? You’re dead, dear boy—you perished in that mining accident. My name is Satan, and the prison over there will be your home from now on."

Carl shook with a mixture of terror and indignation. "What? I’m in hell? There’s gotta be a mistake! I lived a good life. I worked hard. I was a faithful husband and a good father. I volunteered my time for the good of the community. I don’t deserve to be here!"

Satan shook his head. "You are an ignorant lout, aren’t you? God sent you here because you deserve nothing better. For years your wife pleaded with you to go to church, but you weren’t interested. If she wanted to believe in Jesus, that was fine with you. But you had no need for religion. You were a good man. You took satisfaction in being decent and responsible and civic-minded. But being a good fellow doesn’t get you into heaven; only Jesus can get you inside." Then the devil pointed to the heaps of riches lining the road. "Do you want to know what all this is? These are the good deeds done by my guests while they were alive—acts of charity, promises kept, and the like. But hell has no need of such things; they are worthless here."

Carl soon began screaming, but Evan could not hear his anguished cries. Evan came to his senses in a sunny field, a warm breeze stirring his hair and the smell of flowers teasing his nose. Brightly-colored birds flew in lazy circles above him, and he could hear the splashing of a stream somewhere nearby.

As he looked around, Evan saw a pleasant (if ordinary) looking man walking up to him. "Hello, Evan—welcome home," the man said. He took Evan’s hand and shook it warmly, then put His other hand on the miner’s shoulder and started the two of them walking along a narrow road. Soon a magnificent city came into view, shining brightly with colors of every hue. As they got closer to the gates, Evan saw huge piles of something dark and ugly heaped along both sides of the lane. The mounds reminded him of tailings from the mine—but what would such waste be doing here? Evan looked at the piles with confusion.

The man guiding Evan stopped and looked him in the eyes. The face was kind, the eyes warm and comforting. "You’re confused, aren’t you?" the man said. Evan could only nod his head. "My son, you’re at the gates of heaven. You died in that mining accident. Although we have never met face to face, we’ve been friends for many years. I am Jesus, and I’m taking you to live in my palace."

Evan didn’t know what to say, so Jesus continued. "You are surprised at how I look. You shouldn’t be. The prophet Isaiah described me when he said, he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." Then Jesus held up His hands and showed Evan the nail prints. "The only think remarkable about my appearance are these scars; they are the reason I became human. These marks are the evidence of my love for you and the proof that I have taken your sins away. You wondered what these ugly heaps are, lining the road to my home? These are the sins of every person in the world—broken promises, addictions, and every sort of failure. On the cross I took them from you and everyone else, but there is no place for these sins in heaven. So here they are left, forgotten by those who join me in paradise." Then, taking Evan’s hand in His once more, Jesus led the faithful miner into heaven, and Evan’s face broke into a delighted smile that would never end.

In our Epistle lesson, Paul says that the world looks at Christianity and sees only foolishness. Carl was a good man, yet in spite of all the wonderful things he did, he ended up in hell; Evan was a deeply flawed man, yet he was welcomed into heaven just because he believed in Jesus. Ridiculous! In the Bible, God promised to punish the sins of humanity, but on Good Friday it was His own Son who suffered and died. Idiotic! God promises to forgive any sin, no matter how awful, if a person simply begs Jesus for mercy. Sheer lunacy!

The wisdom of this world influences the way we think. We grew up believing that there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’; if you want something, you have to earn it somehow. Life has also taught us to expect punishment when we screw up; every mistake has to be paid off, one way or another. But the teachings of Christianity defy conventional wisdom and fly in the face of good sense. For example: when somebody has wronged you, why on earth would you just forgive and forget? It is stupid to let others off the hook without demanding some kind of compensation for the hurt they’ve caused you.

But Scripture tells us that human wisdom is actually foolish. Human wisdom is the product of minds corrupted by sin. Human wisdom is faulty. Only God is without sin; it is only in God’s word that true wisdom can be found. It is because of God’s perfect wisdom that we have hope in the face of death. God has every right to send us to hell to suffer forever. God’s design for humanity was perfection, yet every one of us has made a complete mess of things by our misplaced priorities, thoughtless words, and impulsive behavior. Our perfect God cannot and will not tolerate sin; yet at the same time He loves us with a depth of commitment none of us is capable of. So in His wisdom, God did something absolutely amazing—He sent His Son to represent us at the place of judgment. At Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, Jesus was sentenced to death for our crimes against God and humanity. On the bloodstained cross, Jesus satisfied the requirements of divine justice on our behalf.

The sacrifice of God’s Son frees us from worry. We don’t have to agonize over sins we’ve done and can never take back—Jesus has taken them away. We don’t have to worry whether we have done enough good things to earn a place in paradise—when Jesus escorts you into heaven as His friend, no one will challenge your right to be there.

Are God’s ways foolish? Frankly, I don’t care if they are. His ways set me free—free from worry and doubt, free from guilt and despair. In His wisdom, God has seen fit to rescue me at the expense of His own Son, an exchange I don’t deserve and can never repay. When I look at all the good I’ve done with my life, the pile isn’t very big—especially when compared with the mountain of my sins. And so I treasure God’s wisdom, which fills Psalm 103 with hope: he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

God’s ways might seem foolish to a world blinded by ignorance and corrupted by sin. But human wisdom and conventional thinking can offer no peace when death lays its cold hand on your shoulder. In times of tragedy, the only words that can give you hope are the foolish words of Christ, spoken as He Himself was dying on the cross: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blood and atonement

Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

When Jesus died on the cross, He atoned for our sins. ‘Atoned’ means that He paid the penalty we deserved for breaking God’s law.

Breaking God’s law is a big deal. God designed the world to be perfect—everything in balance, everyone living together in harmony. But mankind messed it all up. God’s law says that we are to love Him and each other; instead, we let greed and pride and anger rule our hearts. We don’t love as we should, and the result is crime and war, abortion and divorce, poverty and waste.

Our disobedience hurts our fellow man, the environment, and us. Our sin causes pain and disappointment and fear. No wonder, then, that God punishes those who break His laws. But God still loves us, despite our faults—that’s why He sent His Son to suffer in our place, to atone for our sins. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are spared God’s terrible anger.

Jesus suffered and died as our substitute. Isaiah says, he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). But why did Jesus have to die? Was there no other way to settle the account?

We don’t like the sight of blood. It makes us squeamish. But blood is very important. God says, the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11). The penalty for breaking God’s law is death, the loss of your lifeblood. That’s why Jesus had to bleed and die; He gave His life so ours could be spared.

This is why we talk about Jesus’ blood being shed for us on the cross. His blood is a gift of life for everyone dying under the curse of sin. God’s word says, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Jesus had to die so we can receive God’s pardon for our sins. Hell is too terrible to think about; that’s why we ought to be grateful that Jesus suffered in our place. He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Worrying about what the future might bring

Do not worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).

Most people are fascinated by the future. Some read horoscopes to get a leg up on what’s coming tomorrow. Others watch stock reports and try to figure out what the future holds for their investments. Science fiction writers try to inspire us with visions of a future utopia or scare us by describing worlds of apocalyptic doom. We watch weather forecasts, despite knowing how inaccurate they can be. Bookies get rich from those who gamble, confident they can predict the outcome of a sporting event.

Why this desire to pull back the curtain of time and sneak a peek at the future? Sometimes its about money—making money through wise investments or saving money by booking tickets early. But more often, our interest in future events is motivated by fear. Will my house get damaged by the coming storm? Will I have enough money to get through retirement? Will I live long enough to enjoy my grandchildren?

Fear of the future is common to us all. We want some advance warning of trouble so we can prepare to meet it. But this type of concern can be a faith-killer for the Christian.

Years ago, many preachers said that it was sinful to purchase life insurance. Why? Because it showed a lack of trust in God to take care of the family following your death. Preachers no longer hold that taking out insurance is sinful; these days, sickness and death result in monstrous expenses. But the basic point remains—do you trust God to take care of you next week, next month, next year? Or do you feel the need to take care of things yourself?

Jesus had something to say on this subject. I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the unbelievers chase after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ready for unexpected tragedy?

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

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

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

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. 80% of the city was flooded, and Americans were horrified by the devastation, the suffering, and the looting. Why had this happened, many wondered? Some believed they knew the answer—Katrina was God’s judgment on a city filled with sin. After all, look at the lewd behavior at every Mardi Gras. Look at the rampant crime. Consider the timing of the hurricane—if there had been no storm, the city was to have hosted a major gay pride event the very next week. Certainly God was punishing the people of New Orleans for their sinful behavior.

During the mid 1980s, Americans became aware of the AIDS virus for the first time. It was an incurable disease that caused terrible misery and certain death, but it could only be spread by one of two ways—through sexual contact or by the sharing needles. The sick were mostly those who injected illegal drugs into each other or who participated in homosexual activity. Why had this disease come into existence, many wondered? Some believed they knew the answer—AIDS was God’s judgment on homosexuals and drug users. After all, look at who contracted the disease—only people who abused drugs or had multiple sex partners were at risk for infection. Certainly God was punishing gays and drug users for their sinful behavior.

During the 1940s, Adolf Hitler began rounding up Jews and placing them in concentration camps. They were treated little better than animals, and soon he ordered that the prisoners be executed, resulting in the deaths of millions. Why did this happen, many wondered? Some believed they knew the answer—the holocaust was God’s judgment on Jews for rejecting Christ. After all, it was the Jews who arrested Jesus and handed Him over to Pilate for execution; it was the Jews who killed Christians and tried to stop Paul from establishing Christian congregations; it was the Jews who steadfastly rejected Christ as their Savior for two millennia. Certainly God was punishing the Jews for these sins by letting Hitler kill them.

This kind of thinking is nothing new—we see it in today’s Gospel lesson as well. Pilate was a man hated by the Jews. He was their ruler, but not by their choice. He was a foreigner, put into office by the Roman Empire. He only ruled the Jews because he had detachments of soldiers patrolling the city, enforcing Roman law. The Jews hated everything about Rome—they hated paying taxes to the Empire, they hated having foreign soldiers in their streets, and most of all they hated being ruled by a culture that worshipped false gods and tolerated all manner of sinful behavior. So the Jews fought against Pilate as best they could—they committed acts of violence from the shadows.

Of course, Pilate could not allow terrorism to happen on his watch. The governor was ruthless in putting down rebellion, so ruthless that his superiors sometimes had to tell him to back off lest he make things even worse. On one occasion, Pilate had a tip that malcontents would be in the Temple at a certain time, offering sacrifices to God. Acting on that information, Pilate sent a detachment to the Temple where they cut down the suspected terrorists in the act of worship; the blood of the murdered Jews mixed with the blood of the animals they had brought for sacrifice.

Word of this horror came to Jesus. Why did this happen, many wondered? Some believed they knew the answer—the massacre in the Temple happened because those Jews had done something to anger God. Since Jesus was well respected as a godly teacher, they asked Him for His opinion.

But Jesus’ answer must have surprised them. Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. The Lord then goes on to mention another tragedy that had happened recently: Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Collapsing towers—certainly this calls to mind images of the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001, when almost 3,000 people died in terror.

The people wanted to know if the Jews killed in the Temple were victims because they had angered God; are some sinners worse than others? But Jesus told them no; those who were murdered had suffered a terrible tragedy, but it wasn’t because God had singled them out for punishment. God hates all sin, and every human being is a sinner. Psalm 14 says, The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt.

We want to believe that some sins are worse than others. Certainly stealing is worse than telling a lie, we think; murder must worse than having an affair. We want to believe that some sins are bigger than others in order to soothe our conscience—we want to be able to think, "at least I’m not as bad as that scumbag." The trouble is that Scripture doesn’t let us off the hook so easily. We are told in James chapter two that whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Think of it in terms of a porch swing. If a link in the chain breaks, does it matter which link? Not at all! The failure of any link results in a sudden, painful fall. So it is with the law of God. It doesn’t matter which law you break—as soon as you break any of them, you are cut loose from God and start falling towards hell.

You should be grateful that Jesus reaches out to grab you before it’s too late. Jesus loves you, and He doesn’t want to see you fall away from God and land in hell. So Jesus fixed what you broke. You broke any number of links in God’s chain of law; but by living a sinless life, Jesus restored that shattered chain to a pristine condition. Because of Jesus, it is just as if you had never broken any of God’s laws. Of course, working with broken metal is bloody work; in order to fix the chain of law you and I have broken, Jesus was pierced and bled—in fact, He died from the wounds He suffered, wounds He received while working to keep you out of hell. Because of His suffering and death, you are safely and firmly connected to God once more.

Every sin has the same result—whether large or small, every sin angers God and demands that He punish the sinner for eternity. Whatever sins you have committed, the only thing your behavior deserves is punishment from above. If God punished sins according to what they deserve, none of us would survive to adulthood. We can be humbly grateful that God does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). Instead, He is patient with us, because He wants everyone to repent of their sins and cling to Christ for dear life (2 Peter 3:9).

Repenting is very important. Repenting happens when you realize that things have gone sour, and it’s because of you. Your selfish and perverse desires. Your foolish and hasty decisions. Your nasty words and broken promises. Your short attention span and willingness to take risky shortcuts. Repenting only happens when you stop trying to blame others or hide the truth; repenting only happens when you hang your head in shame and admit, "it’s my fault."

But repenting does not free you from your guilt—only Jesus can do that. Repenting only has value if it drives you into the Savior’s arms, soaking His sleeve with your tears as you cry, "Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner!" It is a painful, humiliating thing to repent, but the blessing of Christ’s forgiveness takes all the hurt away.

The people who heard about the massacre in the Temple were probably filled with two emotions: relief that it wasn’t them, and worry about what the future might bring. Jesus’ words were not very comforting: unless you repent, you too will all perish. But Jesus was not speaking about the death of the body, He was speaking about the fate of the soul. Referring to those who lost their lives in the sudden collapse of a building, Jesus used the word "died" in speaking of what happened to their bodies. But when He warned of what can happen to the soul, Jesus used the word "perish" instead. The point being made was this: in both tragedies, the end of life was sudden and unexpected. The end of life might come suddenly for any of the people who had gathered to hear Jesus speak. Were they spiritually ready for what awaited them in eternity?

That is the question which you must consider as well. We never know when some terrible event might catch us by surprise, ending our brief stay here on earth with little or no warning. If you get invoved in a fatal car accident tonight, are you spiritually ready? Are you in the habit of repenting your sins? Do you trust Jesus to wipe away your tears as He frees you from your guilt? If you died suddenly, are you securely attached to God through the chains which Jesus repaired at the cost of His own blood? Or will you fall into hell to perish everlastingly?

Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to make your soul ready for the unexpected by taking responsibility for your sins. Now is the time to admit to God that you deserve nothing from Him but His wrath. Now is the time to ask His mercy for the sake of Jesus, who died that every sinner might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). You are no better than St. Paul, who said Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). Although he viewed himself as the worst of sinners, Paul found hope and joy in the mercy of Christ; when you repent and cling to the Savior, those blessings will be yours as well. When the most important things in your life are repenting and praying to Jesus, you can be confident that if tragedy strikes, you are spiritually ready.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people (Hebrews 9:28).

You don’t hear much about sacrifices any more. Maybe you’ve seen King Kong, where villagers capture an American girl and offer her to the huge gorilla that they fear. What they were doing was offering a sacrifice; they were offering something precious—a human life—in order to keep the angry monster happy so he would leave them alone.

For thousands of years, people have offered sacrifices. The world can be a scary place to live in—you never know when violent weather will destroy your home, drought will take the harvest, or disease will thin the herd. Until recently, childbirth was dangerous for both mother and baby, and infant mortality rates were high—many kids never reached adulthood. People did not have hospitals or insurance plans to help them get through a crisis. So they turned to any number of different religions—they prayed to the sun in the sky for light, they asked the water spirits for rain, they pleaded with the goddess of fertility for many healthy children. They needed divine help desperately, so they wanted to keep these powerful beings happy. As a result, they offered sacrifices. The first cuttings of the harvest were burned on an altar as a gift to the goddess of the fields. And the first born child of a married couple might be burned on an altar as a gift to the being who controlled life and death. People gave up something precious, hoping that in return good spirits would bless them and evil spirits would leave them alone.

Of course, there is only one God—the God who created Adam and Eve and promised them a Savior who would come to free us from sin, defend us from Satan, and raise us from death. All those sacrifices made to other gods and spirits were simply a waste that accomplished nothing at all. But the sacrifice made to our God is different.

When we break God’s laws, we incur a penalty—death, followed by punishment in hell. And we’re all guilty—Scripture says, all have sinned and fall short of God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23). By sinning, we have earned God’s terrible punishment. Thankfully, He has arranged a way for us to dodge the bullet—we can escape the consequences of our bad behavior through a sacrifice. On the cross, God’s own Son endured the punishment incurred by our lawbreaking. He was a sacrifice of incalculable worth, so valuable that His suffering and death paid the penalty for every human sin. The death of Christ on Good Friday is the only sacrifice you’ll ever need to be sure of God’s love for you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seeing things for what they're worth

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44).

Uncle Carl had died a bachelor, so it fell to nephew Jeff to dispose of his uncles’ estate. Jeff dreaded the task because Uncle Carl was a notorious pack rat. Sure enough, the old house was stuffed to the gills with all sorts of odds and ends. Sadly, nothing looked all that valuable, so Jeff did not waste money on an auctioneer—he put together a series of garage sales on his own.

One of the sales featured a box filled with old comic books. Jeff never had any interested in comics; he recognized a couple of names like Superman and Captain America, but that was about it. Finding this box surprised him—with no children in the house, why had Uncle Carl kept these worthless old things? So Jeff marked the contents of the box at 25 cents per issue.

The morning of the sale, a well-dressed man in his thirties started thumbing through the box of comics. At one point he stopped and gasped, his eyes wide in surprise. He looked at one comic very carefully, then continued going through rest of the box much more slowly. Eventually he brought six issues over to Jeff and asked somewhat nervously, "every comic is really 25 cents?" Jeff nodded with some annoyance—what on earth was a grown man doing looking at comic books, he thought. The stranger handed over a buck fifty and scooted off to his car, chuckling as he went. Jeff had no idea that during WWII the government urged everyone to recycle paper; as a result, the few comic books that survived were now worth a great deal of money. If he had known something about old comics, he would have never let the man walk off with six prize collectibles worth over ten thousand dollars!

If you don’t understand what you have, you won’t appreciate its worth. This is especially true of the Bible. Bibles are all over the place; sadly, many of them collect dust instead of fingerprints. The Bible is God’s message sent to you—the words inside make it the most valuable book ever written! The Bible reveals how God frees us from unhappiness and grief through His Son Jesus Christ. The word of God offers direction to the lost and strength to the suffering. Nothing else in your possession can approach that kind of worth. Read God’s Book, and treasure it for being the valuable thing that it is.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A time of reflection

Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me." Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).

Today’s Old Testament reading comes to us from Moses, shortly before he died. For many years, the old man had served as God’s representative, leading God’s people through a sun-blasted wilderness. Now they were camped near a major river; on the other side was a fertile, well-watered country which God had promised would be theirs. Soon they would be planting crops, establishing businesses, and building homes.

Once the river was crossed, life was going to get busy—so Moses reminded the people to keep their priorities straight. They must make time regularly to reflect on the past; only when they did this would they realize how much God had blessed them, and how important it was to show Him proper gratitude for everything He had done on their behalf. Look again at the instructions Moses gave: Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me." Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.

It seems incredible that the people could ever forget their history. Israel’s favorite son Joseph was sold as a slave to the Egyptians, yet in time God caused him to become second in command of that mighty nation. When a food shortage endangered his family, Joseph invited his father and all his relatives to join him in Egypt, and made sure they were well taken care of. God blessed Israel’s family, and the children of Israel grew in numbers. Eventually, Egypt’s leaders got nervous about having so many foreigners living in their country; that concern led to the Israelites being enslaved and their infant sons put to death.

Living in misery, the people cried out to God, and in response He sent them Moses. Moses went to the leader of Egypt to demand freedom for the Israelites, and when he was refused, Moses promised terrible punishments from God. Plague after plague afflicted the land, ruining crops, shutting down businesses, stealing the health of the people. Finally, the leader of Egypt relented and allowed Moses to gather God’s people and leave.

Over a period of 40 years, the people traveled under God’s care. He parted the waters of the Red Sea so they could cross it on dry ground. When there was no food, God caused the morning dew to harden into sweet bread. When there was nothing to drink, God told Moses to touch a rock and fresh water poured out from it. God gave the people victory after victory over hostile armies that wanted to destroy them. God showed them such tender care that in spite of 40 years constantly on the move, their shoes never wore out.

How could anyone forget such a remarkable history? And yet as incredible as it seems, the Book of Judges tells us (chapter 2) they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel…After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel…They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger. After the passing of just one generation, the people forgot what God had done for them and they abandoned the faith of their parents.

Where do we lay the blame for this? Did the parents fail in their responsibilities? After all, God had given them this instruction: These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). How hard did those parents work at this? Did they make the religious upbringing of their children a top priority? History suggests that they did not.

Regardless of who was at fault, the next generation of Israelites had no interest in worshipping the true God. They were religious—they offered sacrifices to any number of false gods, praying for good harvests, successful trade, healthy children. But their religious devotion did them no good because it was not directed to the only true God, the God who had expended so much effort on their behalf. In fact, their misdirected spirituality only angered God and brought trouble down upon them.

Moses told the Israelites to reflect on the past; when they stopped looking back, things rapidly fell apart. This is human nature; we are quick to forget. How often do the vows of marriage become old history for the sake of an affair or the freedom of a divorce? How often are years of friendship disregarded because of just one fight? How often do children completely ignore all that their parents did in raising them to adulthood? And how often do we turn a blind eye to everything God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ?

Lent is a time of reflection. Lent is the season when we take Moses’ advice and look back on everything God has done for us. Our Lord has done something far more remarkable than all the miracles which brought the Israelites out of slavery so they could experience joy and prosperity in a land of their own. God sent His own Son down from heaven to be born in a shed used to feed and water animals. God’s Son was threatened with murder before His first birthday, forcing His family to flee to Egypt for safety. God’s Son grew up, not in the capital city, but in a backwater town whose residents would try to kill Him when He grew up. When He began His career as a preacher, Jesus’ own brothers and sisters thought that He had lost His mind. The religious elite regarded Him as a threat and took every opportunity to try and ruin His reputation. Eventually, one of His closest followers became involved in a plot to arrest Jesus on trumped-up charges; He was found innocent by the governor, but was executed anyway to prevent a riot orchestrated by His opponents. He was put to death in the company of criminals, and He was buried in a borrowed tomb.

This terrible sequence of events took place because of you. The Israelites who crossed the river devoted all their energy to building, planting and making money; they were so busy that they forgot about God. You are no different. Pick any day from the past week—let’s say, Tuesday. Last Tuesday, how much was God on your mind? How much time did you spend reading His Bible or some devotional literature? How many times did you pray to Him, asking for help, giving thanks for a blessing, or begging His forgiveness for breaking a Commandment? Last Tuesday, how many of the words spoken to your children taught them about Jesus? Luke 10:27 says, `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.' Last Tuesday, did you love God with all your heart and mind, or did you forget about Him because you were too busy with other things? Did you love your family and friends as equals, or did you focus mostly on yourself?

You and I are criminals; we break God’s laws frequently and shamelessly. You and I are blind; a blind man cannot reach his destination by driving a car, and we are incapable of seeing the road that leads to heaven. You and I are selfish; we expect other people to make us feel good, and we are willing to walk away if it seems the other person is getting more out of the relationship than we are. You and I are sinners, people who miss the mark and fall short of the goal; as such, we do not deserve God’s love but only His eternal contempt.

Thankfully, God loves us—loves us with an everlasting love. This is why Jesus willingly came to earth and suffered poverty, insults and slander. This is why Jesus let Himself be found guilty for crimes He did not commit and be executed for them. Jesus was found guilty of your crimes. Jesus was executed for your sins. The agony He suffered was rightfully yours. But by suffering and dying in your place, Jesus has given you the greatest blessing of love to ever come from heaven—He has freed you from the burden of your sin. When He forgives you, you are released from the weight of your guilt. When you kneel at Jesus’ feet and cling to Him for dear life, God is no longer angry with you. Jesus opens your eyes to show you the way to heaven, and with His help you can start showing true love towards God and your neighbors.

Everyone has a short memory. We quickly forget what a terrible sacrifice the Lord made on our behalf, and take for granted the wonderful blessings we have received from His rough and bloodstained cross. When we let these things drift from our minds, other things come and take their place—sinful things. Making money becomes more important than giving some of our income to God to show our thanks. Time spent relaxing becomes more important than time spent praying, studying the Bible, or worshipping God in His house. A desire for good times becomes more important than reading a Bible story to your child at bedtime or telling a friend that without Jesus in her life, her soul is in grave danger.

Lent is a time of reflection. During these next weeks, the focus will be on where you have fallen short and on what Jesus went through to make things right with God. Lent is a time to admit your inadequacies and kneel beneath the cross, letting the blood of the Savior drip on you so that by His wounds you might be healed. Then, remembering everything our Lord has done for you, respond by giving Him an offering of thanks—offer Him your time, offer Him your income, offer Him your whole-hearted love.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Giving up something for Lent

The Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Many people give up something for Lent. Some won’t eat meat on Fridays. Others give up chocolate. Some stop drinking alcohol or soft drinks. Others pledge extra money to the church that would have otherwise been spent on some form of entertainment.

Why give up something during Lent? It is a way to show respect for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself on our behalf. Jesus is the Son of God; He deserves to be honored as the King of the universe. Yet Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested on false charges. He subjected Himself to slander, humiliation, assault and a verdict of death, none of which He deserved. He died slowly and painfully, stripped of dignity and bereft of compassion. He endured it all for us. Such a powerful display of love calls for some kind of response.

During Lent, some deny themselves in order to feel closer to Jesus. While no one can really understand the hell Jesus went through on Good Friday, we want to share in His sufferings—it’s what friends do. We honor Jesus’ sacrifice by giving up something that makes us feel good. It helps us relate to His suffering. Such behavior is appropriate because Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24).

Others give up something for Lent as a way to show Jesus their gratitude. The Lord gave up His dignity, His comfort and His very life, all so that we can be saved from sin, death and hell. Such a gift deserves some kind of thank you. That’s why followers of Jesus give up something that feels good during Lent; it’s their way of saying, ‘Lord, You sacrificed so much for me; now I’m going to give this up for You, to show my gratitude."

A third reason for denying yourself pleasure during Lent has to do with avoiding distractions. Before Jesus went to the cross, He prepared Himself with an evening of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; Satan was going to attack Him viciously over the next 24 hours and Jesus wanted prepare Himself. Many Christians use Lent as a time to take a good, hard look at ourselves—our failures and our weaknesses. It’s a time for reflecting on the important things in life—we don’t want to be distracted by trivial stuff. And so we give up those pleasures that keep us looking in the wrong direction—towards ourselves in the mirror, instead of towards Jesus on the cross.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

Memories—they can be a source of joy. Empty nesters fondly recall the days when children filled their homes with laughter and excitement. Workers stuck behind a desk remember days of athletic greatness back in high school. Bed-ridden seniors in nursing homes find comfort in their memories of days filled with the adventure of life.

But not all memories are wonderful. Sometimes the past haunts us. Some adults are troubled with memories of childhood abuse. There are women who are afraid of intimacy because of past betrayal. There are men who worry about every dime because they went through a period of economic hardship.

Memories can fade with time. Memories can be stolen by diseases of the mind or suppressed because they are too painful to recall. Many people speak of "the good old days", but they are dealing with selective memory—they snuggle up to pleasant recollections and conveniently forget about the hardships they endured back then.

Unlike us, God does not forget. Everything we’ve done wrong is written down in a book that details our lives. When Jesus returns to judge the world, each of our books will be opened and we will be treated according to what’s written inside.

Thankfully, God makes this wonderful promise: I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. He does this through Christ, who suffered the punishment for our evil thoughts, careless words and hurtful behavior. Jesus has the authority to say friend, your sins are forgiven (Luke 5:20). And when the Savior speaks those words, the bad things written in your book are erased. God forgets the mistakes that stain your past; all He remembers are the good things of your life.

For us, getting rid of unpleasant memories isn’t so easy. But if you tell Jesus that you’re sorry and ask Him to make right what you’ve messed up, you can be freed from the chains of guilt. Your unpleasant memories might not go away—after all, God wants you to learn from your mistakes. But with the Lord’s forgiveness, your recollection of the past can become a thing of joy instead of pain.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Seeing God

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land--from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, `I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."

And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt--to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:1-12).

Moses—what an incredible life that man had. He was raised in a royal palace, the adopted son of a princess. As an adult, he left city life behind and experienced the joys of marriage, fatherhood, and working with animals. At age 80, Moses became a preacher, miracle worker, and leader of the Israelites. Even at 120 years of age, he still had strength and vitality. But most wonderful of all, Moses was permitted to speak with God face to face. Of all the blessings Moses received from the Lord, surely this privilege outshone them all.

But it does raise a question. In the New Testament, Jesus says something that seems to contradict what we read in Deuteronomy. John chapter six quotes the Lord as follows: No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Jesus claims to be the only person in history who has ever seen God the Father! And yet the Old Testament tells us of several people who have seen God.

Moses, of course, is one example. Consider his appearance after receiving the Ten Commandments from God: When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:29-30). Because of the time he spent with God, Moses actually started glowing with the reflected light of God’s glory!

Abraham is another example, as we read in Genesis chapter 17. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers."

Isaiah also saw the Lord. In chapter six of his book, he describes a vision of God’s throne room and his reaction to what he saw: I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "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."

Why was Isaiah terrified? He knew that as a sinful human being, he dared not look at the blazing glory of God. Centuries earlier at Mount Sinai, God had told Moses you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live (Exodus 33:20). But Isaiah was not struck dead for looking at God on His throne, and a similar mercy was shown to the leaders of Israel when they ascended Sinai with Moses: Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel…God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:9-11).

So which is it? Is God inconsistent, bending the rules to let a few select people look at Him under certain conditions? Or is Jesus a liar for claiming that only He, the Son of God, has ever seen our heavenly Father? The answer to both is no. God is not inconsistent; He does not bend the rules. Through Malachi He says, I the LORD do not change (chapter 6). And Jesus is no liar; Peter says He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22).

Exodus says, The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11). Jesus says, No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. How can both these statements be true? They are both true because Jesus is God, and it was God’s Son whom Moses spoke with face to face.

The Son of God is eternal; along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He has always existed as a member of the Trinity. John calls Him the Word of God, the means by which God reveals His thoughts to us. Ever since creation, that has been the Son’s role—He is the one who reveals the invisible God to mankind. When sin disrupted our relationship with God, it only made sense that the Son of God be the one to correct the problem. He revealed God’s anger at our sins. He revealed what kind of behavior God expects from every human being. And He revealed God’s love for us, a love that found a way to punish sin yet spare the sinner. Jesus revealed both God’s love and justice on the cross, where our sins were punished in Jesus’ tortured body. In the crucified Son of God, justice was served in such a way that we were sheltered from it by the immeasurable love of the Savior.

Jesus reveals God to us—He says, 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 14:10-11). When Jesus speaks, it is God that we hear. The Savior said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him (John 14:6-7). Paul writes, there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). John adds, Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:22-23). God cannot be known apart from Jesus Christ.

It is through Jesus that God establishes a relationship with us. It is through Jesus’ words that God reveals His thoughts; it is through Jesus’ actions that God reveals His heart. It is through Jesus that the barrier of sin is torn down so that we can approach God unafraid.

When we realize that Jesus is God made visible, it becomes obvious that the Son of God shows Himself throughout the Old Testament. Whenever God is heard speaking, it is the Son revealing His Father whom only He can see. And so it is the Son of God who comes to Abraham in Genesis chapter 18: The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby…"Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him. "There, in the tent," he said. Then the LORD said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."

Sometimes the Son of God appeared as an angel, as happened in Judges chapter two: The angel of the LORD…said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, `I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?" Clearly this was no ordinary angel; consider Gideon’s reaction when he received such a visit: When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!" But the LORD said to him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die." Gideon understood that to see the Angel of the Lord was to see God Himself.

The Son of God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. The Son of God led the Israelites through the wilderness as a column of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. The Son of God inscribed the Ten Commandments on two pieces of stone and gave them to Moses. And the Son of God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

In the Old Testament, Moses was the only man the Son of God spoke to as a friend; no other prophet had such a close and personal relationship with the Lord. But in the New Testament, Jesus gathered a group of disciples to learn from Him, men He spoke with face to face; in John chapter 15 He tells them I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

But don’t think that the disciples were the only people close to Jesus. When He was dying on the cross, the Lord made sure that His widowed mother would be cared for in His absence: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27). Jesus also had close friends; John tells us Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11:5). Notice how our Master speaks to a man in desperate need of hope: Friend, your sins are forgiven (Luke 5:20). In fact, Jesus treats all believers like members of His family: A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:32-35).

In the Old Testament, it was a rare and special thing to be God’s friend, as Moses was. Thankfully, the New Testament changed all that. When Jesus came to live on earth, He revealed God in a way never done before—in Jesus, God has become someone we can talk to face to face as friends. Jesus is still the magnificent Son of God whose glory made Moses’ face shine from standing in His presence. Only a few disciples were permitted a glimpse of that hidden glory: Jesus took with him Peter, James and John…and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:1-2). On that mountain the disciples saw the glory that made Gideon and Isaiah tremble with fear; since Jesus did not want His followers to be terrified of him, He concealed His majesty behind an ordinary-looking face.

Moses was blessed to encounter God face to face as a friend; so were the disciples. But you are blessed as well; Jesus told Thomas Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29). Peter adds, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9). You don’t have to see the Son of God to get all the benefits of being His friend. But rest assured that the day is coming when you will see the Lord in all His glory just as Stephen did, moments before his death: "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).

Thursday, March 03, 2011

What would Jesus do?

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

"What Would Jesus Do?" I can’t begin to imagine how many wristbands have been sold that ask this question. Yet despite their popularity, I question their usefulness.

The idea, of course, is to encourage looking at a situation from God’s perspective. When we face a problem, we try to figure out the best way to respond by asking questions like "how can I benefit from this? How can I escape getting into trouble or looking bad?" Because we are all basically selfish, we try to finesse every situation to our own personal benefit. But when you ask "What Would Jesus Do?" you are encouraged to look for a solution that pleases God—will the most good be done for the most people, will justice prevail, will those who are sorry receive another chance?

Asking yourself "What Would Jesus Do" is not a bad idea. God’s perspective on things must always be considered. But there is a problem with "What Would Jesus Do"—Jesus was perfect, and we are not. Jesus is the Son of God, while we are only human. Jesus knows everything; our knowledge is limited. Jesus can see how things will turn out in the future; we cannot. Jesus is wisdom personified; sin makes our minds foggy and confused. A lot of the time, we don’t know what Jesus would do. We have a Bible full of His words, yet how many different forms of Christianity exist? If we cannot agree on what Jesus has said, how can we be sure of what He would do? And even if we knew what Jesus would do, we cannot behave like Him. He is perfect; we are flawed by sin. Every day we have plenty of reasons to ask Him for forgiveness. Paul writes, I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t (Romans 7:18). Jesus tells us to love each other, yet we trade gossip, get into arguments, and issue ultimatums. Sin cripples our ability to do what Jesus would.

How wonderful it is that Christ died for sins, once for all…to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18). He is willing and ready to forgive everything you’ve done wrong. He wants to take charge of your life, guiding you through every difficulty and giving you strength to endure all hardships. Don’t wonder what Jesus would do—ask Him in prayer to take you by the hand and lead you through life’s challenges. Trust in the Lord with all your heart;do not depend on your own understanding.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Money, money, money

You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).

People are always thinking about money--especially since this recession began. Our government runs on tax revenue. Our economy is based on money changing hands. If people hold on to their money, the economy suffers and tax revenues go down. Economists urge us to spend, spend, spend.

The only reason that you have money is because of God. Moses said, remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). The Lord gives us money to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and clothing on our backs. But we are not given money for our selfish consumption. The Lord expects us to share with those in need; the Bible says A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9). Most important of all, the gift of money can be returned to the Lord to show Him thanks for His goodness and to support the spreading of His saving message. Jesus said, go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19); you might not be able to serve as a missionary, but you can financially support those who do this vital work.

Sadly, a lot of people use money poorly. Some waste it on short-term pleasures like gambling, drugs, or Internet pornography. Others hoard money instead of putting it to use. The desire for money drives many to crime; others worry about money so much that it steals away the pleasure of living in the moment. This is why Paul wrote, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus warned, No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and Money. Money is a tool that is to be used according to God’s law. The love of money can lead to long hours at work and the neglect of your family. The desire for money can lead to price gouging and deceptive advertising. And money is abused when so much is spent on entertainment that bills go unpaid and charities are ignored.

When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will demand an accounting of how we have used His money. We don’t want to hear Him say, throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness (Matthew 25:30). We want to please the Lord with our careful use of His property. We want to hear these words come from His lips: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness! (Matthew 25:21)

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