Friday, April 29, 2011

May Day

Welcome to the start of summer! Yes, you heard right. With the arrival of May Day, ancient Europe would welcome the beginning of summer. By their calendar of long ago, spring commenced on February 1st, and June 21st was considered Midsummer.

Eventually, May Day became the official start of spring. It marked the end of winter when nothing could be planted or grown in northern climates. As such, it was a day of celebration—people were no longer cooped up inside, huddling together and trying to keep warm. The day featured much dancing, and the prominent use of flowers for decoration.

We don’t celebrate May Day as the start of spring any more. Most people don’t set up May Poles to dance around, crown a girl as May Queen, or arrange May Baskets full of flowers and leave them on the doorsteps of people who they fancy. We have pretty much forgotten about May Day as a holiday.

But who needs May Day when we have Easter? Easter has everything that May Day offers, and much more besides.

May Day used to mark the beginning of spring. After months of long cold nights and chilling winter storms, warmth banishes the snow and invites children to run outside. After endless weeks of being cooped up in the house, farmers can start turning ground and gardeners can dig into flower beds. Green shoots sprout from barren soil; gnarled tree branches start budding with fresh leaves. Colorful, long-absent birds start filling the air with song. After what seems like an eternity of bleakness, the world sparkles with the promise of returning life.

This is the promise of Easter. Our world has been trapped in a long, cold winter of our own making. We love to sin, even though sin results in pain, disappointment, and death. We indulge in pleasures that make us slaves to addiction. We dodge taking responsibility for our mistakes, tearing apart our relationships in the process. Because we sin, we provoke God’s anger; because we do wrong, each of us is sentenced to die. Life is a string of painful struggles and foolish decisions, coupled with the loneliness and fear which accompany death.

Thanks to God, Easter changes all that. Easter is God’s assurance of spring. When Jesus stepped out of the tomb alive, He was the first blossom of new life in a world held captive by death. Two days earlier, His suffering and death on the cross had paid in full the penalty we incurred for being sinners. When He breathed His last, Christ died a victor over the powers of darkness. He went down to hell, marched into that terrifying prison, and announced to Satan along with all the demonic host that they were failures—everyone who trusts in Jesus will avoid eternal punishment and rise to live forever in paradise. Then early on Easter morning, Jesus’ soul returned to His body; His heart began to beat, He started to breathe once more. He took off the funeral wrappings from His body, and stepped into the sunlight of a bright new future. By His resurrection, Jesus provided indisputable proof that He is Lord of both the living and the dead. In Him is life, new and glorious life, life that can never be brought to an end. Jesus is God’s promise of spring to a world that has been trapped in the bleak deadness of a long, sin-filled winter.

May Day celebrants used to choose a young woman to be queen for the day. Easter provides a much better figurehead. Christ is our Easter King. But He is not just king for one day—His rule extends for all eternity. And our Lord wields true authority. God the Father has given Him authority to judge the living and the dead. This is incredibly good news! Do you dread getting hauled into court to face a judge? Do you worry whether the verdict will be to your favor? With Christ as our judge, we have nothing to be concerned about! Why did Jesus go to Calvary? He went there because He loves you. He accepted the punishment for your sins to spare you from the terrible consequences of your misbehavior. On the day when you stand before Jesus, waiting to find out if heaven welcomes you, your Judge is the same man who laid down His life for you. Your entry to paradise is assured, so long as you are not so foolish as to reject Christ as your King.

It used to be customary to give May Baskets to someone you were sweet on. That tradition survives in the Easter Baskets many parents give their children. But Jesus provides something much better than a May Basket containing fresh cut flowers. When the Son of God returned to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God provides tremendous blessings. He gives us faith—the ability to believe in a Savior whom we’ve never met face to face. The Spirit also gives us those things necessary to lead a satisfying life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). He teaches us what love really is—not the mushy sentiment of a greeting card, not the lust-filled hunger for an attractive person, but this: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). And on top of all this, our Messiah gives us the greatest gifts of all—complete forgiveness without any strings attached, and everlasting life with Him and all the saints. The flowers in a May Basket wilt after a day or two; the gifts of Christ endure forever.

Let’s pause for a moment and shift gears. Some of you may know that there is another way to understand the term “Mayday.” Anyone who has spent time in the military or in search and rescue has an adrenaline reaction when hearing the word Mayday three times in a row. Used that way, it is a cry for help. Mayday, Mayday, Mayday means that someone’s life is in imminent danger and help is urgently needed.

Using Mayday as a plea for rescue started in 1923 when an English radio officer was asked to come up with a general distress call that would be easily understood by all who heard it. At that time, the concern was chiefly for air traffic between Britain and France; Mayday was chosen because of its similarity to the French word for “come help me.” Issuing a Mayday is so serious that other pilots and captains will divert course to offer assistance, and a false cry for emergency help is prosecuted as a criminal act.

Sending out a Mayday for help—how many times have you felt that desperate? Overwhelmed by your responsibilities at school or at work. Overwhelmed by a failing relationship. Overwhelmed by serious health problems. Overwhelmed by the shadow of death. How often have you felt all alone in the midst of a crisis? How often have things looked completely hopeless? How often have you felt powerless and inadequate? How often have you worried that you’ve ruined things beyond salvaging?

Easter is God’s answer to your Mayday. Easter is your promise from the Almighty that He will take care of you. Easter is Jesus’ assurance that you are not alone with your problems.

When Jesus came to save us, He was born like everyone else. He went through childhood, experiencing all the frustrations every kid has to face—bullies, social cliques, peer pressure. As an adult he was the target of gossip and insults. Satan worked on Him constantly, trying to get our Lord to waste His time and energy on distractions, take His relationships for granted, avoid facing difficult situations by looking for the easy way out. For 33 years, Jesus experienced the challenges common to us all. Although He never sinned, He understands and sympathizes with every emotional ache that you feel.

This is why Jesus promises to listen when you pray. He wants you to share your hurts with Him. Our Lord rose from the dead so He can listen to your Maydays. And as great as it is to know He is paying close attention, it is even more comforting to know that our Savior responds—He lives so that we might have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). We don’t have a Lord who sits on His hands and does nothing; the Son of God rose from the dead so He can reach into our lives and provide the rescue that we desperately need.

Our living Lord rescues us from the compulsion to sin. The Bible promises, God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus wants us to look at Him when we feel the urge to do wrong; He will guide us past temptation if we entrust ourselves to His leadership. We only fail when we let our focus drift from Jesus to other things, things that lead us into trouble. Yet even when we mess up, as we frequently do, the Savior who died and rose is ready to restore the holy life that we so casually toss away.

Our living Lord rescues us from our own limitations. He gives this assurance: do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Can’t see the answer to a problem? Ask Christ to show you the best path forward. Feel too weak to hang on any longer? Ask the Good Shepherd to carry you in His arms. Afraid that you have done something so wrong that no fix is possible? Ask the Son of God to take the situation in His mighty hands and bring about something good. Trust Scripture’s promise that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

Best of all, our living Lord rescues us from the long-term effects of sin. Because He suffered in our place, the cross symbolizes our rescue from hell. When any of our loved ones die trusting in Christ, we are assured of their peaceful rest in heaven. When death’s cold fingers start to take hold of you, you can be sure that Jesus has the gates of paradise standing open, and His arms are spread wide waiting to welcome you.

Easter is your May Day. Whether you hunger for new life or rescue from trouble, you can find everything you need in the Son of God. He rose from the dead to be your living source of hope and help. He is there for you today and every day, 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).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Administrative Professional Day

Serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

I remember when every office had a secretary. It was a secretary who welcomed me when I came in for a job application. It was that same secretary who made me feel welcome after I got hired. She took dictation from the boss, typed everyone’s reports, and still made time to chat with anyone who passed by her desk. Even though I haven’t seen her in decades, I still have fond memories of that secretary—she was a valuable employee.

These days you wouldn’t call her a secretary—she would have the title of Administrative Professional. Of course, her duties would still be pretty much the same. She wouldn’t get a pay hike to go along with the fancy title. But no matter what name you hang on the position, anyone who does this job well is an asset to the company and will always be remembered with a smile.

Many jobs have been renamed over the years. Janitors became custodians. Garbage men are now sanitation engineers. Clerks have been replaced by sales associates. It’s as if we are ashamed to do work that serves the needs of others.

Jesus is our Savior. He said, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Christ was not embarrassed by His job title. Paul says that although Jesus was God in every way, He did not insist on being treated as God; when He came to earth, He assumed the role of a servant, ministering to our needs even when that ministry involved ridicule, persecution, mistreatment and death. For Jesus, it was all about the work; prestige was irrelevant.

Jesus showed us that there is no higher calling than to serve others. He said, If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all (Mark 9:35). Jesus would find no shame in a title like secretary; if a job helps others, the job is a good one—titles don’t matter.

This week, we honor those people who help us in the office. Whether you call them a secretary, an administrative professional, or something else, the important thing to remember is this—when a person serves others, they are doing an honorable thing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Springtime and Easter

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

In spring, animals that hibernated through winter stir from their sleep. In spring, trees that were dormant start budding with fresh leaves. In spring, flowers bloom and farmers seed their fields for a new growing season.

Spring is a time of joy. The days grow warmer. We get more hours of sunlight. We are freed from being captive in our homes, freed to enjoy the sights and smells of a world coming alive after long, cold months of darkness.

No wonder that Jesus rose from the dead in spring. The Son of God ended the cold winter of sin and death. He freed us from the guilt and shame of sin by suffering on the cross as our substitute. He defeated the power of death by returning to life on Easter morning. Because Jesus rose triumphant over sin and death, the dark coldness of winter that afflicted our souls has given way to the sunny warmth of spring.

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to sit in the dark by ourselves, hiding from the world because we don’t want anyone to see our shame. On the cross, Jesus earned the right to forgive our evil thoughts, words and deeds. He suffered the punishment you deserved for ignoring God and spreading hurt instead of kindness. He wants you to stop hibernating; He invites you to come out and join all those who are enjoying the beauty of God’s love.

Because of Jesus, we are filled with new life. He died to free you from the past. Turn your back on bad habits and addiction. Turn your back on being critical or pessimistic. Turn your back on pleasures that waste money or degrade the value of your humanity. Let Jesus plant something new in you. Let Him steer you into fresh ways of doing things, ways that show honor to God and respect to others. Let the bad things of the past die and be forgotten, buried in Jesus’ grave. He rose from the dead to make our future bright; rejoice in the beautiful new spring that He offers you and take advantage of the new opportunities that it brings.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Be at rest, thanks to Easter

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living (Psalm 116:7-9).

He has risen! He has risen indeed! Our Lord Jesus has stepped from the grave filled with life, filled with love, filled with power. He lives so that He can share these gifts with you. Through Christ, you also can be filled with life. Through Jesus, you also can be filled with love. Through God’s Son, you also can be filled with strength. That is the blessed hope of Easter. That is the confidence voiced by Psalm 116.

Life can be very difficult. There are times when money is short and hard choices have to be made. There are times when sickness or injury disrupt your plans and fill your days with worry. There are times when fear, anger and jealousy tear apart relationships and you are left feeling hurt and unloved. There are times when death steals away the people most precious to you, resulting in confusion and loneliness. When life becomes difficult it can sap your strength and steal your joy, leaving you feeling weak and helpless.

When things seem bleak and the future hopeless, it is time to remember the words of the psalmist: Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. God has been good to you, and nowhere is that more evident than on Easter. Easter is the culmination of God’s saving work undertaken on your behalf. Jesus was conceived in Mary in order for Easter to happen. Jesus was born in Bethlehem’s stable to make Easter a reality. Jesus was baptized by John and tempted by Satan to get ready for Easter. Throughout the three years of His public ministry, Jesus’ teachings and miracles all pointed towards the message of the empty tomb. Jesus suffered, died and was buried so that Easter could be celebrated as the greatest miracle of God ever performed. Every moment of Jesus’ life was dedicated to giving you the blessing of Easter.

You, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death.If life is ended forever by death, what’s the point of living? At funerals you will often hear people say things like, "as long as he lives in our hearts, he is never really gone." Thatis hardly a comforting sentiment—how many people know the name of their great, great grandfather? Does he still live on if no one remembers him? Other people try to leave their mark on the world by building things, enacting important legislation, or establishing a charity. But out of all the human beings who have ever lived, how many do you remember studying in history class? Of all the people who wanted their lives to have lasting importance, even after death, almost all have been forgotten.

If life is ended forever by death, what’s the point of living? You might as well eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die. And many do live this way—pleasure for today, with no thought of consequences tomorrow. Such lives are superficial and empty; ironically, many who live like this are so unhappy that they turn to suicide in an attempt to escape the pain of living without purpose. But the LORD has been good to you; He has given you the blessing of Easter life. Jesus is living proof that the grave does not end life forever. Christ has ended the power of death to hold us captive. Life from death—this is the gift that the Savior offers you. Jesus said, Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19). Jesus’ Easter resurrection gives us confidence that we can and will live forever, that death will not leave us forgotten, that the life we live has purpose and meaning.

But what good is life, if life is nothing but misery? Psalm 90 says, The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we spend more time causing pain than we do soothing hurts. When we get mad at others, we lash out by making fun of them. We tease people so we can get a laugh at their reaction. We sulk and whine when we don’t get our way. We blame others for our mistakes to escape punishment; we tell lies to get something we want but haven’t earned. We break promises when keeping them becomes inconvenient. Our lives are filled with pain—pain that our behavior causes, pain that our behavior invites.

But You, O LORD, have delivered…my eyes from tears. Love is what motivates Jesus. It was love that brought Him to earth to live among us. Love filled His every word as He taught what it means to be a child of God. His great love for all people led Jesus to the cross, where He endured the hellish punishment that our sins deserved. Love laid Christ in the grave, and love raised Him from it alive so that He can share His love with us forever.

The LORD has been good to you.He has given you the blessing of Easter love. His love has freed you from the guilt of your mistakes; all the hurts you have caused are washed away by the blood He shed for you on the cross. At the same time, His love frees you from living alone, wary of contact with others; the love of Christ enables you to forgive those who have brought you grief. The love of Jesus is a love that mends what was broken—it mends your broken relationships with God and with each other. And as old hurts are replaced with new bonds of love, your tears are replaced with smiles of happiness.

You, O LORD, have delivered…my feet from stumbling.No matter how hard we try to be good and loving people, we keep getting tripped up. Sometimes we have good intentions, but we fail to follow through—we overestimate our abilities or miss a deadline because we let other things distract us. Sometimes other people get in our way by making competing demands for our time or resources, or they flat out oppose us because their goals don’t agree with ours. And sometimes it seems as if nature itself is against us, when bad weather or an unexpected accident forces us to change our plans or put them on hold.

But the LORD has been good to you; He has given you the blessing of Easter power. Easter is God’s declaration of victory. By rising from the dead, Jesus proved His power over the three enemies who work to trip you up—the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. Your sins could not keep Jesus buried—instead, your sins are buried in Jesus’ grave. The world could not keep Jesus buried—on Easter morning an angel opened the tomb to show the world that it was empty, and no matter how many lies that have been spread since then, the world has been unable to hide the truth that Christ has risen. And Satan could not keep Jesus buried—in fact, between His death and resurrection, Jesus visited hell and told Satan face to face that the forces of evil had been defeated forever.

The road through life is littered by obstacles, but the power of God can keep us from stumbling. He says, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Paul reminds us, God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christ has given us access to His power. We get it from His words in the Bible. We get it through prayer. We get it at Baptism and through the Lord’s Supper. The power of Jesus is at our fingertips; all we need do is immerse ourselves in it by spending time with the Savior.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.The goal of Christ’s work was to give us rest—rest from worrying about sin, pain and death. On Easter morning, Christ achieved His goals—He emerged from the grave victorious over sin, death and the forces of darkness. He lives to forgive us, to replace our sorrow with happiness, to give our lives meaning and help us through the rough spots with His power. Jesus rose so that you and I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living forever, sharing in the eternal life that His blood has earned for us. That is the blessing of Easter.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Climate change and Christ

By him all things were created…and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

I’m not worried about climate change.

Of course, I don’t like pollution and waste. I like to breathe clean air. I don’t like seeing trash blowing down the road. I think that water should be used wisely, not wasted.

I don’t think that any species should be hunted to extinction. I support making our cars and trucks more fuel-efficient.

But I’m not worried about climate change. I’m not losing sleep over melting glaciers or shifting weather patterns. It’s happened all before. Average temperatures rise and fall over the course of centuries. Rivers change where they flow. Lakes dry up and low lands flood. Some species adjust; others don’t and become extinct. It’s been this way since man started recording history.

Back in the 1960s, I used to worry about nuclear war devastating the planet. Eventually, I realized that such worry was pointless—there’s nothing I can do about nuclear weapons being deployed, except pray to God for peace and vote for politicians who I hope are too wise to push that button.

I don’t worry about mankind poisoning the earth with radiation, filling the air with CO2 emissions or polluting the water with heavy metals. These are bad things that are harmful to good health and should be avoided, to be sure. But I don’t worry that we can or will destroy the earth.

Why don’t I worry? Because I believe what God says in the Bible. And the Bible is clear—when Jesus returns to judge mankind, there will be people going about their lives. Most will be surprised at His coming; only a few will be overjoyed at His return. But the world will still be supporting life on that final day—no matter how bad things get, God won’t let us destroy His wonderful creation.

Go ahead and install solar panels. Go ahead and invest in wind energy. Go ahead and drive a hybrid. But don’t brag that you’re saving the world—that job belongs to Christ.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Earth Day

The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).

Earth Day. A day when we pause to think about the world we live on and how we treat it. A day when environmentalists challenge our wasteful behavior, and teach us how to conserve and preserve the resources of nature.

It seems kind of silly to observe Earth Day; after all, the earth is all around us. Every day we breathe its air and walk its surface. Every day we drink its water and eat its produce. Everything we own is made from the earth, whether it be wood or fabric or paper, metal or plastic or glass. The earth is part of our daily life; why do we need a day to remember it?

Sadly, we take things for granted. We pollute the air, assuming that the wind will disperse any toxins harmlessly. We waste fuel, as if subterranean oil deposits will never run dry. We buy more than we need and throw things away without trying to fix them. We are careless and thoughtless; we need a regular reminder to change our ways.

Every week, there’s a church near you that observes God’s Day. It seems kind of silly to set aside a day each week to think about God—after all, He is all around us. Every day He gives life to new children. Every day He causes plants to grow and herds to multiply. Every day He inspires scientists to invent new medicines and develop new technologies. Everything we have—life and health, family and friends, home and career—they are all gifts from the Lord.

Sadly, we take things for granted. We use and abuse people instead of loving them. We use our minds to spin lies and plot deception. We spend time wishing for things we don’t have instead of thanking God for His generosity. We waste the time, skills and resources that the Lord has given us, and we act as if God should be grateful for any leftover crumbs that we might toss His way.

Earth Day reminds us to appreciate the world God has given us, and to treat it responsibly. God’s Day—Sunday—reminds us to appreciate the Lord who made the earth, and to give Him the respectful treatment that He deserves.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jesus on parade

Everyone loves a parade. You have marching bands and floats. You have clowns and horses and people in fancy dress. You have antique cars, trucks, and farm equipment. You have groups who demonstrate different styles of dancing and athletic ability. You have color guards and fire engines. And best of all, parades are free entertainment.

Up until recently, parades were more than just an hour’s worth of fun—they were a major event. Before cars, travel was slow; the average person seldom took trips of more than a few miles from home. And without television or radio, the ability to witness large and exciting events did not come along very often. A parade was guaranteed to draw a huge crowd.

Governments have always used parades to their advantage. Politicians use parades to connect with the people in a personal way, smiling and waving as they pass by; political hopefuls shake hands and pass out campaign literature. Governments also like to show off their military, filling parades with tanks, missile launchers, and ground forces marching in precision. In places like America, it is a chance to recognize our soldiers and be reassured that we are well protected; in other places, the show of might is intended to keep citizens in line by intimidating them. Because they are well attended, parades are the perfect venue for those in charge to send a message to the people.

During Holy Week, Jesus participated in two parades. Like other parades, these were both well attended. Like other parades, these events were used to send important messages to the people. The first parade happened on Palm Sunday; Jesus entered Jerusalem to begin teaching in the Temple. The second parade happened on Good Friday; Jesus left Jerusalem to end His life by dying on the cross.

The first parade on Palm Sunday is one we would feel comfortable in attending. Jesus had spent the last three years traveling around the country—teaching about God, forgiving sins, performing miracles. He had become a well-known and respected individual with a considerable following. Now He was approaching Jerusalem to celebrate the most important religious holiday of the year. The capital city was swarming with people—people who were sick and tired of the Roman soldiers occupying their country. They wanted someone to organize a revolt and throw the Romans out—and they thought that Jesus might be just the man for the job.

And so a parade was quickly organized. Jesus’ arrival was welcomed with cheers and singing. Many in the crowd hailed Him as a king, hoping He would bring about political freedom. The parade-goers had a message for Jesus—"We support you." By attending the parade, they also intended to send the Romans a message—"Here is our true king."

The people were right in praising Jesus as king. But they misunderstood the nature of His kingdom. Jesus had not come to rule from the front of an army or from behind a desk; Jesus came to take charge of the human heart. When Pilate questioned Jesus on the nature of His rulership, the Lord replied: My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus told the Pharisees, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, `Here it is,' or `There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).

The people along Jesus’ parade route were praising Him for the wrong reasons. He had come to free us, not from political oppression, but from the oppression of sin. Only one person in the world was capable of such a feat—only the Son of God could achieve this victory. This is why He was born into our world. This is why He rode into Jerusalem calmly, knowing that death awaited Him. When some said that the cheering people were acting inappropriately, Jesus replied: if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40). The Son of God had come to do something that would change the world forever; this event was definitely cause for celebration.

Five days later, another parade took place in Jerusalem—but this one we would feel very uncomfortable in attending. This was not a celebration of joy—this was a political statement sponsored by the government to provoke fear. Jesus was stripped of His clothes and His dignity. He was sticky with blood from a terrible whipping. He was followed by a cross, the most brutal means of execution ever devised by man, a method of death reserved for only the worst of criminals. The Romans paraded Jesus through the city to send a message to the people—do what this man did, and you can expect the same.

Jesus was taken to the Place of the Skull, an area used for public executions. To make sure that travelers coming to the city understood why Jesus was being put to death, the notice of His crimes was written in three different languages. The charge was simple: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (Luke 23:38). Most who read this sign would conclude that the execution was politically motivated; apparently Jesus was on the losing end of a struggle for power with Rome.

But once again, most people misunderstood what was going on. The parade that left a trail of blood through the city did take place to send a message, but it was not a message of fear. The parade route to the cross, the Via Dolorosa, was all about God’s solution to the problem of sin. The Way of Grief sends a message, not of fear, but of hope.

Jesus was insulted and slapped around. His enemies spit in His face and told lies about Him. He was stripped of His clothes and savagely whipped. He was laid out on a rough wooden cross and had metal spikes pounded through His hands and feet. Then He was lifted up into the sun to die slowly from dehydration, blood loss, exposure, or just sheer exhaustion, all the while being in constant agony as His body hung from the nails piercing His hands and feet.

Adding to His torment, people who never had time for Jesus before now made a point of taunting Him. Jesus was ridiculed by prominent Jewish citizens, common Roman soldiers, even a criminal sentenced to die on a cross alongside of Him. Of His disciples, only John had the courage to stand near the cross, comforting Jesus’ mother in her time of grief. But worst of all were those terrible hours when the sun was darkened and God turned His back on the Son He loves. Jesus suffered for our sins alone, suffered the hell that awaits every sinner who dies while separated from the love of God. Jesus suffered in body and soul, suffered so much that God’s own Son died there on the cross.

And yet through this awful tragedy, we are given the blessing of hope. Jesus suffered and died, not for His sins, but for ours. 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). By rights, the cross of Jesus was our cross; His suffering was our suffering; His death was our death. Our sins had demanded punishment from above, but instead of us it was Jesus who experienced the wrath of God.

The result of this substitution is hope—hope for the future. Because Jesus died in our place, the threat of eternal punishment in hell has been replaced with the offer of everlasting joy in paradise. The cross is a terrible tragedy, but a necessary one. Jesus bled on the cross, but His blood is the only substance that can remove the stain of sin from our lives. Knowing this, we who trust in Jesus can view the future with hope—the same hope as that of the man dying next to Jesus, who was given this wonderful promise: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). That dying criminal believed that Jesus was His king and had the power to save him; when we welcome Jesus’ rule in our hearts, we share in that confident hope.

During Holy Week, Jesus was at the center of two parades. One celebrated His life, the other served notice of His death. Through these parades, the people got the meet their Savior; through these parades, they were invited to come and find out more about Him. One parade ended at the Temple, where Jesus taught about the kingdom of God; the other parade ended at the cross, where the Son of God established His rule by defeating sin, death and hell once and for all.

Everyone loves a parade. But are you content to just be a face in the crowd, watching as the king goes by? Or will you join the parade, and follow where He leads?

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

In the novel Dune, the lead character finds himself betrayed and barely escapes with his life. Stranded in a vast desert with hostile tribesmen his only hope for survival, our hero has good reason to be afraid. Ultimately, he falls back on a mantra taught to him by his mother: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

These words actually came from the pen of writer Frank Herbert. Although couched in mystical phrasing, they describe fear quite accurately. Fear does kill the mind; panic can make a fireman forget all his training and lead to a horrible demise. Fear is a little death that crushes our dreams and makes life seem pointless.

Sadly, fear is not easily vanquished. It’s hard to keep your focus when your heart is racing and your nerves are on edge. It’s hard to face your fear and soldier on, unflinching. It is much easier to face fear in the company of others. Parents find strength in making their children feel safe. A friend at your side gives reassurance that someone is there looking out for you. Having someone to talk to helps you work through the fear and lessen its hold on you.

But when your afraid, there is no better friend to have than Jesus. His time on earth was dangerous—several attempts were made on His life, many tried to ruin His reputation, and He was betrayed by some of His closest friends. When it came time to die on the cross for our sins, Jesus dreaded His approaching suffering so much that He sweated drops of blood as He prayed in Gethsemane. Jesus understands fear; Jesus understands how fear makes you feel. He will listen as you pray about what’s troubling you. Through the Bible, He offers words of comfort and reassurance. Best of all, He has the power to get you through any terrifying situation—Jesus is the Son of God, and He’s on your side. Don’t try to face fear on your own; cling to Jesus and He will calm your heart.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Showing Jesus your appreciation

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

Jesus has done so much for us; He suffered incredibly to pay off the debt of our sins and free us from the devil’s control. Thanks to Christ, we can be rid of guilt over our mistakes and spend eternity with God in a place where everything is perfect. We owe Jesus a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

But while we cannot repay the Son of God for all that He’s done, we can still show Him our respect and appreciation. The season of Lent urges us to think about all that Christ endured as our Savior, and how we can express our thanks to Him.

Many people give up something for Lent—it might be a favorite food or a favorite activity. It might involve cutting back on other things so that more time or money can be donated to the Church. Some people sacrifice during Lent as a way to show Jesus that they appreciate His sacrifice for us on the cross. Others give up pleasant diversions so they can focus more intently on their relationship with God’s Son.

But there are other ways to show Christ respect. The Savior died to repair damaged relationships. Since Jesus has torn away the sin separating us from God, we can honor His sacrifice by prayer and worship. Good communication is vital to any relationship. In worship, we hear God’s Word from the pages of the Bible. Prayer is how we respond to God’s message. Gathering for worship also gives us opportunities to communicate with each other. Prayer and worship allow us to experience the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death, honoring His incredible sacrifice for us.

But the best way to thank Christ for all that He’s done is to embrace forgiveness every day of your life. Jesus died to make forgiveness available to you. That sacrifice is wasted if you do not admit to your faults and ask to be forgiven. That sacrifice is ignored when you are unwilling to forgive, or attach conditions to reconciliation. Jesus died for you, for me, for everyone—His mercy is offered to all with only one string attached—believe in Him alone as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). If you want to honor Jesus’ sacrifice, forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sticking Jesus in a corner

I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2).

Saturday evening, Bob goes to the bar and gets so drunk that a friend has to drive him home. Sunday morning he comes to church, admits he’s a sinner, and receives forgiveness. Sunday afternoon, Bob sits down with some beers to watch a doubleheader on TV, but misses the end of the second game because he has passed out from drinking.

Friday afternoon, Jane gets her weekly paycheck and takes it to the bank. On Saturday, she buys a fancy new dress, new shoes, and a matching handbag. Sunday morning she goes to church and when the offering plate comes to her, she puts in five dollars. When she gets off from work Monday afternoon, Jane doesn't feel like cooking so she buys a couple of pizzas to take home for her family.

Evan likes to read—he always has a paperback with him wherever he goes. He reads all sorts of things—westerns, mysteries, espionage thrillers and horror. But you never see him holding a Bible or any Christian literature—the only time that he reads anything religious is in church on Sunday morning.

Dorothy has a lot of friends; if she isn’t out with the girls, she is on the phone or chatting on the Internet. She talks about all sorts of things—the ups and downs of her love life, the newest fashions that have caught her eye, the family that just moved in down the street. Sometimes she even talks about deep stuff—what’s going on with the school board or in the legislature. But there is one topic she avoids: she never talks about her faith in Jesus. She saves that for church on Sunday morning.

Christians are all around us, but most times you would hardly know it. They keep their identity secret, only revealing their ties to Jesus during the time when they are in church. While in worship, they are sorry for their sins. While in church, they are concerned about whether the sanctuary is in good repair and if the bills are getting paid. While in church, they listen to God’s word with interest and pray that someone would bring that saving Word to unbelievers before death claims them forever. While in church, these people think and act like Christians.

But after church, they stop thinking about Jesus. After church, their behavior looks no different than the behavior of any unbeliever. And so we have Christians who go back to work and cheat their customers with overpriced goods or shoddy labor. We have Christians who go back home and never mention Jesus’ name to their children. We have Christians who spend hundreds of dollars on cigarettes each year, but grumble when the church asks for help in getting out of debt. We have Christians who never pray or open their Bible or read devotional literature like Portals of Prayer. We have Christians who think that religion is what you do on Sunday morning, not how you live your life throughout the week.

How can this happen? It happens because of something called ‘compartmentalization.’ Do you know why everyone thought that the Titanic was unsinkable? It was because of compartmentalization. That ocean liner had a series of bulkheads throughout the hull; from stem to stern, the Titanic was one watertight compartment after another. The theory was that if one compartment sprung a leak, only that one compartment would flood because each one was sealed off from the others. As long as the flooding could not spread, the ship would not sink.

We have been trained to compartmentalize our lives. One compartment is our life at work or school. Another compartment is our life at home. A third compartment is our social life. And of course, one compartment contains our relationship with Christ.

We are sold on the idea that compartmentalization is healthy. When you go home, you should leave your work at the office. When you go to work, leave your personal issues at home. Whatever you are doing, don’t let unrelated problems from elsewhere in your life come in and distract you.

Which is fine in theory, but it doesn’t work. When you sit down for break with your coworkers, how much time is spent grumbling about your personal life? If you have had a terrible day at the office, it is very easy to be harsh with your children when you finally get home. And compartmentalization can invite trouble. If you think of your relationship with your spouse as something reserved for home, it becomes easier to fall into an affair at the office—after all, your office life has nothing to do with your home life.

When we try to compartmentalize God, we are in very dangerous waters. You shall not steal (Exodus 10:15): does that command from God only apply to Sunday mornings? Or consider these words from heaven: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 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 (Deuteronomy 6:5-7). Does God give you permission to put Him in a compartment that does not touch your work life, your home life or your social life?

In spite of compartmentalization, the Titanic sank. Why? Because when it struck the iceberg, a long gash was torn in the hull which flooded multiple compartments. Compartmentalization could not save the ship from sinking, not when many compartments were breached at the same time.

Sin is our iceberg. Sin is not just a problem on Sunday morning; sin is a problem at work, at home and at play. Sin tears gaping holes in every compartment of our lives, and if we are not rescued we will quickly sink and perish.

Jesus is our Savior. He has the power to walk on water and not sink; He has the power to reach out and lift us to safety. Sin has never been able to sink Jesus—not only did He resist every temptation Satan threw at Him, Jesus defeated the power of sin forever by dying on the cross.

Jesus never compartmentalized; whether He was working, resting, or socializing, every aspect of His life was in tune with His Father’s will. When He was at work teaching, Jesus said The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work (John 14:10). When our Lord needed to take a break and get refreshed, Luke tells us crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:15-16). And when our Master attended social events, He always took the opportunity to offer hope to people oppressed by sin; one example comes from Matthew chapter nine: While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." No matter what He was doing, Jesus’ life was characterized by His prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane: may your will be done (Matthew 26:42).

We need to follow Jesus’ example. Paul says, do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We need to stop compartmentalizing; you cannot put God in a box! God fills the universe, and when you are a Christian God fills every minute of your life.

You cannot compartmentalize your behavior. You can’t go to church and say that you are a sinner, only to leave church and sin without hesitation or guilt. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. Social drinking is acceptable to God, but drunkenness is not. If you cannot stop yourself from crossing that line, then stay away from the liquor that tempts you. This applies to any temptation harmful to the body; remember Paul’s warning in 1st Corinthians chapter six: 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.

You cannot compartmentalize your use of money. You can’t spend money on luxury items for yourself and then be stingy in supporting the work of God’s church. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. There is nothing wrong with eating out occasionally, but when God only gets the leftovers from your paycheck, your priorities are wrong. Moses said, remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). Psalm 106 says, give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. And Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians chapter nine, God loves a cheerful giver.

You cannot compartmentalize what you read or watch or listen to. The human mind is not like a computer. If you download a file that you don’t like, you can just delete it; but if you read or hear a disturbing idea, there is no way to remove it from your memory. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. You can and should educate yourself, and reading is an excellent way to do this—but you need regular exposure to God’s word so that you can spot evil ideas and respond to them appropriately. Colossians chapter two says, Don't let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.

You cannot compartmentalize your relationships. You cannot expect your relationships to be healthy if Christ is out of the picture. Without Christ, we selfishly use relationships to make ourselves feel good. Without Christ, we find it almost impossible to forgive others when they hurt us. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world. The best relationships are those between Christians. When you both know that you are sinners who by God’s mercy in Christ have been forgiven, it is easier to bear with one another’s faults. When you are with a Christian, you can talk about anything, including important things like facing temptation, overcoming guilt, and dealing with the pain of death. Paul writes, God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

But what if there is someone close to you who is not a believer? You can take steps to deepen your relationship—you can introduce that person to the Savior. Talk about the love that fills your life because of Jesus. Share the comfort and hope you receive from being a child of God. Invite your dear friend or relative to come with you to God’s house, where the Spirit of God offers faith to those who are willing to listen. Don’t assume that this person you care about will stumble on to the way to heaven without your help; remember what Jesus said: wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

Don’t try to compartmentalize your life. You can’t stick Jesus in a corner and only talk to Him on Sunday morning. Invite the Lord into every part of your life. Ask Him to guide your decision-making at work. Ask Him to guide your behavior while out with your friends. Give Him time every day while you are at home, through devotions and prayer. Being a Christian isn’t restricted to Sunday mornings; being a Christian is who you are, every moment of every day.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Paying Jesus back

Does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty’ (Luke 17:9-10).

When someone does you a favor, you feel indebted to them, that you owe something in return. Most of us don’t like to carry an unpaid debt—it makes us feel uncomfortable. So we look for ways to return the favor.

When Jesus died to forgive our sins, He gave us a gift of enormous value. Because He suffered in our place, we can be forgiven anything we’ve done wrong. Because He died for us, we can walk through the grave to eternity in paradise. These are incredible gifts, and Jesus suffered horribly to make them available to us. So it is natural that we feel deeply indebted to the Son of God. We wonder how we might repay Christ for all that He’s gone through on our behalf.

But repaying Jesus is impossible. Here’s why: God expects us to be perfect. He says Be holy, because I the LORD your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2). Every minute of every day, we are to be living out God’s command: `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).

But sin makes such a command impossible for us to keep. Paul wrote, 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…I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway (Romans 7:18-19). No matter how hard we try to avoid it, we sin. We sin a lot, every single day.

Thankfully, Jesus forgives us when we ask Him to. But there is no way for us to replace the time wasted on sin. There is nothing we can give the Lord to repay Him, because all that we have already belongs to Him. Jesus summed up our situation when He said: Does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’ There is no way for us to repay Jesus for all that He’s done as our Savior. We owe Him big time, and we always will.

Monday, April 04, 2011


Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

During the season of Lent, it is traditional for Christians to slow down and honor the sacrifice Jesus made to free us from the ravages of sin.

Sin makes our lives miserable. We fight with our relatives. Our friends let us down. We are ripped off by dishonest merchants. We are victims of gossip and lies. Life should be happy and fulfilling, but sin takes our dreams and stomps them into the mud.

We would like to claim the moral highroad, but sin darkens our hearts and twists our thinking. We break our promises. We are rude to people who get in our way or disagree with us. We abuse our bodies with unhealthy substances and too much food. We abuse our minds by listening to nasty songs or gazing at pornography. We complain about how others sin, without seeing how much hurt and disappointment we are responsible for.

Sin is a problem for everyone. We are both victims and victimizers. We are caught in an endless loop of getting hurt and repaying that hurt with interest.

Jesus came to stop the cycle of pain. On Mount Calvary, our Lord suffered the pain of every sin committed by every person throughout all time. Jesus suffered the pain caused by your ancestors, you, and your descendants. Jesus is the Son of God, yet the pain of all our sin was so great that He was in agony as He died on the cross.

Jesus could certainly have come down from that awful cross and gone on His way, all wounds instantly healed. But Jesus stayed where He was, because only through His suffering could we be freed of sin and the pain that it brings. Jesus suffered in our place to spare us from everlasting pain and regret in the fires of hell.

Jesus offers soothing balm for what ails us. He forgives all our mistakes. He helps us to let go of old hurts and forgive as He has forgiven us. He rips away our stubborn pride so we can admit that we’ve been wrong and need to be forgiven. Jesus has experienced more pain and deeper hurt than you or I can possibly imagine. Yet He endured all that out of love for you and concern for your well being.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Worship--what it is and why we do it

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

We gather in church to worship God. But I wonder how many people understand what worship really is? Some people feel that they have to attend church because they owe it to God in exchange for His mercy. That is not worship. Some come to church hoping to be entertained by good music and an uplifting sermon. That is not worship. Some go to church hoping to please God and earn a reward from Him. That is not worship.

Worship is built around three things: your sin, God’s salvation, and your response. It all starts with sin. Sin is a problem that every person faces. Sin destroys your relationship with God, cutting off access to heaven. Sin destroys your relationships with other people, leaving you frightened, hurt and alone. Sin eats away at your well being, destroying both physical and mental health. Sin is a problem that has no earthly solution.

Only God can solve the problem of sin. He sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die for your sins. Then He restored His Son to life so that Jesus could offer you forgiveness and lead you to eternal joy in paradise. In Christ, despair is replaced with hope; when we are weak, Jesus lends us His strength.

Freed from the oppression of sin, we respond. We respond by telling Jesus thank you. We respond by telling others about the great things God has done for us. We respond by living our lives according to the teachings of the Bible. We respond by going to Jesus in prayer whenever we are troubled with problems. We respond by making Christ the center of our lives.

Our sin, God’s salvation, our grateful response—this is the pattern of a Christian’s life. Our sin, God’s salvation, our grateful response—this is also the pattern of Christian worship. And notice what is at the center: between our sins and our grateful response, there is Christ—saving us, teaching us, blessing us. The center of worship is Christ and His work on our behalf. Worship is not about us trying to please God or make ourselves feel good; worship hinges on Christ reaching into our lives with His saving love.

Our need, God’s help, our response—our liturgy is built on this pattern. Worship begins with us coming before God and admitting that we are miserable sinners who desperately need His forgiveness. Then you hear the wonderful news that your sins are forgiven, which fills you with both relief and joy!

Next, the congregation is invited to read together an Introit or a Psalm. Originally, the Psalms were written to be sung; King David composed many of them, and you will remember that David was a skilled musician. Regrettably, no one today knows what the original music sounded like, so hymnals offer choices based on Gregorian Chant, a style of singing that has been popular in the church for well over 1,000 years. An Introit is made by blending Psalms with other verses in the Bible.

We start the worship service by confessing our sins to God. Next, we receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus and are uplifted by words from Scripture. Next, it is time for us to respond to the Lord’s goodness; we do this by singing a hymn of praise.

Then the pattern starts over. The Hymn of Praise is followed by the Collect for the day. A Collect is a prayer offered for needs that all Christians have in common. After we ask God for His help, He responds by giving us His words in readings from the Bible--typically an Old Testament reading, a lesson from the Nrew Testament, and words from one of the four Gospels which quote Jesus. After God has blessed us with His words, it is time for us to respond again—this time by reciting one of the creeds. We show God our loyalty and understanding by stating out loud what we believe in our hearts. In fact Paul urges us to do this in Romans chapter 10: if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

The next part of the service is the sermon hymn. Usually, the hymn chosen will speak of our need for God to help us overcome the problems caused by sin. This is followed by the sermon, where the pastor shares God’s teachings and promises with the congregation. After the sermon, it is time for another response—this time, you are asked to show God your thanks by giving Him an offering to support the work of the church, at home and around the world.

After the offering is collected, the cycle repeats again. We take our needs to God in the Prayer of the Church. On a Communion Sunday, we receive a wonderful blessing from God—we are allowed to personally touch the Savior as we receive His body and blood through the bread and wine. But whether there is Communion or not, the people still receive a blessing from the pastor. If you check out Numbers chapter 6 in the Bible, you will find that God gave these words to Aaron the high priest, and promised to bless the people whenever they were spoken. Then the worship service concludes with you saying “amen” three times. When you respond with “amen”, you are telling God that you believe the teachings and promises He has spoken to you, and you intend to live your life according to His will. You say “amen” three times to honor the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Our need, God’s care, our gratitude—this is the pattern of worship. But how do the hymns fit in? Hymns do the same thing that the Psalms have always done—they help us to show God what lies within our hearts. The types of hymns relate to the three parts of worship.

In worship, we go to God for help with the problems caused by sin. Many hymns tell God how desperately we need Him—we need His forgiveness, we need His reassurance, we need His strength. One example of such a hymn is “Lord Jesus, Think on Me.” Verse one asks for freedom from sin; the other verses speak about problems with anxiety, conflict, pain and confusion.

The heart of worship is when God reaches out to us. Some hymns teach us God’s word like a sermon does. Let’s look, for example, at “The Tree of Life.” In Genesis chapter three, Adam and Eve cursed themselves and us with sin and death, yet God promised them a Savior who would free humanity from that awful curse. In Eden, a tree led to our downfall, but on Calvary, Jesus used the tree of the cross to free us from sin and give us eternal life. Hymns like this help us to understand the Bible.

Other hymns give us God’s comfort and reassurance. A great example is “Be Still, My Soul”. Verse one reminds us to be patient, knowing that in time God will bring us relief. Verse two reminds us that although there are times when we don’t understand why we are suffering, we can be sure that God has not stopped loving us. Verse three reminds us of Job, who for a time lost nearly everything but never gave up on God and was eventually blessed with even more than he had lost. And verse four points out that no matter how much you are suffering, it cannot compare to the wonders of heaven that can be yours in Christ.

The third part of worship is our glad response to God’s wonderful gifts. In the liturgy, one response was singing God’s praise. Let’s consider the hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”. Like quite a few hymns, the last verse praises the three Persons of the Trinity; it is the custom in many churches to stand at this time in honor of our Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Another response in the liturgy was to speak our faith out loud and together. In the hymn “We All Believe in One True God”, we are honoring the Lord the same way as when we recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. But speaking the faith is important for another reason as well—when we talk about our faith with others, strangers are invited to meet the Savior. We are reminded how important this is through hymns about mission work and personal witness—one example is the hymn “Hark, the Voice of Jesus Crying.” If we don’t share our faith, our unbelieving friends may end up doomed to everlasting punishment in hell. The words of this hymn remind us that no matter what our abilities, God has equipped each of us with a way to help spread the Good News about Jesus.

We also show God our gratitude through our gifts offered to His glory. Consider the hymn “We Give Thee But Thine Own”; here we are reminded that everything we have is a gift from God. Since He has entrusted His good creation to us as stewards, we dare not waste His blessings foolishly or hoard them exclusively for our private use.

At the end of worship, our “amen” tells God that we are dedicated to serving Him. A hymn that speaks of such commitment is “Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways.” When we sing this hymn, we tell God that we love what He has taught us and want to live our lives according to His will; we also ask for His help to resist temptation, and His mercy when we stray from the path of righteousness.

Our weakness, God’s strength, our response—these are the three elements of Christian worship. The liturgy gets its rhythm from them. Our hymns serve this pattern of worship. And it all centers on God’s word. Hebrews chapter 11 tells us, without faith it is impossible to please God. And where does faith come from? Romans chapter 10 says, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. God pleasing worship hinges on the Word of God. That is why so much of our liturgy quotes the Bible. That’s why our hymns are based on readings from God’s Word. That’s why we focus our singing on what God does for us, not on how we feel.

We don’t worship God out of a sense of obligation. We don’t attend worship to flatter Him. And we certainly don’t go to church to be entertained! We gather in church because it is a wonderful opportunity to have our sins forgiven, receive God’s blessings, and learn how to show God our gratitude through how we live our lives. That’s Christian worship.

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