Thursday, September 29, 2011

Prayers answered

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me (Psalm 17:6).

How do you know when God answers a prayer?

A lot of the time, we don’t see God’s answer because we are so wrapped up in our own expectations. We don’t just tell God what we want, we also lay out how we want Him to go about providing what we’ve asked for. A farmer who prays for a good harvest might also ask God to send rain in the next week. A woman who wants her grown child to be happy might ask the Lord to provide a good man to become her daughter’s husband.

There’s nothing wrong with such prayers, but we don’t have to tell God how to do His business. I don’t tell a surgeon how to operate on my body, I just ask him to fix the problem. God can give the farmer a good harvest even without sending rain next week. The Lord can make a young woman happy with her life even if she never finds romance. When we tell God how we want Him to address our needs, we close our eyes to possibilities we’ve never even considered. If the Lord answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect, we might not even realize that He was listening and He did act.

Sometimes God gives us what we prayed for, but slowly and quietly. We don’t experience a sudden and dramatic change in our lives, but a gradual readjustment instead. God is constantly healing people who are sick or injured, but He rarely makes them jump from their hospital beds and run down the corridor shouting, “I’m cured!” The Lord takes away all sorts of emotional pain and scarring, but most often His relief is granted slowly over time. We have a hard time seeing incremental change; in our impatience, we crave instant and complete relief. When God chooses to move at a deliberate pace, we can miss the fact that He is answering our prayers.

And a lot of the time, we don’t see God’s power at work in our lives because we don’t expect to see it. We take miracles for granted. A baby is conceived, and although we are happy over the event, we see it is just a natural process. You can be working hard on a sunny day, drenched with sweat and craving relief from the heat—but when a gentle breeze offers refreshment, it never occurs to you that perhaps God just answered your unspoken prayer. Our gracious Lord does pay attention to your cries for help—it’s a shame that we don’t pay such close attention when He responds.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me (Psalm 43:3).

Do you make impulsive decisions? Many people do. Some make snap decisions because the clock is ticking and a course of action is needed right now. Others make hasty decisions because they hate being pressured and just want the situation to be resolved. And some rush to judgment because they lack the patience needed to carefully look at all their options. But acting without thinking things through is a dangerous practice. Relying on your instincts assumes that your instincts can be trusted. Sadly, they can’t. Your gut reaction is to avoid discomfort at all costs. If confrontation will lead to a tough fight with an uncertain outcome, your instinct will be to avoid it. If you have a choice between doing the easy thing or the right thing, easy will always look more attractive.

By nature, we are all selfish. Our instincts are to make life good for ourselves regardless of how others might be affected. If we act without thinking, our behavior is going to reflect that selfishness for everyone to see. To make good decisions, you must take the time to think things through before settling on a course of action. You need to study the problem and consider how your words or deeds might impact others. You need to engage your brain before pushing the send button or opening your mouth or handing over your money. And since our instincts tend to be narrowly focused on what’s best for us at this moment, we need to pray for help in seeing things from God’s perspective.

Of course, there are situations where we don’t have the luxury of time when making a choice, so it’s a good idea to prepare ourselves by spending time with the LORD in prayer and Bible study throughout the week. If you are in regular consultation with God, you won’t feel so unprepared when faced with a crisis that demands immediate action. Your sinful instincts will be tempered by knowledge of God’s priorities, a knowledge that can help you evaluate the situation properly.

What if you screw up? We all make bone-headed mistakes. Thankfully, God’s Son died to pay the price for your mistakes and rose from the grave so you always have someone to turn to. No situation is hopeless. Just stop and reevaluate things, asking Jesus to give you clarity of vision. If you are on the wrong path, He will forgive you and point you in a better direction. You just need to be flexible enough to let Jesus take the lead.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

King Ahab ruled the northern nation of Israel during the years that Elijah was God’s prophet. The prophet and the king did not get along with each other, because Ahab and his wife Jezebel worshipped Baal instead of the true God. Ahab and Jezebel were powerful monarchs, but they were also notorious sinners.

One example has to do with Naboth’s vineyard. The vineyard was close to Ahab’s royal palace, and the king wanted the land for a vegetable garden. He offered to buy the land from Naboth but his offer was refused; Naboth would not sell land that had been in his family for generations. This reversal left Ahab sulking and unwilling to eat; it was his wife who finally engineered a solution. She signed Ahab’s name to letters organizing a party and inviting Naboth to attend. She arranged to have two liars seated across the table from Naboth, and in front of the leaders of the community they swore that Naboth had cursed both God and the king. On the testimony of these two men, Naboth was immediately dragged out and executed, and the palace claimed his vineyard. King Ahab’s greed resulted in forgery, malicious gossip, the death of an innocent man, and the loss of a family’s inheritance.

Our world needs more generosity and less greed. Employees who are perfectly happy with their duties at work seek promotion to more stressful positions simply to earn a bigger paycheck. People run up thousands of dollars in credit card debt because they are addicted to shopping, and end up filing for bankruptcy or taking out a second mortgage on their home. People of all ages fill their homes with toys they don’t play with, clothes they don’t wear, CDs they don’t listen to, and collectibles that only collect dust. Others are always replacing cars and upgrading their electronic equipment because they've got to have the newest thing.

Where is the generosity? How many people give regular donations to charity? How many churchgoers follow the Old Testament example of giving 10% of their income to the Lord? How many children are willing to share and share alike? How many people are willing to give up their place in line for someone who’s in a hurry? How many folks give away things they no longer want, instead of selling them through a second-hand store?

In our modern world, charity has gotten a bad name. Some people abuse charity, applying for help they don’t really need. Many others refuse charity. In some cases, accepting charity makes them feel like a failure; in other cases, they just don’t want to be a burden that someone else has to care for. But from God’s perspective, we are all charity cases; without His generosity, we would all be condemned eternally.

We are saved from sin and death because God is generous. He sent his Son to suffer and die to pay off our debt of sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, it was so that He could offer us the gift of forgiveness whenever we mess up. Incredibly, this gift of mercy is completely free; Jesus does not demand anything from us to repay Him for His sacrifice. This is a good thing, because there is no way anyone could repay Him for the hell He suffered on the cross as our substitute.

Because the Lord has been so generous with us, it is only right that we should be generous as well. One of the hallmarks of Christian living is a willingness to share the good things we have received from God. Of course, that includes pretty much everything. Scripture tells us, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17). This also includes money, as Moses reminds us: remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18).

What does generosity look like? It wants to share God’s gifts instead of hoarding them away for private use; it rejoices in God’s blessings and wants to share that joy with others. It is willing to give even when there is no real likelihood of ever being repaid. Generosity does not live in fear of giving too much away, because it trusts the Lord to provide even in times of need.

Greed gets in the way of generosity. Greed takes many forms. For a collector, it’s about assembling a complete set of something. For the self-indulgent, it’s about having the newest, the best, or the most expensive. For someone who is fearful, it’s about having such a big enough stockpile that no matter what happens he will never be in need. Of course, the pursuit of such goals leaves nothing to offer the needy.

Jesus addressed greed in His parable of the Foolish Rich Man. In His story, Jesus describes a farmer who is blessed with a record-breaking harvest. There is such an abundance that his barns cannot contain it all. But is the man generous? Does he donate the excess to feed the poor? Not at all! He decides to tear down his barns and put up bigger ones. His goal? He wants to retire and live the high life, supported by his accumulated wealth. Even though his fields are productive and he still has the strength to continue farming, he is not interested in raising more crops to feed his fellow man. But God condemns the farmer for being tight-fisted; He says you fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? (Luke 12:20) Jesus wants us to understand that God gives to us so that we can share with others.

Generosity is, at heart, a spiritual attitude. The generous person sees money as a way to support the work of saving souls from unbelief and hell; this is why such a person actively supports churches and mission work. The generous Christian sees charity work as an opportunity for sharing the faith with others; this is why such a person volunteers her time in places that serve the poor and hungry. The generous person wants to thank God in a tangible way for all of His wonderful blessings.

Abraham serves as an example of generosity. Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his nephew Lot had grown up in a land hundreds of miles from Canaan. But God told Abraham to gather his family and started walking, because Abraham was going to become the father of a great nation. Eventually, the group arrived in what would one day be called Israel.

Abraham and Lot were cattlemen; they lived in tents and frequently moved to provide their herds with fresh grazing land. The Lord blessed Abraham and his family; the size of the herds grew, as did the number of people required to tend them. But this remarkable growth created a problem—the herds began competing for limited resources. God had promised Abraham a great nation; no such promise had been made to Lot. Abraham was in the driver’s seat—he could have told Lot to take his family, his herd and his servants and go graze somewhere else. But that’s not what Abraham did; instead, he gave Lot first choice as to grazing rights; he said, Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left (Genesis 13:9). Lot thought things over, saw that the best grazing was on the plain near Sodom and Gomorrah, and chose to go in that direction; Abraham accepted the less productive landscape.

How is Abraham an example of generosity? By rights, first choice for prime grazing should have been his. But Abraham allowed Lot to have first choice; God had already blessed Abraham with plenty, and he trusted God to keep on caring for him, even if he didn’t have the best pasturage for his herd. Abraham was more concerned that Lot did well, and be able to support his own growing family.

We live in a dark and evil world. Jesus came among us to drive back the darkness with the light of His love. We help drive back the darkness of evil when we are generous with the good things that God has given us.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Making decisions

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105).

When you make decisions, what guides you?

For some, the path of least resistance is attractive. Going with the flow is much easier than swimming against the current. If it’s a struggle to get everyone to church on Sunday morning, why not just stay in bed and spare yourself the aggravation? You might not like the direction our government is taking, but is it really worth the effort to register and vote or write a letter to your representative in Washington?

When it is time to make a choice, many people are concerned how their decision will make them look to others. If your buddies want to go out and get wasted, do you want to be a wet blanket? When your co-workers grumble about their families during break, you don’t want to be the only person at the table who speaks fondly of their loved ones.

Since time and money are often in short supply, many folks make decisions based on how much value they are likely to get in return. When spending your money, which is the better investment—saving interest by paying off a loan early, or getting a tax write off for giving to a charity? How is your time better used—lowering your stress by relaxing at the lake, or serving the church as a volunteer?

What are your priorities? Do they include money, popularity, having a good time? Or do they focus on God, family, and making the world a better place to live? What is most important to you?

You are a high priority to God. He wants you to be a citizen of His kingdom and a member of His family. He wants to free you from your dark and selfish passions. He wants to bring you under His protection so you are not victimized by Satan and those he manipulates. You are so important to God that He sent His Son to die on the cross, a sacrifice that offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who want it. Jesus made it His top priority to make up for all the times when your priorities have been out of whack.

When it is time to make your next decision, stop and ask yourself what your priorities should be. Pray to Christ for guidance. And when you have the opportunity, spend some time reading His Good Book—it’s filled with people like you who wrestled with getting their priorities right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Garbage in, garbage out

Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word (Psalm 119:37).

Garbage in, garbage out. This is one of the first lessons I learned about computer programming. Computers rely on accurate information to produce useful results. If you start with flawed data, the results you get will range from deceptively misleading to dangerously wrong. A computer is limited in its usefulness by the person who programs it.

Garbage in, garbage out. This principle applies to our minds as well. If you load your brain with lies and half-truths, you cannot make good decisions. If you spend a lot of time looking at pornography or reading smut, you’ll tend to look at others as playthings instead of individuals who have rights and feelings. If you frequently read bloggers or listen to talkshow hosts who take aggressive stands on extreme positions, you will be less inclined to listen or work together when others disagree with you.

We are bombarded with information every single day. People try to influence your opinion through roadside billboards, TV commercials, magazine advertisements, and pop-ups on the Internet. The songs you listen to, the editorials you read, the newscasters that you watch all exert an influence on your thinking.

You know how bad eating habits can ruin your body’s health. When you make a steady diet of unhealthy ideas, it damages your soul. If the world convinces you that lying is okay in some instances, you start ignoring God’s command to stick with the truth. If a popular celebrity persuades you to adopt a non-Christian religion as your own, their bad influence will cost you eternity in heaven!

We need to be selective in what we read and listen to. If a song promotes selfish behavior, listen to something else. If some talking head makes a habit out of peddling fear or hatred, get your news from another source. If a magazine features articles that glorify irresponsible behavior, put it down and walk away. Most of all, we have to make time for the critically important information that is found exclusively in the Bible. Only the Word of God can purge away the rot of the mental garbage which we are fed each and every day.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).

King David loved God—he loved the Lord so much that he wanted to be the one to construct God’s temple in Jerusalem. How disappointed he must have been when God said no, that his hands were too soaked with blood from years of war to build something that was holy.

But David’s hands were not the only impure things about him. David had an eye for the ladies. When King Saul died and David took the throne, David took for himself all of Saul’s wives and mistresses. To this already large household, David added even more wives and mistresses. But none of these women could satisfy his lust. One morning, David was on the roof of his palace and saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. Inflamed with desire, David had her brought to him, even though she was married to a man who was off fighting in a war. The affair resulted in a pregnancy, and David had the husband called back from deployment, hoping that time at home would suggest that the husband was the child’s father. But the husband was an honorable man, who could not bring himself to enjoy time with his wife when the other men in his unit were engaged in combat. In desperation, King David ordered the husband assigned to the thick of battle and left alone to die; in this way, David thought, no one could prove that the baby was illegitimate. David’s lust destroyed a marriage and murdered an innocent man.

Our world needs more purity and less passionate desire. Our commercials are soaked with sexuality, whether they be on TV, in magazines, or on billboards. The Internet is flooded with pornographic websites, and they are the most successful of all online businesses. Most couples think that great sex is so important for a marriage that they experiment with it before making a commitment, like a person test-drives a car before deciding to buy it. Married people dabble with secret affairs, putting families at risk for the sake of passion and excitement. Passionate desires undermine relationships—and this includes more than just sex and marriage. A passionate desire for revenge can lead a country to violate the terms of a peace treaty and launch an attack. A passionate desire for profit can lead a company to cut pensions that were promised to retired workers. Passionate desire is willing to disregard promises made when they prove to be inconvenient, whether those promises were made before an altar, in a board room, or at the signing of a treaty.

Where is the purity? How many couples save their virginity for their wedding night? How many people blush when they see a picture of someone nude? How many countries hold fast to their international agreements? How many businesses are committed to high ethical standards of conduct? When temptations come along, how many people immediately close their eyes and ask Jesus for the strength to resist committing a sin? How many people would rather make Jesus happy than make themselves feel good?

When Jesus forgives your sins, He changes the course of your life. Romans chapter 12 tells us, do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. When we let Christ take charge of our lives, we are reborn; our priorities change and we look at life from a new perspective.

When we think about the Christian outlook on life, one characteristic that comes to mind is a desire for purity. In Philippians chapter one Paul writes, this is my prayer: that…you…may be pure and blameless…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. The desire for purity comes from wanting to be like Jesus. Jesus is pure; His every thought, word and deed are beautiful because of their sheer perfection.

We want to be like Christ; we would love to go through life without making a single mistake. Of course, such a thing is impossible; because we are sinful through and through, the only way we can have any purity in our lives is through divine intervention. Jesus extends His righteousness to us, allowing us to experience purity through Him.

What does purity look like? Purity wants to evaluate everything in light of God’s holy Word. Purity rejects sinful desires as distracting and corrupting, a waste of the time and resources God has generously given you. Temptation wants you to try all sorts of different things without giving much thought to the consequences; purity says ‘take your time, don’t rush into things blindly.’ Purity doesn’t find humor in dirty jokes, nor is it entertained by gossip; purity chooses refinement over crude behavior.

Lust demands immediate action, heedless of risk or long-term repercussions. A lust for sex ignores things like marital boundaries, unplanned pregnancy, or the risk of contracting a serious disease. Lust for alcohol ignores things like possible liver damage, speaking words that might hurt another person, or dying in a car crash. Lust for buying something new ignores things like the state of your bank account or whether the same item might be on sale elsewhere for a better price. The impulsiveness of lust doesn’t allow the time for reflection that purity demands.

Jesus spoke about making pleasure your top priority. In the Parable of the Sower, He described four kinds of soil planted by a farmer. One type of soil was so hard that birds ate the seeds before they had a chance to sprout. Another type of soil was rocky; the seedlings died when they could not get sufficient root. The third type of soil was infested with weeds, which choked the crops and made them unproductive. But the fourth type of soil was rich, and it produced an abundant harvest. Jesus then explained that the types of soil illustrated the different ways people respond to hearing the Good News of salvation. Some are so stubborn that God’s word does not penetrate and take root. Some are superficial, fair-weather Christians—religion is a nice diversion, but is quickly abandoned in times of stress. The weeds represent earthly pleasures and distractions; such things get in the way of spiritual growth and make a person’s life unproductive. Lust for earthly pleasures inhibits growing up strong and pure in God.

Those who are pure dislike temptation; they want to preserve themselves for Christ as a woman preserves her virginity for her wedding night. In his second letter to the believers in Corinth (chapter 11), Paul pictures their relationship with Jesus in terms of marriage: I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you to him as a pure virgin. Considering that Jesus died to free us from sin, it just isn’t right to claim Him as our dearly beloved while at the same time embracing sin like a lover that you keep on the side.

Joseph shows us what purity looks like. Joseph was one of the youngest sons of Jacob, yet his father gave him special treatment. This made his older brothers jealous; they sold him to a passing group of slavers, then told their father that he had been mauled by a wild animal. Eventually, Joseph wound up in Egypt and was sold to a government official. Joseph proved a talented administrator, and soon he was put in charge of running the entire household.

But Joseph was also young and handsome, and his good looks caught the eye of his owner’s wife. She made repeated attempts to lure him into bed with her, but Joseph resisted. He told her, you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9) In spite of every attempt she made to seduce him, Joseph never gave in to her sexual advances. Eventually her lust turned to hate, she falsely accused Joseph of trying to rape her and had him thrown into prison.

How is Joseph an example of purity? First of all, he respected the vows of marriage, even though his master’s wife did not. Second, he resisted giving in to temptation, even though standing up for what was right turned the woman against him. Most importantly, Joseph understood that such an act was not just a sin against his master’s marriage, but it was a sin against God Himself. Joseph did not want to disobey God.

We live in a dark and evil world. Jesus came among us to drive back the darkness with the light of His love. We help drive back the darkness of evil when we strive for purity in everything we say and do.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Your word is truth (John 17:17).

What are you against? Does that seem like a strange question? Think about it. We live in a time where nobody wants to be labeled anti-anything. To be opposed to something seems negative, seems narrow-minded, seems mean-spirited and ugly. Of course people are still opposed to things; they just look for a positive way to market their views. Instead of being anti-abortion, you identify yourself as pro-life. Instead of being against big government, you say that you support limited government. Naturally, the opposition is always quick to assign a negative label whenever possible. If you oppose gay marriage, you are identified as homophobic. If you care about the environment, you’re called a tree-hugger. Do you see how the game is played?

People have a broad range of opinions on most everything. It’s sad that so many would rather hide behind slogans instead of talking openly and honestly about the issues. This is why congress can’t get things done—each party slaps a label on the other side, and repeats the same talking points when interviewed. Listening, asking questions, seeking common ground and using gentle persuasion seem to be skills that few people have anymore.

It’s okay to be against some things—in fact, God expects it. The Bible says, what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14) Our LORD demands that we oppose those things which have their roots in corruption. Sadly, each of us is quick to assume that we know the difference between what is moral and what is immoral. But with our minds clouded by dark urges and irrational thinking, we often end up leading the fight for the wrong side. We need the holy LORD to reveal what is right and good and proper. Without the clarity made possible by His wisdom, we can never be sure that our position on any matter is the correct one.

We humans are a prickly bunch—we don’t like to be disagreed with, and we’re slow to come around to a different point of view. And so the Bible urges us to share God’s message with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). His words are too important to remain hidden behind slogans and sound bites. Important things must be discussed openly and honestly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Nature abhors a vacuum. Clear off a table, and soon a new pile of clutter starts to accumulate. Put up a shelf and before long it will be filled with books or knickknacks. Build a garage or put up a storage shed and pretty soon you’ll struggle to find space for the car or lawnmower. It happens to our schedules as well. Free up some time each week, and it won’t take long for your boss, friends or spouse to give you some new activity to spend those hours on.

It’s a rare person who can escape clutter. Our jobs are cluttered with tasks that are redundant and inefficient. Our homes are cluttered with stuff that we don’t really need. Our days are cluttered with activities that use up more resources than they are worth.

Nature abhors a vacuum. If you want to be free from clutter, it’s not enough to clear it away—more clutter will just replace it. If you want to be free from clutter, you have to replace it—replace it with something that’s worth having. If you want to be free of clutter, you must reduce the amount of space that your life offers to clutter. If your home feels crowded, don’t buy more shelves or put up a shed—get rid of some stuff instead. If your day is filled with too many activities that are frivolous or needlessly time consuming, replace them with things to do that give value to human life and are emotionally rewarding.

Clutter is hard to get rid of, because in an odd way we value it. A cluttered house can make you feel well off because you have a lot of stuff. A cluttered schedule can make you feel important because you have so much to do. But here’s the thing: Jesus loves you. The Son of God gave His life to adopt you as His own. You don’t need clutter to feel good about yourself; you already have value as a child of God. In fact, clutter is more than a nuisance—it’s a distraction that piles up into a wall that hides God from view. The things that you have are clutter if they require your attention more than God does. The items on your to do list are clutter if they don’t leave you time for worship and prayer.

For the sake of your spiritual health, reevaluate the clutter in your life. Nature abhors a vacuum, so when you start clearing away the clutter, be sure to replace it with things that matter to God.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
(Romans 9:12-21).

Everyone reading this has been hurt by someone. You might have been the victim of bullying at school. You might have been neglected by a parent or caretaker. You might have experienced betrayal at the hands of someone you trusted. You might have been abused by someone you loved. You might have been lied to. You might have been taken advantage of.

Such treatment leaves scars—scars on your soul. Maybe you find it hard to take others at their word. Maybe you carry bitterness inside of you like stomach acid that never goes away. Maybe you are timid and afraid of getting hurt again. Maybe you are cynical and expect the worst from everyone. Maybe your life has lost its color and warmth, and you live in a cold landscape of depressing grayness.

When someone hurts you, the last thing on your agenda is offering them forgiveness. How can you ever trust them again? How can you put away the resentment that still lingers? How can you wish them well, for heaven’s sake?!? Yet that is exactly what our Savior asks you to do.

Here is something that is important to remember: forgiving is not the same as condoning. The Apostle Paul says hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Our heavenly Father hates it when we sin; and while He sets His anger aside to show us mercy, that forgiveness in no way excuses our bad behavior. Forgiving someone is to let go of your anger, your resentment, your bitterness. These strong emotions are playthings in the devil’s hands. Whether you are boiling with rage or keeping it on a constant simmer, Satan can use your raw emotions for his own dark purposes. He can make you suspicious when you should be trusting. He can make you snap at others instead of being patient. He can trap you in thoughts of plotting revenge when your energy should be directed towards serving the LORD in gladness. Anger, resentment, bitterness—these are dangerous emotions that no one should carry around with them

Paul says, bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. To be persecuted is to be singled out for personal, repeated attack. People are persecuted for all sorts of reasons. A boy might wear glasses, be real smart, or have trouble with sports. A girl might be overweight or excessively skinny or covered in freckles. A man might be black or gay or mentally retarded. A woman might be saving her virginity for her wedding night. And every one of us can be a target for those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ. The point is, we are targeted for who we are. The attacks are personal and repeated.

Why does God tell us to bless the people who treat us this way? For one thing, responding to hatred with more hatred won’t make things better in the long run. Hatred does not forge relationships. Hatred does not build mutual respect. Another reason to bless our enemies is that it actually to our benefit. If their behavior changes because the love of Christ has touched their heart, we have one less enemy and maybe even a new-found friend. And by asking God to bless our enemies, we focus our thoughts on love and kindness instead of lingering on the bitterness that can suck all joy from your days.

But the most important reason that we bless and do not curse is because that is what Christ Himself did on the cross. After being arrested on false charges, being brutally manhandled and made fun of, and finally having large nails pounded through His hands and feet, Jesus offered this prayer for His tormentors: Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). Jesus offered that prayer for everyone who brought Him to that bloodstained cross—including you and me and the people who have wronged you terribly. All of us are sinners. All of us contributed to the pain and suffering that Jesus endured at Calvary. Yet Christ did not curse us; instead He blessed us with heavenly mercy.

Paul writes, if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Can we live in peace with our enemies? Not always, but Paul says to make it our constant goal. We do have an obligation to point out sin when it rears its ugly head. God commands us to do this, because silence implies consent. Most people do not respond well to criticism, especially if they do not recognize Jesus’ authority over their lives. Urging a change of ways often provokes hostility instead of compliance to the will of God. Yet we speak out anyway, because sinners need to realize how dangerous it is to anger the Lord God Almighty.

Can we live at peace with our enemies? Sadly, there are times when drastic action is needed to protect the vulnerable. This is why we have people serving in the military and in law enforcement. Sometimes lethal force is the only protection we have against terrorists and criminals. But responding to violence with more violence just legitimizes and perpetuates it. Mohandas Ghandi showed the world that peaceful protest can shame the enemy into abandoning violence. When it comes to personal attacks against us, Jesus said if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:39). Our Lord demonstrated this when He was crucified; the prophet Isaiah writes (in chapter 53) He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

When you are hurt, it’s tempting to seek revenge. But looking for vengeance is fraught with problems. First off, can you be absolutely sure you’re going after the right person? How many innocent people have been falsely convicted for one reason or another? Even if you are sure who is responsible, what were their motive? Can you be sure it was malicious? Did they act out of panic, or because someone was pressuring them to do what they did? Is revenge the best response?

Another problem with vengeance is that it just perpetuates a cycle of violence. You hurt me or someone that I love, so I need to hurt you in return—back and forth it goes. We’ve seen it in Northern Ireland and among the street gangs of Los Angeles; the desire for vengeance made Germany rise from the ashes of World War One to fight again in World War Two.

Worst of all, the craving for revenge fills you with bitterness, not peace or love. So Paul says, do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. God doesn’t make mistakes. God’s heart never gets poisoned by dark emotions. So He takes sole responsibility for executing vengeance on sin. Retaliation is not up to us.

Forgiving our enemies, blessing them, letting go of our anger—it’s hard to do. So Paul urges us to never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. If you are a child of God through holy baptism, if you are a follower of His Son Jesus Christ thanks to the sacrifice of His body and blood, this should fill you with a passionate commitment to the Lord, an outlook on life that is front and center as you interact with others. Some Christians wear a cross as a piece of jewelry; others like the bracelet that asks, “what would Jesus do?” These serve as reminders that we don’t respond to others according to our hostile impulses or the expectations of the world; our behavior ought to be at a higher level. Sadly, we often fail to live up to this standard of conduct, especially when under personal attack. Praise the LORD that He shows mercy to all sinners, especially us!

It’s one thing to humble yourself before Christ and ask His forgiveness for breaking God’s law. It’s a bit tougher to humble yourself before a friend or loved one and ask their forgiveness when you’ve treated them badly. But it’s extremely difficult to go to an enemy that you’ve wronged and humbly ask their forgiveness. To admit your failure is to expose yourself as vulnerable. But what better way to illustrate what being a Christian is all about! And regardless of whether they forgive you or laugh at you, Jesus expects us to take ownership for our mistakes and express sorrow to those we’ve wronged—to God, to our loved ones, and to our enemies. Even if no one else forgives us, we know for certain that Christ forgives us.

If we expect God to forgive or sins, we have to share His gift generously. Jesus put it right into the Lord’s Prayer—forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. In Mark chapter eleven our Master says, when you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. To hold a grudge is to oppose what Jesus died on the cross to achieve—forgiveness for sinners.

Rest assured, evil does not go unpunished. Jesus paid the penalty for all sin on the cross, an awful price of suffering that God alone could bear. But there are many that do not hold the benefit of Calvary in their hearts. Without faith in Christ as your Savior, vengeance is coming from the LORD, and it is terrible. Hell is dark, painful, lonely, and filled with endless regrets. As much as we might feel that someone deserves it, it is sobering to realize that we all deserve it. Jesus endured the cross because He loves us and wants to spare us from the punishment that we ought to receive. As His followers, concern for our fellow man calls out for the same loving kindness, a compassion that is willing to do the hard thing. Forgive. Bless. Tell about the Savior. This is how good overcomes evil.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Important or urgent?

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

“This will only take a minute.” How many times have you heard this assurance? How many times have you rolled your eyes, knowing that everything takes more time and effort than anticipated? You start making or fixing something, only to discover that you don’t have the right tools or all the materials needed. You plan a quick trip but are caught behind farm machinery or are surprised by construction. You arrive on time, but the doctor is running late or your date is still getting ready.

If you have a busy schedule, missing appointments and deadlines can ruin your whole day. Once lateness rears its ugly head, it knocks back everything on your agenda like a row of dominos. Your day can become a frantic dash to make up for lost time, and each new delay only makes the stress worse. And if scheduling nightmares rob you of proper sleep, you’ll start the next day already behind the eight ball.

There are two obvious fixes to this problem. First, always put wiggle room into your schedule. Assume that everything will take more time and effort than you think it will. Second, don’t fill your schedule with so many things to do. Of course, these tips are easier said than done. Much of your schedule is dictated by other people—bosses, children, repairmen and receptionists. So you have to look very carefully at those places in your day where the agenda is under your control.

You need to separate the urgent from the important. Urgent things can seem important because the clock is ticking. But important things are not determined solely by deadlines. Important things have long-lasting consequences. Important things require careful thought and focused attention. Important things cannot be rushed.

Important things need your attention much more than things which are merely urgent. Ask yourself: is a sales presentation more important than your daughter’s recital? Is your time better spent working out at the gym to tone your muscles, or by reading the Bible to nourish your soul? This is why you need God’s help; without His guidance, we rarely use the little time we have to make sure that the important things get done.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The danger of anger

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).

People can be so aggravating. Some years ago, I paid a lot of money for professional service. I had to wait more than half an hour for my appointment to begin, I had to wait several months for the service to be rendered, and when the work was finally completed I found that a serious mistake had been made. When I called about the problem, I was assured that things would be taken care of immediately. Still, I was angry—I couldn't resist making a snippy remark to show my displeasure. In response, the person I was talking to ended the call without offering an apology or wishing me a nice day before hanging up.

I’m sure that you’ve been frustrated by poor service at one time or another; maybe you displayed your anger like I did. Did you feel guilty afterwards? I did. My behavior did not make me feel better, and while it may have fixed the problem, it ruined another person’s day as well.

Anger is a dangerous tool to use. Sometimes it takes strong emotion to make another person take you seriously—but using anger can backfire too. Yell at the wrong person, and instead of backing down he might seek revenge instead. Treat your spouse with enough hostility and you’ll find yourself in divorce court.

Anger is the kind of negative emotion that begs to be shared. And it can spread like ripples on a pond—the person you get mad at takes out their frustration on somebody else, and pretty soon your impulsive words darken the day for a whole bunch of people, most of whom you don’t even know.

The Bible says, bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. I know that over the years I’ve made lots of people angry with my failures and my mistakes. I’m no better than anyone else; I have no right to use anger to force change unless all other options have been exhausted. That is how God deals with us—He only shows His anger when nothing else works to get our attention. The LORD prefers to deal with us in love; that should be our preference as well.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Pride goeth before a fall—how many times have you heard those words? Yet many people in the Bible have fallen prey to this temptation.

One example is Samson. God gifted him with tremendous strength, on the condition that he keep the vow of the Nazirite—he was never permitted to cut his hair or drink anything alcoholic. Samson was undefeatable—on one occasion he slew a thousand enemies of God’s people single-handedly, using the jawbone of a donkey as his only weapon, while another time he killed a lion with his bare hands. But Samson was full of pride in his abilities, and that pride made him careless. The Philistines were enemies of God’s people, yet he always had a soft spot for Philistine women. One such person was Delilah, a loyal Philistine who only wanted to seduce Samson in order to arrange his capture. Samson toyed with her, telling her various ways in which he could be subdued—all of which Delilah passed on to her superiors. But each story was a lie, and Samson easily escaped the traps set for him. Finally, secure in his pride, he told Delilah the truth about his vow to God—and as he slept, Delilah cut his hair, breaking the vow. This time Samson was captured, and to keep him subdued, the Philistines destroyed his eyes and put him to work as a slave. Samson’s pride resulted in capture, slavery, humiliation, and blindness.

Our world needs more humility and less pride. Politicians constantly boast of their accomplishments, hoping to impress us enough to re-elect them. Wealthy people flaunt their money by driving expensive cars and wearing designer fashions. Celebrities weigh in on matters of politics and public decency as if their opinion is superior to everyone else’s. But pride is also a problem closer to home. School pride can lead to fights on game night. Couples divorce because neither person will admit to being wrong and ask to be forgiven. People are so confident in their abilities that they don’t make back-up plans in case something goes wrong. Many enjoy gossip; they are quick to assume the worst about others.

Where is the humility? How many people stop a fight by admitting that they don’t know the best way to proceed? How many people willingly submit to those who are older, or who hold positions of authority? How many people go to the Lord in prayer each day, head hanging in shame and saying "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

God is perfect—perfect in wisdom, perfect in love, perfect in justice. He is the perfect Lawgiver and the perfect Judge; no one can hide the truth from Him or outmaneuver Him with a clever argument. Human laws are at their best when they are based on God’s perfect commandments.

We can be grateful that God is perfect in wisdom, love, and judgment; only these three things together could save us from ending up in hell. God’s perfect justice demands that sin be punished; hell is every human’s rightful sentence for being a sinner. But God’s perfect love desired a different verdict; our Lord did not want us suffering forever. The impasse was solved by God’s perfect wisdom; by sending His Son to die in our place, justice was served and we were spared. Only in God’s heavenly courtroom could such a verdict ever be rendered.

We would like to be lawgiver and judge; we would like to make the rules and ensure that they are followed. But sin distorts how we see things; it impairs our thinking and taints our decisions. Every parent fails as a disciplinarian, resulting in children who cry, “that’s not fair!” Every court hands down some verdicts that punish the innocent or let the guilty go free. Humans are fallible; because of sin, our judgment is faulty.

God wants us to recognize our limitations and live accordingly. We are all sinners; none of us can claim moral superiority over anyone else. Everyone has sinned, Paul says; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. When you admit this to yourself, it changes the way you deal with other people. Knowing that your reasoning is often flawed, you don’t try to push your opinions as if you are right and everyone else is wrong. The only thing you can offer of unquestionable value is the truth given in God’s Word—but even then you offer it in meekness, knowing that your understanding of God’s Word is not perfect.

Pride results in foolish decisions. The prideful woman is so sure that she has all the answers that she ignores good advice from others. The prideful man is so sure of his ability to achieve success despite the odds that he doesn’t take time to think things through before plunging ahead. Such behavior often results in tragic consequences; Solomon noted this when he wrote, Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

When you own up to your shortcomings as a sinner, you realize that you are in constant need of Jesus’ help. Prayer becomes part of your daily routine, as you ask for help with making decisions both large and small. You also want the support of other Christians; you prefer to work in a group because it is easy for sin to mislead you when going it alone. You don’t insist on getting your own way, and you don’t try to hog the spotlight—you are happy to give credit where credit is due, because in the end it is God who gives success.

Jesus gives an example of both pride and humility in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In His story, Jesus speaks of two men who come to the Temple for prayer. The Pharisee is a man who has made a career out of being a man of God, someone whose life can be a shining example to others. He steps forward and prays about himself—how good he is and how carefully he obeys God’s laws. But the tax collector stays in the shadows, ashamed to even be in God’s house. His job is that of a traitor, collecting Jewish money on behalf of the Roman occupying forces. He hangs his head in shame and cries out, God, have mercy on me, a sinner (Luke 18:13). Jesus notes that the man who recognized his failings and sought God’s mercy was the one who went home right with God.

The Bible shows us many people who were humble. One example is that of the Roman centurion. A centurion is a military officer who is in charge of 100 men. This particular man and his unit were stationed in the northern town of Capernaum to help maintain order as part of Rome’s occupation forces. Many of the army’s officers were arrogant men who had no respect for the locals, but this centurion was different. He loved the Jews and their country—loved them so much that he provided the town with a house of worship.

The centurion had a servant whom he valued greatly. But the servant became ill—lost all control of his body and hovered on the brink of death. The centurion had heard about Jesus’ power to cure the sick and heal the crippled. But he also knew the religious customs of the land; if a Jew entered the house of a Gentile (non-Jew), he was considered defiled and could not worship in the Temple until going through a rite of purification. So the centurion sent a servant to Jesus with a request for healing from a distance; he said Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed (Matthew 8:8). Jesus praised the man’s faith and healed his servant, even though they never met face to face.

How is the centurion an example of humility? First of all, he respected other people, even if he did not share their beliefs. Second, he realized that he was nothing special, that Jesus owed him no favors. The centurion knew that Jesus was a great man, and he was unworthy of the Great Teacher’s attention. The centurion made no demands; he offered his request in meekness.

We live in a dark and evil world. Jesus came among us to drive back the darkness with the light of His love. We help drive back the darkness of evil when we deal with others in humility.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Love and forgiveness

I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12).

As important as forgiveness is, many are reluctant to accept it. Forgiveness is a gift, an act of grace. Forgiveness is neither earned nor deserved. This bothers many people. For some it is about wounded pride, because they don’t like the idea of being treated as a charity case. For others it is about shame—they don’t want to be forgiven until they’ve earned it somehow. Such people don’t understand the beauty of forgiveness or appreciate its value.

Forgiveness is an investment in the future. It draws people together in gratitude, making relationships deeper and stronger. Forgiveness is an act of trust. It presses the reset button on relationships, erasing the pile of guilt and resentment that put up barriers between us.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.” These words are not found in the Bible, but they are nevertheless true. How often have you struggled with forgiving and forgetting? Forgiveness is hard; forgetting is virtually impossible, it seems. We are the sum of our memories; our souls are crisscrossed with emotional scars that have never healed properly. Those old wounds make us slow to trust. And how can you say that you’ve forgiven someone if you don’t trust them any more? Forgiveness is supposed to restore broken relationships—but without trust, the relationship stays damaged.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.” Only God is capable of truly forgiving and forgetting. He says, I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. We need Christ. We need the Son of God to show us His undeserved mercy, so we can be pardoned for our sins and find peace in heaven when we die. We also need Jesus to help us to forgive as He has forgiven us. Forgiveness does not come naturally to sinful hearts and darkened minds; we need God’s help to set aside the hurts of the past for the sake of love now and in the days to come.

Forgiveness is the ultimate expression of long-lasting love. Forgiveness is anathema to our selfish tendencies. It is only through the power of Christ that we can experience the wonderful miracle of forgiveness, which binds us together in God’s eternal love.

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