Tuesday, May 31, 2011


You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them (Nehemiah 9:17).

Disappointment. We’ve all experienced it. You might have worked hard to get your dream job, only to find out that it didn’t live up to your expectations. You might have fallen madly in love, but time revealed flaws in your partner’s character. We’ve all been let down by somebody we trusted. Each of us has gotten frustrated by an inability to stick with a diet or give up a bad habit.

So, how do you respond to disappointment? Some people get mad. Their words are laced with insults and criticism. They are always ready for a fight. They are quick to blame others for whatever is aggravating them. They won’t feel better until they spread their frustration around.

Others respond to disappointment by giving up. They walk away from relationships. They flit from one job to another. They drown their sorrows with liquor, ice cream, or casual sex. They feel sorry for themselves, and they end up alone in self-imposed isolation.

Thankfully, there are people who respond to disappointment in a healthy way—they try to make things better. They take the time to examine a problem from every possible angle. They consult with others before deciding on a course of action. Then they make a commitment to changing things and see it through, even if there are challenges to overcome. For them, disappointment is a spur to take corrective action.

So it was with God. When humanity chose sin over holiness, God was greatly disappointed. But He did not let anger dictate His behavior; He did not wipe us out. Nor did He give up on us; God chose to stay involved in our lives instead of just walking away. Disappointment moved God to fix the problem we had created. Father, Son and Holy Spirit consulted with each other and devised a plan—the Son would join us in our humanity and pay the penalty for our wrongs. This was no easy thing—rebellion against God earns hell and that is what Jesus suffered on the cross, the hell you and I deserve. But God was committed to restoring the holiness we had treated so casually. No matter how badly we disappoint the LORD, His love keeps working to make us better.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Are you ready for a vacation? The weather has turned warm and the school year is at its end. Camp grounds and golf courses are open. People are getting their boats and trail bikes ready for use. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans dream of exchanging work and home for fun and travel.

Why do we need a vacation? Why do we crave a change of scenery? I wonder if hungering for vacation shows unhappiness with the life we are living? If your whole summer hinges on your vacation plans, what does that say about the quality of your life? Are you happy with your job? Are you happy with your family, your home, your circle of friends? Are you happy with your daily routine? If you are not, be aware that going on vacation will not make the problem go away. A vacation can offer temporary relief from being unhappy, but when you return home your daily routine will still be waiting for you, unchanged.

There are some people who don’t get excited about vacations. They love their work; they love being right where they are. When you are happy with how you are living, there is no desire to take a break from it.

God designed each of us differently. Each of us has a unique set of interests, abilities and skills. But these qualities were not assigned randomly; God hand-crafted each of us the way He did for a reason. Ephesians chapter two says, We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God placed each of us on earth to do something special, and He made sure that by our birth and upbringing each of us is uniquely suited to carry out the tasks He has lined up for us.

Most people don’t make much of an effort to find out what God wants them to be doing with their lives. There are so many exciting ways to make money and spend time that it is easy to live life without giving much thought to its' meaning. But vacation time can serve as a wake-up call; if you are desperate to get away and dread the day when vacation ends, it is time to ask yourself—am I really happy with my life? If the answer is no, maybe you aren't using your God-given abilities the way they were meant to be used. Maybe it is time to think about the kinds of work that you are good at and make you happy. Maybe it is time to make a serious commitment to prayer, asking the Lord to reveal His will for your life.

But even if you do like your job and love your home, it can still be great fun to go on vacation. Sometimes relatives or friends move far away; a trip can give you the opportunity to reconnect with distant loved ones. Sometimes you can get so ensnared with problems at work or at home that you just can't see a solution; going on vacation can allow your mind to relax and look at things from a fresh perspective. Sometimes you can get stuck in a rut; going someplace you’ve never been before can expose you to new ideas, show you different ways of going about things which can make your life richer.

But the best thing about vacations is the opportunity they provide to strengthen your relationship with both God and your family. On vacation, God doesn’t get pushed aside by the demands of work. On vacation, your family doesn’t have to share your time with yard work, meal preparation, or laundry. On vacation, both you and your family get a chance to see how large and diverse and wonderful God’s world really is.

Going on vacation—family time for sure, but a religious experience? You bet! When you start packing for a road trip, make sure to include a Bible, a couple of hymnals, or a some devotional literature. Then as you are driving down the highway, give your on-board technology a rest for a few miles. Turn down the radio or CD player and sing some favorite hymns instead. Switch off the DVD player and read out loud some Bible stories or devotions, and then discuss them. Take the boring miles and use them as an opportunity to find joy together in God’s word. Remember God’s command given in Deuteronomy chapter six: 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.

Vacations can also give you a new perspective on church life. When you are traveling over a weekend, find a Christian congregation to worship with. I know it can be a little uncomfortable going into a strange church, but make the effort. Check out how that church illustrates the teachings of the Bible in stained glass windows, paintings, banners, and other forms of religious art. Join in the singing—you might find a new hymn that speaks beautifully about how God has blessed you through Christ. Listen to the sermon—you never know when a message from the pulpit will reach into your heart and grab hold. And visit with the people; it will remind you how many followers Jesus has in this wide and wonderful world—and by His blood shed on the cross, those people are your brothers and sisters.

When we plan vacations, we usually think about doing things that bring the family together. In recent years, however, some husbands and wives have started taking private vacations separately—each goes someplace by themselves, without spouse or children. Frankly, I think this is a terrible idea. Our daily schedules already work to isolate us from the other people in our homes—many families don’t even sit down together for a meal anymore. Work, chores, school activities—while each might be important and worthwhile, they are causing the members of our families to become strangers to each other.

Now I realize how difficult it can be to plan vacation activities that everyone in the family can enjoy together. Some want to go on rides, others don’t. Some want to attend shows, others don’t. Some want to work up a sweat, while others want to relax. Some enjoy noise, while others desire quietness.

How do you find an activity that everyone can agree on? Let me suggest a place to start—mealtime. Throughout the Bible, eating together has always a way of celebrating our love for each other. Wedding banquets could go on for days. Jesus frequently used dinner gatherings to teach His followers and show love to the needy. The sacrament of Holy Communion is a meal that unites us with Christ and with each other. Jesus even described heaven in terms of a huge, joyous banquet.

When you go on vacation, meals can and should be a center point in your planning. While away from home, everyone can eat together without distractions coming from work, school, sports, or even having to do the dishes. Meals together are about more than feeding your body; they are a time for nourishing your relationships. Good food, good drink, good conversation—these three things have always gone well together.

But when you sit down to eat, whether it be in a classy restaurant or on a blanket in the grass, make sure that you remember two things. First, thank the Lord your God for His generosity—after all, it is He who gave you the food to eat and the company to share it with. Second, invite Him to join you; after all, Jesus invites you to eat with Him in paradise, so why not invite Him to spend time with you and your family here and now?

Does God ever take a vacation? I can assure you that no He does not; God is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks each year. Now wait a minute, you might say, doesn’t the Bible say that God rested on the seventh day, after creating mankind and the universe? Yes God did rest, but listen carefully to what the Bible says: God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:3). God rested from making new things, but He did not stop working completely—on the seventh day God was still actively maintaining everything He had created.

The proof of this comes in the Gospel of John chapter five. Jesus had just performed a miracle, healing a man who could not walk. But Jesus had done this work of healing on the seventh day of the week, and some people criticized Him for working on the day God had set aside for rest. Listen to how Jesus responds: My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. Our loving God always takes care of the people and things which He has made; He is at work every day of the week.

We need vacations because sometimes problems overwhelm us and we can’t find a solution; we need to take a break in order to gain a new perspective. But God doesn’t need a vacation; there is no problem that can defy His wisdom or withstand His power. We need vacations because continuing stress can impair the quality of our work. But God doesn’t need a vacation; through the atoning death of His Son Jesus, God has solved the problem of sin and the stress that it brings. We need vacations so that we can have time to do the things we love. God does not need a vacation; every day He is doing the things He loves. He blesses couples with children. He listens to prayers. He forgives sins. He shields His people from the devil’s attempts to kill their faith. He guides His children in showing His love to others. He lifts believers from this veil of tears and gives them eternal happiness in His wonderful home.

Because of sin, the sin within us and the sin all around us, there are times when we need to take a break and get away from life as usual. But sin cannot touch God; He needs no vacation. Our Lord is always at His work, and that includes taking care of you. Our Lord never takes a vacation from you; don’t ever take a vacation from Him.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Put your hope in God (Psalm 42:5).

When two sports compete, fans get excited. There is hope for victory. There is nervousness about player injury. There are thrills when someone makes a big play. There are groans over bone-headed mistakes. And fans get angry when their team gets penalized for a rules violation.

Fans want their team to win decisively. But fans also want excitement, and it is not exciting to watch a team stomp their opponents into the ground. As a matter of fact, it seems like poor sportsmanship when one side runs up the score needlessly.

When it comes to sports, we crave excitement and drama. We relish victory and get frustrated at lousy performance. Yet through good times and bad, a fan sticks with his team. No matter how bad things get, there is always hope for a better season next year.

If only we approached life this way. Our weeks are filled with highs and lows, reasons to rejoice and reasons to get aggravated. We are pleasantly surprised when something great happens; we are caught off guard by bone-headed mistakes. Sometimes everything is going great; other times it seems as if you can’t catch a break.

When a team has an off season, their fans will suffer patiently and hope for things to turn around. But when life gets frustrating, we are much less optimistic. We give up on relationships instead of committing to make them better. Couples give up on marriage and file for divorce. Mothers give up on parenthood and get an abortion. Employees give up on their jobs and walk away. People give up on their lives and commit suicide.

Instead of throwing in the towel, we would be better off acting like a sports fan. When things are going badly, look at the coach—as frustrated as he might get, he never gives up until the final whistle blows. He is an inspiration to fans as well as players. If you have confidence in the coach, you keep hoping for things to turn around.

Jesus is our coach. When things are going against us, He offers reassurance and direction. He never gives up. He guarantees victory if we will just trust Him. You might be caught in a losing streak right now, but Jesus offers hope for better days ahead.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Idiot proof

I will bear the blame (Genesis 43:9).

We want things to be idiot proof. When you accidentally delete something from your computer, you want some kind of safeguard that makes it possible to undo your mistake. Most sports have several judges who watch the action from different angles to minimize the risk of issuing a bad call. Drivers rely on cruise control to keep them from driving too fast or too slow.

Our world is a complicated place where things are always changing, sometimes very quickly. It’s way too easy to get confused, act carelessly, or misjudge a situation. Some days it can feel as if you are jumping from one floating piece of ice to another, trying avoid a fall into the frigid water beneath you. So we want safeguards in place to protect us. Our government has grown huge, employing people to issue warnings about unhealthy food, dangerous toys, and risky travel. There are more laws on the books than anyone can possibly remember, most of them written to protect us from careless and irresponsible behavior.

We want to be protected from the unpleasant consequences of foolish behavior. We want a world where someone else makes sure that we cannot get stuck in trouble. And if bad things occur, we whine and moan and threaten to sue somebody for not stopping it from happening.

Sadly, most people are not willing to take personal responsibility for their lives. It is easier to blame someone else than to blame yourself. But the USDA cannot stop you from eating rancid meat—you are responsible for what goes in your mouth, no one else. Microsoft is not to blame if you delete essential files from your computer.

People have been blaming others for their own mistakes ever since Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Such behavior angers God, who expects each of us to be accountable for our actions. He sent His Son to the cross to take the blame for all our mistakes. The blood of Christ offers forgiveness to all people who admit their sins and desire mercy. Making things idiot proof is impossible; that’s why idiots like us need Jesus in our lives.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why gather in a church for worship?

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said: "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below--you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way…

"But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, `My Name shall be there,' so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive…

"As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name--for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name”
(1 Kings 8:22-43).

Why do we build churches? When Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem he said, will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! God is infinite; He fills the universe. In Psalm 139 David wrote, O LORD…You know when I sit and when I rise…You discern my going out and my lying down…Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…If I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Since God is everywhere and sees everything we do, why bother building churches?

Faithful believers have been setting up places of worship for thousands of years. The earliest place of worship was the altar. At the altar, believers prayed to God for mercy and offered Him gifts to show their gratitude. The first altar specifically mentioned in the Bible was set up by Noah after surviving the great flood. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob also built altars; listen to what Jacob says as he dedicates his: "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth" (Genesis 28:20-22). When Jacob set up his altar, he thought of it as a place where he could speak to God, receive blessings, and offer gifts of thanks.

But it wasn’t until Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinai that God gave specific instructions on how to build a place of worship. It was an elaborate movable structure called the Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting. It was called the Tent of Meeting because in it God would meet with Moses and the priests. The structure needed to be mobile, because the Israelites were years away from settling in one place. This Tent of Meeting remained the focal point of God’s worship until Solomon built a permanent Temple in Jerusalem almost 500 years later.

The basic design of the Tabernacle and the Temple were the same. The main building was surrounded by an enclosed courtyard. In the courtyard was a huge altar where people brought animals to be sacrificed. God’s Law said that the penalty for sin was death, but in His loving generosity God accepted the blood of animals in place of the blood of sinners. Also in the courtyard was a large basin of water; this was used by the priests to cleanse themselves, because no one who had been in contact with blood was allowed to enter the sanctuary. Behind the altar and basin was the main building. The first room was called the Holy Place, and only priests were allowed to enter it. It contained a table with loaves of bread and goblets for wine; there were also candles and a small altar where incense was burned. At the back, veiled by a curtain, was the Most Holy Place; this small area contained the Ark of the Covenant, an elaborate box holding the Ten Commandments written by God on stone, the Book of the Law God dictated to Moses, some manna from the journey through the desert, and Aaron’s staff. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter the Most Holy Place, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement.

When Moses dedicated the Tabernacle, God showed His presence in a miraculous way. Exodus chapter 40 says, Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Centuries later, when Solomon dedicated God’s Temple in Jerusalem, we are told When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). Earlier I asked the question, ‘why do we build churches?’ We build them because God blesses those places dedicated to His honor and worship.

The Tabernacle and the Temple were designed to teach us about our relationship with God. God could be found in His Temple, but He was unapproachable. We are lawbreakers, and our sins have incurred a debt of blood. No one bloody with guilt can stand in God’s presence. Only the priests could sacrifice the animals and announce God’s forgiveness; only the priests could take offerings and bring them before the Lord. The priests working in the sanctuary served as a bridge between holy God and sinful man.

But when Jesus came to live and die and rise, the Temple system of worship was made unnecessary. Jesus has become the Tent of Meeting; Jesus has become the High Priest, Jesus has become the sacrifice. Jesus shed His blood in place of ours, so that our sins could be forgiven. John says, He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). When Jesus died, all sins were paid for, ending the need for animal sacrifices. Peter writes, Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

After He died, Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven. There, He has taken over the job of the High Priest; it is He who now serves as our go-between with God. Paul writes in 1st Timothy chapter two, there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. John says, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). Paul also tells us, Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34).

Because Jesus is now our High Priest, we no longer need earthly priests to take our prayers and offerings to God. Indeed, Peter says that you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Because of Jesus we can act like priests, praying directly to God in the Savior’s holy name.

Jesus has done away with Temple worship as Solomon understood it. Consider the Master’s words to a Samaritan woman as they drank water at Jacob’s well: "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:19-21, 24). The Tent of Meeting had been portable so it could always be near God’s people wherever they were. Jesus is now that Tent of Meeting, the place where we can find God wherever we are in life. This is made clear in the second chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus had found merchants buying and selling in the Temple courtyard and had sent them packing; when challenged on His authority to do this, Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus is both Temple and High Priest; because of His death, no further sacrifices on the altar are needed. But Christians have not abandoned having places of worship; we have just changed them a bit. We still have an altar, where we bring our prayers and gifts to God. We still have a basin of water for cleansing, although we only perform this washing once when we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We still have a table where bread and wine are served, although now they are used to bring us Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the building of our faith. We still have candles to remind us of the presence of the Holy Spirit, a cleansing fire and the Light of God’s Wisdom.

But the Church is not really a building of wood or stone or metal. The Church is made of people who have faith in Christ and want to share that faith with the world around them. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter five, we see the foundation that Christ established: Jesus…asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Peter believed in Jesus as His Savior, and He was willing to speak of his faith out loud; it was in reference to this rock-solid confidence that Jesus said, on this rock I will build my church. Paul picks up on this theme in Romans chapter 10 when he writes, 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. Faith and public confession; these are the construction materials used by Jesus to build His Church.

Every Christian is a part of the Church; Paul writes: you are…members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22). Peter adds, you…are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). We are called to be priests who live to serve God. And where do priests go to do their work? A house of worship, of course! Although we do not see God’s glory in this place as Solomon did in the Temple, we know that Christ is present in His churches. He speaks to us through His words preserved by the Spirit in Holy Scripture. He embraces us in the water of Holy Baptism. He comes to us in His body and blood, offered in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Jesus said, where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them (Matthew 18:20). Our Lord is everywhere; He fills the universe. But in God’s house, we experience His grace in a profoundly personal way. We are told that our sins are forgiven. We hear the Word of God that builds faith, wipes away tears, replaces fear with courage, gives clarity where there is confusion, and offers hope in times of despair. We are allowed to touch Him as we eat and drink at His table.

So long as sin exists, there will be a need for churches. When sin leads us astray or causes us pain, we need a place of sanctuary where we can flee to be forgiven and protected. That sanctuary is the Church. God does not live in earthly structures, but when we gather in His name, we find strength in being united as one, and we can stand securely because He is our firm foundation.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Religious emails

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom (Colossians 3:16).

From time to time, someone forwards me a feel-good religious email. Sometimes it’s poetry about God’s love; other times it’s a prayer that I’m asked to pass along to others.

I’m glad there are people who care enough to send such things my way. Nevertheless, most of these emails get deleted instead of being forwarded to others on my mailing list. Why? Because most of them go for the heartstrings instead of focusing on Jesus.

The next time you get a religious, feel-good email, read it carefully. Is Jesus mentioned by name? This is important, because He is the only one who can take away our sins and bring us close to God. Without Jesus, religion is nothing more than a bunch of words chosen to make you feel good about yourself and your situation.

As you read the email, where is the focus? Are most of the words aimed at how you feel, or how God feels about you? Does the message urge you to change your life, or does it point you to Christ for personal transformation? We are weak and flawed because of sin; the only way to rise above our failings is to depend on the power of God’s mighty Spirit.

Most of these chain emails assure us of God’s love, but few of them warn us of His righteous judgment. We don’t like to be reminded of our failures. We don’t relish the thought of giving up favorite sins in order to follow Christ. Chain emails give a false impression if they imply that God’s love need not change your behavior.

Many religious emails promise that something good will happen to you if you forward them to others. But if you are guided by the love of God, you aren’t interested in getting a reward for doing something kind. Jesus died for us, expecting nothing in return. He went to the cross because He loves us; He suffered the penalty for our sins for no other reason than to spare us from hell.

The emails I receive are usually long on sentiment but short on real content. Once in a while, I’ll make changes to something I’ve received and then pass it along. But when your get an email like this, read it carefully and evaluate its worth before you send it on to others.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Giving up the love for sin

Turn from these worthless things to the living God (Acts 14:15).

When we belong to Jesus, He expects us to give up sin for Him. That sounds unpleasant. Some would go so far as to say, “If Jesus really loves me, why do I have to change for Him?”

Jesus isn’t asking anything unreasonable. When you get married, your spouse assumes that you will give up anything destructive to your marriage—like being selfish and sleeping with others. You go into marriage knowing that for the sake of your relationship, some things have to be given up.

So it is with Jesus. Once He becomes our Lord, He expects us to give up anything destructive to that relationship—like being selfish and dabbling with other religions or philosophies. Ignoring what Jesus wants from you so you can do your own thing is sin, the very sin that Christ suffered and died to forgive. Indulging in sin shows terrible disrespect for the sacrifice Jesus made on your behalf. When you wallow in sin, you thumb your nose at Jesus’ bloody, pain-wracked hours on the cross. Love for sin destroys your relationship with God’s Son.

On the surface, sin is fun. If sin were not enjoyable, we wouldn’t be so addicted to it. But there’s a good reason why Jesus wants us to abandon our love for sin. Sin causes hurt. Sin tears things apart. Sin kills and destroys.

We enjoy making our own decisions—but how often do those decisions turn out badly because we didn't foresee the consequences? We like to indulge our appetite for pleasure—but too much alcohol can lead to fights and car accidents, too much food can result in obesity, and unrestricted sex can give you AIDS. We get a kick out of shopping and gambling, but how many people get caught in massive debt? We prize the right to speak what’s on our mind, but how often do our words put up barriers between us?

Sin is unhealthy—it wrecks our lives by ruining health and destroying relationships. Most tragic of all, sin cuts us off from God, leaving no hope at the time of death. Jesus went to the cross to free you from sin’s destructive influence; He wants you to understand how awful sin is, because He loves you and wants the best for you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The life lessons of Peter

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
(John 21:1-19)

The life of Simon Peter was a life of drama. He never did anything halfway. If someone else was thinking it, Peter said it out loud. While others were deciding what to do, Peter was already doing it. Some people are reserved; Peter led with his heart. Many people are careful; Peter was often like a bull in a china shop. Peter lived a life of high drama; sometimes the results were good while other times the results were tragic.

Peter had met Jesus through his brother Andrew. Fascinated by what Jesus had to say, he started splitting his time between fishing and listening to the Teacher from Nazareth. He was present at a wedding where Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wine. But Peter did not give up fishing—not until another miracle occurred.

Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee used nets. This meant that they preferred to work at night, because during the day the fish generally retreated to deeper waters. On one particular morning, a crowd gathered at the lake shore to hear Jesus teach. Peter was also there with his brother, cleaning their nets—the night’s fishing had been a failure. Jesus asked Peter to row Him out a short distance from shore, so everyone could see and hear Him. After He finished speaking, Jesus told Peter to go out over deep water and let down the nets for a catch. Peter replied, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." The result of this action was a miracle—they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. These partners were James and John the sons of Zebedee, men who had also been attending Jesus’ lectures.

Peter’s reaction was immediate and dramatic. He fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" But Jesus offered words of reassurance as well as an invitation to change the direction of his life: "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." The result? They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Talk about an impulsive decision! Simon Peter had a wife to support, yet he didn’t hesitate for one moment in leaving his fishing boat behind. It’s a good thing that because of Jesus, the family was left with the huge catch of fish to provide them with much-needed income (Luke 5:1-11).

We next see Peter acting impulsively during a night sailing across the Sea of Galilee. A storm had blown up, and shore was a long ways off. Then, coming out of the darkness, they saw Jesus walking towards them on the surface of the water! At first all were terrified, thinking that Jesus was a ghost. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Then Peter spoke up, and we can scarcely believe the words coming from his mouth: "Lord, if it's you…tell me to come to you on the water." And with Jesus’ permission, Peter hopped over the side of the boat and started walking on the water towards the Master.

But Peter’s impulsiveness quickly resulted in a problem—when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Peter was a man of extremes, and when he let the storm distract him from Jesus, Peter’s confident trust was instantly replaced by fear of death. Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:25-33)

Simon Peter was often the first one to open his mouth. On one occasion, when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" It was Peter who spoke up: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." In response to these bold words, Jesus said "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Peter had the courage to speak of the faith in his heart; Jesus promised that such strong faith would serve as the foundation of His Church for all time to come (Luke 9:18-20, Matthew 16:16-20).

But Peter did not always think before opening his mouth, and on one occasion his thoughtless words drew a sharp rebuke from the Son of God. Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matthew 16:21-23).

Jesus had to suffer and die; it was for this reason that He had come into the world. If Jesus had not suffered, our sins would still invite God’s terrible punishment. If Jesus had not died, He could not have risen from the grave and we would not have the assurance of everlasting life in His name. It is through the cross that God’s love for us shines most brightly; the torment of Calvary proves God’s commitment to rescue us from sin and death.

But Satan did not want Jesus to redeem us from his awful control. So the devil used Peter’s impulsiveness for his own ends. Satan whispered to Peter, “You don’t want Jesus to die, do you? He is so special—he doesn’t deserve to suffer.” Peter reacted so emotionally to the words “suffer” and “be killed” that he didn’t even hear Jesus say, “on the third day be raised to life.” And so, letting sentimentality override everything else, Peter dared to contradict Jesus to His face. Imagine how he must of felt when Jesus cut to the heart of the matter—you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. What is right and what feels right are often two very different things. Uncontrolled emotions are putty in the devil’s hands.

Sometimes Peter felt the need to speak up, even if he didn’t know what to say. One day, Jesus took Peter and two others up on a mountain, where His glory as God’s Son was momentarily revealed—His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened). Moses and Elijah were on their way back to heaven, and Peter wanted them to stick around so he could offer some kind of crude hospitality on a mountainside? Obviously the man wasn’t thinking clearly—and Jesus did not dignify Peter’s offer with a response. Sometimes it’s just better to keep your mouth shut (Matthew 17:2, Luke 9:31, 33, Mark 9:5-6).

Peter was also quick to speak up when he was unhappy. Although he followed Jesus willingly, Peter hoped for some sort of reward in the future. He was alarmed, then, when Jesus said: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." It is Peter who says what everyone is thinking: "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" (Matthew 19:24-29)

But earthly wealth and power are only temporary pleasures, and are guaranteed to no one. Jesus made that clear in His response to Peter: I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. God will reward those who follow His Son, but that reward is coming in the future when Jesus returns in glory.

Being the first to act is not always a good thing, not if that action is hasty. In the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus’ enemies came to arrest Him, some of the disciples asked, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" But before Jesus had a chance to answer, Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" Once again, Peter’s emotions led him to oppose God’s will by trying to keep Jesus away from the cross. Not only that, but his rash action put all the other disciples in danger as well. Jesus defused the situation by healing the injured servant and saying, "If you are looking for me, then let these men go." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled (Luke 22:49, John 18:8, 10-11, Matthew 26:56).

Once again, Peter’s courage failed him; only a moment earlier he had been willing to take on an armed mob by himself, but now he fled into the night with the others, fearing for his life. But the worst was yet to come. John told Peter that he had connections which could get them into the place where Jesus was on trial; torn between loyalty, fear and guilt, Peter went along, hoping he would not be recognized and arrested. But soon his fears were realized—a serving girl identified him as one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter’s reaction, as usual, was impulsive—"I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. But moving towards the exit did not spare him from further attention; another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!" Then, one of the high priest's servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, "Didn't I see you with him in the olive grove?" Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 14:66-74, John 18:26, Luke 22:60-62).

Peter had denied having any kind of relationship with Jesus. Things could hardly get any worse. From that moment on, Peter was no longer a disciple. This becomes evident on Easter morning; listen to the words of God’s angel spoken to the women who came to embalm Jesus’ body: "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you" (Mark 16:6-7).

By denying Jesus, Peter had lost his position of disciple. But all was not lost; he still loved the Savior. When he got word of the angel’s message, Peter…got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened (Luke 24:12). Later that day, when two disciples who had met Jesus came to share the good news, they were told "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon" (Luke 24:34). Although he was no longer a disciple, Jesus still loved Peter and had come to see him personally.

A few weeks later, Peter’s life came full circle. Back at the Sea of Galilee, he and his old partners went out for a night of fishing. When morning came they had nothing to show for their work. Jesus was on the beach, although they did not recognize Him. He called out and told them to let down their nets. Even though it was now daylight, they caught so many fish that the net could not be pulled from the water. It was John who first remembered a similar catch of fish three years earlier and told Peter, “It is the Lord.” But it was Peter, as impulsive as ever, who jumped into the water and swam to shore, leaving the others to bring in the miraculous catch of fish.

After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

Peter was hurt by this repeated questioning of his devotion, but there was a reason Jesus asked Him about it three times. While Jesus was on trial, Peter had denied knowing Him three times; now Jesus asked Peter three times to serve Him with total commitment. Then Jesus went on to say, "when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" With these words, Jesus reinstated Peter as a disciple. Also with these words, Jesus predicted where this discipleship would lead—it would result in Peter’s death. But that future death was not something to be feared, because when Peter faced his end, his loving faith in Jesus would bring glory to God’s name.

What can we learn from Peter? He illustrates for us both the best and worst of Christian behavior. Peter’s failures teach us to keep our attention fixed on Jesus, because when we let other things distract us, we give in to fear and faithlessness. Peter’s emotional reactions show us that what is right often differs from what feels right. From Peter we learn to keep our mouths shut when we have nothing constructive to say. We are reminded that God will reward us in heaven with all sorts of blessings, but in life we have to patiently accept as much or as little as He sees fit to give us. We learn that we must ask God for advice and wait for His response, instead of acting impulsively. We are shown that the most important relationship in our lives is with Jesus, and we must not let anything drive a wedge between us.

But through Peter we also learn positive lessons. We see the importance of always putting Jesus first in our lives. We are reminded that we are sinners who do not deserve to be in the same boat with the Son of God, but He wants to be close to us despite our faults. We are taught that faith in Jesus is a gift from God, and that He wants us to speak our beliefs out loud. And most wonderful of all, Peter’s life shows us that no matter how badly we have sinned, Jesus is willing to forgive us and take us back in His loving arms.

Through all his triumphs and his tragedies, Peter reminds us what it is to be a Christian.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Who am I?

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

“Who am I?” Many people struggle with this question. “Am I male or female?” “Am I gay or straight?”

We have certain expectations for men and women—expectations about how to dress, how to enjoy free time, how to relate to others. But sometimes a person does not feel comfortable with the role that is assigned to them.

So what happens when a girl wants to play football? What happens when a boy wants to play with dolls? Should women put on a body armor and take point on the field of battle? Should men get married to each other and adopt children?

Some work at conforming to the norm. They might undergo hormone treatment and psychological counseling in order to find contentment with what’s expected of them. Others rebel—they might undergo surgery to make their bodies line up with their self-image, or flout social rules to do as they want. They might even justify their behavior by saying, “God made me this way.”

Sadly, neither approach gets to the heart of the matter. When you ask, “who am I”, Jesus has the answer—you are a sinner. Sin is not just what you do, sin corrupts who you are. God designed us to be perfect; sadly, mankind has become tainted with evil, and that inner corruption gets passed down from every parent to every child. Because of sin, people are born with diabetes and Downs Syndrome, Sickle Cell Anemia and Muscular Dystrophy. Because of sin, some boys and girls have desires that don’t match up with the gender of their bodies. And because sin affects our thinking, we demand certain roles from men and women that are based on human tradition instead of Jesus’ teachings.

Sin messes things up for us, inside and out. But meek surrender and open rebellion solve nothing—only Jesus can sort things out. It starts with trust—trust that He knows what is best for us. It also involves submission and repentance—we need to let Jesus set the direction for our lives, and beg His forgiveness when we deviate from His way. Our Lord loves us and is eager to help—when we give our lives to Him, He will provide the support we need to find happiness and satisfaction as we faithfully serve Him.

Monday, May 09, 2011


With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

In the first Star Wars movie, Han Solo is reluctant to play rescuer to Princess Leia. Luke appeals to his greed, saying that the reward would be more wealth than Han could imagine. Interested but still wary, Solo relies “I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”

It’s amazing what people can imagine. Leonardo DaVinci could imagine human beings flying like the birds, a dream that inspired the Wright brothers into making the first airplane. Martin Luther King, Jr. could imagine a world where people were judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin, a dream that energized the Civil Rights movement.

Imagination is a powerful thing—it can make people dream of things that seem impossible or unattainable. Imagination sets us apart from birds, animals, and sea life—they only live in the moment or in response to instinctual behavior. The ability to imagine great things allows humans to write poetry, produce art, and work for goals that can transcend a lifetime.

Of course, Han Solo’s imagination was limited by selfish desire. Imagination can lead to terrible things. War and terrorism come from the imaginations of men like Adolph Hitler and Osama bin Laden. Darwin’s theory of evolution has devalued human life by replacing the loving hand of God with accidental mutation as the cause for our existence. It’s no wonder that educators used to discourage imagination in their students.

But imagination is a gift from God. It takes faith to believe in the Almighty. It takes imagination to write hymns of praise to God above, design stained glass windows that illustrate the life of Christ, carve statues depicting God’s angelic messengers. Animals live in the moment; they cannot dream of heaven like we do. Only we can face death with hope of resurrection and a reunion with our loved ones who have died in the faith.

Jesus said, with God, all things are possible. Are you like Han Solo? Can you imagine quite a bit? If you count Jesus as your friend, you can imagine all sorts of wonderful things—things that are real and true, now and always.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Jesus' resurrection: an historical fact

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Now Thomas (called The Twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name
(John 20:19-31).

Eyewitness testimony—you need it if you want to establish the facts, and the more eyewitnesses you can find, the better.

But when people don't want to believe something, they are willing to disregard any number of eyewitness reports. In spite of all the people who saw it happen, there are some today who refuse to believe that the Nazis killed six million Jews. Despite national television coverage and every major country around the world tracking the progress of Apollo 11 with their instruments, there are people who still believe that man’s landing on the moon was faked by the government in a secret television studio.

In the centuries before Christ was born, teachers and philosophers committed their thoughts to paper. No one doubts that these men lived or that they were responsible for the words attributed to them—men like Plato, Socrates, Euclid and Archimedes. The buildings of ancient Egypt are filled with ancient writings, and no one suggests that they are forgeries. But when you start speaking about the Bible, suddenly people are skeptical—they question who wrote it and whether or not it speaks the truth. Even though four different men described how Jesus Christ suffered, died and returned to life, their testimony is ignored. Even though the Gospels are clearly written as fact, many people treat them as fiction.

Why? Because sometimes people can’t accept the truth. Some truths are frightening—eternity in hell is an awful prospect, so there are people who deny that hell exists or that God would actually send anyone to such a terrible place. Some truths are annoying because they get in the way of our fun—as a result, those who want sex without marriage claim that the Ten Commandments are relics of the past and no longer apply. Some truths offend our sensibilities—many claim that all religions lead to God, even though Scripture says that God can only be approached through His Son Jesus. Some truths conflict with our personal convictions—and so there are Christians who believe that the universe evolved over billions of years instead of being created by God in six days.

And some truths just seem too fantastic to be real. And so people choose to believe that they must earn heaven by their good behavior; they can’t accept the truth that we are saved by faith alone. Some choose to believe that Jesus was just a man like any other, whose teachings on life and morality do not carry any more weight than those of Muhammad, Confucius, or the Buddha. They can’t accept the truth that Jesus spoke for God, and that His teachings carry the weight of divine law. Some choose to believe that the miracles of Jesus—including His resurrection—never happened, but were made up to make the Christian church look good to potential converts. They can’t accept the truth that God really exists, that Jesus is His Son, and that every human being will one day face judgment.

Among the disciples, Thomas serves as an example of someone who won’t believe because the truth just seems too fantastic. Jesus risen from the dead? Impossible—the other disciples must have been hallucinating! They wanted to see Jesus alive so badly that they lost touch with reality. And yet Thomas should have known better. He had seen Jesus walk on water. He had seen Jesus force a horde of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs. He had seen Jesus feed over five thousand people from the modest lunch of one boy. Thomas had even seen Jesus raise at least three people from the dead. Furthermore, Jesus had told Thomas and the other disciples repeatedly that He was going to suffer and be put to death, then rise again on the third day. Jesus had reminded them of this fact just a few nights earlier in the upper room as they celebrated the Passover together. So when Thomas was told by the others that they had seen Jesus alive and well, Thomas had no reason to doubt their report—no reason but that he couldn’t bring himself to accept the report as true. He had made peace with the fact that his Master was dead and gone; he had no desire to stir up feelings of hope, only to have them crushed by further disappointment.

Thomas and the others had a meal together the next Sunday evening. There was tension in the room; Thomas thought his fellows were kidding themselves with a fantasy, while the other disciples couldn’t understand why Thomas resisted believing such a wonderful truth. Then, Jesus was there—no blinding flash of light, no bone-rattling clap of thunder—He was just suddenly there in the locked room with them. He held His hands out to Thomas and confronted the man’s lack of faith: stop doubting and believe. And when Thomas was finally convinced, Jesus chastised him further by saying, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Why is faith so important? John tells us a few verses later: these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. It is through believing that we have Christ, and it is through Christ that we have life.

Life without faith is no life at all. Without faith in Christ, life here on earth is meaningless. Our days are filled with misery as sin runs rampant, unrecognized and unstoppable. Without Christ, there is no understanding of why people behave the way they do. Why do people love their possessions more than their families? Why do people hate and kill instead of love and nurture? Why do people ignore the good in their lives and focus on the bad? If you don’t know Jesus, you don’t understand what sin is, how it ruins lives, or how to combat it effectively.

Even worse, life without faith results in suffering death for eternity. That’s what hell is—living death. It is experiencing all the pain and terror that leads to death, without ever achieving death’s release. If you aren’t Jesus’ friend when you leave this life, the horror of your death will be a horror that never ends.

But the gift of Easter is the gift of life—Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Jesus is our source of vibrant, wonderful, joyous life. This is why He rose alive from the grave—to be filled with life and to share it with us. It starts with His teachings about God’s righteousness and our sin; Jesus makes us understand how selfishness leads to loneliness and bitterness. Then Jesus gives us release—He forgives us for our sins, and urges us to forgive everyone who has hurt us with their sins. Released from guilt and anger, we are ready for life lived to the full—life that is happy because it is built on sharing Christ-like love with everyone around us.

Even better, life with faith results in living joyfully forever. Jesus’ empty tomb shows us what our graves will someday look like—empty, because we have risen to join Him in paradise. Death is still ugly, but that ugliness will be forgotten as soon as we open our eyes and see Jesus face to face for the first time. Death remains a time of sadness as loved ones are forcibly separated, but the tears will not last long because in Christ all believers will be reunited. And when we rise from our graves, the life before us will be wonderful because there will be no sin to cause pain and no worry that death will ever again take away our loved ones.

A life without faith is depressing and scary. Everything you try to do comes up short; everything you accomplish eventually comes unraveled. Then death comes, and your hopes and dreams are finished. Taken as a whole, such a life is futile. But a life with faith is filled with hope, and a joy that tears cannot wash away. Every act of love you perform is an investment in the future; Jesus shows His love and care for others through you. When death comes, you are brought to heaven to enjoy rest and see the wonderful things Christ accomplished through your life, things you were probably never even aware of. When you have faith in Jesus, life is filled with joy and happiness that never comes to an end.

Eternal life in paradise is only accessible through Christ—Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). Peter said, No one else can save us, because in all the world there is only one name given to us by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). But Christ does not come and show us His wounds as He did for Thomas; what He said back then applies to us now, today: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Where does this faith come from? In Romans chapter ten Paul tells us, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. This is why John and the other Gospel writers set down their accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. The Bible was written so that we might believe in Jesus, and through Him receive the gift of life in all its fullness.

The Bible is fact—it is filled with references to historical events and geographical locations to assure you that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are not made up or the result of wishful thinking. Peter writes, We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16). I know that sometimes it is hard to believe in things that cannot be seen or heard or touched; of all the people quoted in the Bible, perhaps we can most closely identify with the man who told Jesus I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) But the events of Easter are real. Jesus was dead and now He lives once more. He lives to forgive you for your sins. He lives to help you fill each day with love. He lives to free you from the grave and replace death with never ending life in paradise. He lives so that you might have life, and have it to the full.

Believe it, and be glad!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Art, music and language

The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God (Acts 13:7).

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Certainly, a painting can evoke a mood faster than words can. A beautiful watercolor can lift your spirits, while a black and white photo of destruction and suffering can make you feel depressed. Pictures can take our thoughts to far away places and long ago times.

But how often have you looked at a picture and wondered what the artist was trying to say? When you look at a painting of the ocean, do you wonder where that ship is sailing off to? Are the passengers fleeing from some problem, or are they just enjoying a beautiful day at sea? Or what about a picture of a threatening storm? Does the photographer want us to respect nature’s fury, or is this picture an outlet for his anger at the world? Pictures can manipulate our emotions, but they don’t always communicate clearly.

It is said that music is the universal language. Regardless of the tongue you speak, everyone can share the same range of feelings when listening to an instrumental work. Brass instruments and drums can get your pulse racing, while strings and woodwinds can make you feel emotional.

But music is a limited form of communication—it cannot express thoughts. Music can reinforce learning, but only when it is used with words. A song cannot promise undying love unless accompanied by lyrics. Melody can accompany a story but not tell it—if you listen to a soundtrack from a movie that you’ve never seen, you can enjoy what you’re hearing but you’ll wonder what’s going on as the music transitions from one track to the next.

Pictures and music can be beautiful and moving, but neither can accomplish what words can. Poetry can give thoughts lyrical beauty. A powerful speech can stir people to action. Words can caution, advise, and make promises. Words can make sense out of jumbled emotions. This is why God communicates with us through words—words that are preserved in the Bible and have been translated into many languages. The word of God is powerful; it can change lives like nothing else can. Art and music are fine, but nothing can touch you like reading or listening to God’s holy words.

Monday, May 02, 2011


Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16).

May is a time of transitions. Seniors get ready for graduation. Families make their plans for summer vacation. Gardeners start spending more time outdoors than in.

May is a time of heightened expectation. Kids look forward to a break from school. People tired of being cooped up inside look forward to opening the windows and taking leisurely walks in the sunshine. Boats and bikes and campers are brought out of storage and are spruced up for another season of use.

But May also has moments of sadness and concern. There are tearful good-byes when friends leave school, never to return. Some are going off to an uncertain future working for the military; others hope to land a job that suits their interests and pays a comfortable wage. Parents worry about grown children who are leaving home, and find the house a quieter place than they like. Farmers plant their fields, but have no idea what kind of harvest they’ll eventually take to market.

As Christians, we live in the transition of May. Because of the faith Jesus put in our hearts, we face each day with eager anticipation. We look forward to the Son of God returning in power to end the winter of sin and give our world the rebirth it so desperately needs. We look forward to an end of suffering and backbreaking work; when we are with Christ, He will give us an eternal rest that is far better than any short-term vacation. We look forward to revisiting old friends and relatives who have been stolen away from us by the passing of years.

But times of transition can be stressful. Although we know that all believers go to heaven, it’s still hard to say goodbye at a funeral. We struggle to adjust to a life that has one less special person who was only a phone call away. And we wonder, just a little, what awaits us on the other side of death. Jesus tells us that heaven is wonderful, but we sure wish He would give us a vacation brochure that includes some pictures!

Although winter has some wonderful things to offer, the promise of spring makes us look forward, not back. Our lives have moments of wonder and beauty; but sooner or later we get tired of living in winter, having to put up with cold treatment and the darkness of evil. We crave the coming of spring; and when you follow Christ, every month can be filled with the joyful expectation of May.

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