Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween part 3

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15:19).

A big part of Halloween is fear. Fear causes an adrenaline rush, and we all like to experience a thrill every now and then. Haunted houses, spooky movies, scary books—these all provide a thrill.

But there’s another kind of scary thrill that has become very popular—the sexy, dangerous monster. The two most common are the vampire and the werewolf. Bloodsuckers and shape shifters are the romantic leads in countless books, movies, and television shows. They are portrayed as the ultimate bad boy/bad girl.

What makes these particular monsters so alluring? The risk of danger. The thrill of keeping a secret, a secret that only a few special people are privileged to know. Power is also a turn-on, and these creatures are powerful. And there’s an emotional connection, too—everyone understands how it feels to be filled with dark urges that are hard to keep in check. But monsters are dangerous—fool around with fire, and eventually you will get burned.

Sadly, we are all monsters. We all have nasty desires that must be denied—we crave forbidden pleasures, we get a twisted thrill from violence, and we enjoy the feeling of power that comes from making others tremble in fear. Look at how easily love can turn to hate—only a monster could have such a fickle heart. No matter how charming we manage to appear, time will eventually reveal how ugly we truly are.

Jesus understands the blackness that we try to keep hidden deep inside. Yet amazingly, He still wants to be part of our lives. Jesus loves us so much that He was willing to die for a monster like you and a monster like me. He suffered the punishment that our wickedness deserves. Because He did this, Christ has earned the right to forgive us—and He will, so long as we stop looking at evil as something interesting and attractive.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Supernatural peace of mind

Do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

Soon it will be Halloween again. Halloween has become the second most popular holiday in America, outdistanced only by Christmas. Each year, huge amounts of money are spent on decorations, costumes and parties. People line up for haunted houses and creepy movies in order to be scared. Children go from door to door, hoping that a great costume will result in a bag full of sweets.

Where did this holiday come from? Why are people fascinated with ghosts and monsters? What does Halloween teach us about ourselves? And what does God have to say about these things?

Halloween had its roots in Great Britain. A long time ago, October 31st was the official end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. People believed that on this day it was easier for supernatural beings to cross over into our world. Huge bonfires were lit to frighten away evil spirits, and families worried that the ghosts of departed relatives would come knocking on their doors. It was a night for speaking with the dead and trying to please the forces of evil so that you would be left in peace. Although the people of Great Britain eventually converted to Christianity, some of these ancient traditions survived; they were brought to America by immigrants in the 1800s, and grew into the Halloween that we celebrate today.

One aspect of Halloween tradition has to do with monsters. Centuries ago, Britons feared hobgoblins, fairies and demons. In our day, the list of monsters has grown to include werewolves and mad slashers. But why are we fascinated by such monsters? I think it is because monsters help us to face something truly terrifying—the evil that is within every human being. Consider just a few examples. Dr. Jekyll feared the evil within himself, and tried to get rid of it by drinking a potion—what came out of him as a result was the terrifying Mr. Hyde. A werewolf is a person who looks ordinary in the daylight, but has a ferocious animal lurking inside just waiting to escape. The Phantom of the Opera was a musical genius whose dark obsessions could result in psychotic behavior. When we look at these kinds of monsters, we see in them the same darkness that each of us tries to hide from others.

What makes monsters scary is that they are sin personified. Each of us is a sinner; each of us harbors terrible darkness deep inside, darkness that we are ashamed of, darkness that would drive away all our friends and loved ones if they saw it. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 15, Jesus described the darkness that festers in our hearts: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual misconduct, theft, lying, and slander. And try as we might, we cannot keep this darkness bottled up inside. Frequently it bubbles out—in times of stress, during peaceful moments when we let our guard down, when we get drunk or are exhausted from a long and difficult day at work. At times like these, the blackness in our hearts shows itself through our words and deeds—we act like monsters. Paul describes our monstrous behavior in Galatians chapter five: sexual misconduct, impurity, lustful pleasures, worshipping false gods, practicing magic, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, stubbornness, taking sides, jealousy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Monsters fascinate us, even while they are scaring us. In monsters, we see the evil that we are capable of. When the sun rises on November 1st, we can put the monsters away. Scary costumes and decorations go into a box, creepy movies and books go back on the shelf. But the monster inside each of us still remains, eager to slip out and cause all kinds of pain and grief. The evil in our hearts is with us every day throughout the year—whenever we look in a mirror, that monster looks back at us. Thankfully, we have Jesus in our lives. The Son of God has no monster inside His heart; instead, it is filled with love and mercy and a hatred for evil. He went to extraordinary lengths to free us from the monster of sin; He came down from His glorious home in heaven to live with us, surrounded by our sin. He taught us about love. He demonstrated unearthly patience as He dealt with us. And then He took our sins with Him to the cross, where they were staked by His nails, washed away by His blood, and buried in His grave. If you want freedom from the monster within you, kneel at the cross of Jesus—only He can give you relief that you crave.

Another Halloween tradition has to do with playing dress-up and pretending to be someone else. People who are shy sometimes dress up in flamboyant costumes and pretend to be confident or sexually adventurous. Others dress up like vampires or pirates, characters that take what they want and ignore societies’ rules. And some dress like doctors or astronauts or some other profession that represents a path not taken.

Halloween gives people of all ages permission to play dress up and not feel silly. We like to pretend, because we all have some dissatisfaction with our lives. We wonder what life would have been like if we had chosen a different major in college, if we had married our childhood sweetheart, if we had just taken that chance instead of letting it pass us by. We wish that we were more outgoing, more charming, more sure of ourselves. Sometimes we fantasize about breaking the rules and doing whatever we want, regardless of what other people might think. Halloween dress up gives us a chance to be someone else for a night.

Because we are sinners, it is natural to feel inadequate. Our lives are filled with regrets over past mistakes and missed opportunities. Because we live in an imperfect world, wealth and opportunity are not distributed equally; it is easy to be jealous of what other people have. It is frustrating to have to play the hand you’re dealt; many times we would like to rewrite the rules in our favor or ignore them altogether.

Jesus asks us to trust Him. Each of us was designed by God and placed into the world to serve Him, as Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter two: we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. You have no reason to feel inadequate—God put you on this earth to serve Him, and He has given you the skills needed to do the work He has for you. You don’t need to be jealous of what other people have; Jesus tells you to trust in God and that will be enough: do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the unbelievers chase after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33). If you trust in Jesus to give you what is needed, you won’t be drawn to fantasies of power and rule breaking.

A third aspect of Halloween celebrations has to do with death. Dr. Frankenstein assembled his monster from the pieces of many corpses. Zombies and vampires are dead people who need to feed on the living for continued existence. Mummies and ghosts are the remains of deceased individuals who could not find peace while lying in the grave.

We are instinctively afraid of death. Death is the great thief—it steals our loved ones from us. Death is the bringer of torment—before death claims its victims, most of them suffer first—suffer from memory loss, weakness, or chronic pain. Death is the ultimate question mark—what happens to us when we die? Where do we go? What will happen to us? Will we find peace and relaxation, or pain and regret? Or will we cease to exist altogether? We want to live. We want to be happy. Death is everything we seek to avoid; as such, it terrifies us.

Death was never part of God’s design for human life; He intended that we live forever. Death came into our lives as a result of sin, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Because of sin, death became necessary; without the release of death, people would be trapped in sin forever. But death can only free us if we die in Christ. He died to rescue us from sin, then rose from the grave as the guarantee of new life for all who believe in Him. Jesus has tamed death; He has forced the great enemy of life to serve us by becoming the door through which we can leave this sinful life for eternal happiness in heaven.

There is one other aspect of Halloween we have not touched on yet—mysticism. It comes in many different flavors: witchcraft, black magic, astrology, fortune telling, psychic readings. What they all have in common is this: they offer you influence over things that are beyond your power to control. Much of the time, we feel like helpless victims. You can’t force rain to fall on a crop that is withering from drought. You can’t force the guy you love to dump his girlfriend and give his heart to you. You can’t apologize to someone after they have died. And sometimes no medical treatment will make your terminal illness go away.

Mysticism offers a solution. Maybe a deal can be struck with some powerful supernatural being; in return for service or an offering, it will save your crops by sending rain. Maybe you can use the unseen power of nature to influence another person’s mind and make them love you. There are plenty of people who claim that they can speak with the dead; maybe, with their help, you can find closure for an old hurt that has never healed. Some believe that the human mind is filled with healing energy; maybe if you focus hard enough, you can cure your body by sheer willpower alone.

But the hope offered by mysticism is a false, misleading hope. God is the Creator of the universe and the King of all that is; no supernatural being or power can rival his absolute power and authority. There is no point in making deals with Satan; God threw him out of heaven ages ago. Besides, the devil is a liar; his sole desire is to drive a permanent wedge between you and God, a wedge that will cut off access to heaven and leave you with nothing but eternal sorrow in hell. Far better to ask God for help with life’s problems; He loves you and has the power to make things better. Magic is for people who don’t want to depend on God; magic promises that you can bend other people to your will through casting spells. But even if such a thing were possible, manipulating another person for personal gain is completely selfish. God’s ways are better; God is love, and He teaches us that healthy relationships are based on mutual love and respect. Some people miss the dearly departed so badly that they would give anything to speak with them again. But trying to speak with the dead is not the answer; Jesus assures us that every sin we’ve committed can be forgiven if we just ask Him; we don’t have to live with regrets. Jesus also gives hope to the lonely. He promises that all believers will be reunited in paradise; we just need to be patient and faithful as we wait for that glorious day. The bottom line is this: we don’t need to fear death, not when we believe in the Son of God who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Halloween is popular because it allows us to look at our weaknesses, our mistakes, and our fears with some degree of comfort, since these awful truths are dressed up in holiday traditions. On the one hand, it is good that we take time to think about these things—about evil behavior, death, and the supernatural forces of darkness. But looking at such things without then turning to Jesus is pointless—only He can rescue us from sin, death and hell. Only He can give our lives meaning and make us happy forever. Halloween shows us our fears and then points us in the wrong direction for solutions. Only Christ can ease your fears and give your mind what it truly needs—the comfort of spiritual peace.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween part 2

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die" (John 11:25-26).

In my previous devotion, I talked about how popular Halloween is, and some of the reasons why people enjoy it so much. Today we’ll hear what God has to say about the powers of darkness, and consider how we should react to their threat.

Halloween has become the time each year when we face darkness and evil head on. Usually people don’t like to think about death, let alone talk about it; but on Halloween, tomb stones become part of the scenery along with skeletons and zombies. Usually when we think of the dead, there is sorrow over a loved one who has left this world before we were ready to say goodbye; but on Halloween, ghosts become a source of amusement or cheap thrills. We fear death; Halloween is a time when we can look the Grim Reaper square in the eye and say, "I’m not afraid of you."

Of course, if Jesus is your friend, there is no reason to be afraid of death—ever. Death cannot finish you, because Jesus is stronger than death—He proved it on Easter when He rose from His own grave alive and healthy. Jesus will restore the joy of living to all His followers on the Last Day. The only ones who need fear death are those who don’t accept Jesus’ outstretched hand.

Halloween is also a time for make-believe. We dress up in costumes for a variety of reasons—to overcome shyness, to be the kind of person we’ve always wanted to be, or to explore our darker side. There are times when we get dissatisfied with our lives, and Halloween gives us the chance to play at being different.

But changing your life doesn’t have to be a fantasy. Jesus is always ready to help you find a better path. It starts with forgiveness. Whatever mistakes you’ve made, whatever opportunities you’ve missed, Jesus can forgive the bad choices you’ve made. He can help you overcome your bad habits and addictions. He can give you wisdom to see a better way of living your life. He can give you the courage to make a change, no matter how scary that change might seem. With Jesus’ help, you can start becoming the kind of person you never thought you could be.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween part 1

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

Halloween is a very popular holiday here in America. Retailers make more profits off of Halloween than any other holiday save Christmas. But what makes Halloween so popular?

Part of it has to do with fear. We love to be thrilled, and few things thrill us like danger and fear. Of course, many of us don’t have the skills to participate in some of the most thrilling activities; most people will never drive on a racetrack, jump from a plane, or do aerial tricks on a skateboard. But anyone can get a thrill from watching a scary movie or going through a haunted house.

Another part of Halloween that appeals to many is the opportunity to dress up and pretend to be someone else. Most of us lead pretty ordinary lives. Many youngsters wish they were grownups doing exciting things. Many adults wish they had been more adventurous in their younger days. And there are people who are just plain shy, who long for an opportunity to come out of their shell and get a little wild. Playing dress up on Halloween allows us to indulge our fantasies.

But Halloween has always had another purpose as well. The world is a dark and scary place, filled with unexpected danger. Man has always feared the evil that lurks in shadow, waiting to pounce on the unwary. In the past, some people tried to appease the darkness by honoring the spirit world through ritual and sacrifice. This ancient practice is the birthplace of Halloween. In the years since then, Halloween has been slowly transformed. The holiday still gives us reassurance in the face of darkness, but now the fear is taken away by trivializing it. Witches and ghosts have become decorations with smiling faces. Monsters are played for laughs. Instead of treating the darkness with respect, we giggle at it instead.

But is it smart to giggle at the darkness? Is it a good idea to trivialize the power of the spirit world? In our next devotion, we will take a look at what God has to say about the forces that want to bring fear into our lives.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Building on a lie

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long (Psalm 25:4-5).

Two young stone masons were building a brick wall—the front side of a house. As one of them was placing a brick, it was immediately obvious to both of them that it was lopsided—a bit thicker on one side than the other. The first mason shrugged his shoulders and started laying the irregular brick into the fresh mortar.

The second mason objected. "It will make the wall uneven," he cautioned. "Pfah!" the first replied, "What difference will such a little thing make? You’re too particular."

The other mason replied, " My mother taught me that truth is truth, that even the smallest untruth is a lie, and a lie is always a big deal."

The first mason said, "That’s all fine and well, but I’m not lying and have no intention of doing so."

The other man said, "True enough, but you are making your wall tell a lie, and I’ve heard that a lie in a man’s work is like a lie in his character—sooner or later it will show itself and result in harm or maybe even ruin."

"I’ll risk it in this case," the first mason said, and he continued building the wall, row upon row, until the sun dipped towards the horizon and both men went home for the day.

The next morning, the two workers arrived at the construction site and saw the lie proclaimed. The wall, getting just a bit of a slant from the untrue brick, had grown more and more uneven the higher it got. During the night, it collapsed—thankfully, no one was there to get hurt.

So it is with all the lies and half-truths of your life—they might seem small or insignificant, but if you try to build your future on them, things will come crashing down on you. This is why Jesus urges you to cling to the truth and reject every temptation to compromise it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:25-33).

This morning, I would like to congratulate you. You are doing something very difficult—you are following Christ. Peter calls us a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We are not like other people; in Psalm 4 David says, the LORD has set apart the godly for Himself. Followers of the true God have always been in the minority. At the time of the Great Flood, only 8 people in the entire world listened to God. At the time of Elijah, God said that in all of Israel only 7,000 people were true to Him. When Jesus hung on the cross, only a handful of people had the loyalty to stand at His feet as He died. In the years since His resurrection, the Holy Spirit has led billions of people to the Savior’s wounded side, yet even today only a third of the world claims to be Christian, and many of them barely understand what being a Christian is all about. Those who follow Christ are a select group, always in the minority.

Why is this? We know that Jesus loves us. We know that He forgives us every time we fall at His feet begging for mercy. We know that He will raise us from the dead and give us eternal life in paradise. So why don’t more people respond to His call, give Him their souls, and follow Him through life?

Jesus said, wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). There is only one gate that permits entry into heaven; that small gate is the Son of God. Jesus said, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved (John 10:9). There is only one road that leads to everlasting life; that narrow path has been mapped out by the Savior. Jesus also said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

Our Master is the only way to approach God in safety. We are sinners, but God is holy; His purity is so intense that we cannot bear to look at Him any more than we can safely stare into the sun. We are corrupt, but God is pure; if we dared approach Him too closely, we would be consumed like a moth that gets too close to a flame. The evil within each of us makes it impossible to have anything to do with God.

But Jesus solved this problem on the cross. He took full responsibility for our sins and paid the ultimate penalty for them. When Jesus died, our death sentence was commuted. Then Jesus rose from the dead, proving that God’s perfect love is far more powerful than all the evil in the world. Jesus is living proof that the mistakes of the past can be forgiven, that today can be a fresh start, that tomorrow we can be closer to God and eternal happiness than we’ve ever been before.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to pay Him back for what He’s done. Love doesn’t work that way. And it’s not as if we could repay Him anyway; there is no way we can take back every harsh word we’ve spoken, fix everything we’ve broken, or do enough to wipe away all memory of the hurts we have caused. Christ’s forgiveness, offered freely, is a gift no one can put a price tag on.

But our Lord does demand one thing from us—He demands our complete loyalty. Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

Do these words sound harsh? Perhaps, but they are consistent with everything God has said to His people from the beginning. Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because they listened to Satan instead of God. God promised to make Abraham a father of many nations, on the condition that he place his trust in God alone. At Mount Sinai, God promised to be with the Israelites so long as they honored Him, but He assured disaster if they started worshipping other gods.

The First Commandment demands complete loyalty to God. Jesus upholds this commandment by saying that nothing in our lives can be more important than our relationship with Him. And this is one reason why so many reject Christianity. They don’t want to give Jesus first place in their lives. They value other things—their families, their jobs, their popularity, their wealth, their independence, their bad habits, their recreational activities. From their perspective, Christianity is just too demanding. They don’t want to force their kids to go to church. They don’t want to have to consider whether the terms of a business deal are morally right or wrong. They don’t like to admit mistakes, and fear that apologizing makes them look weak. They see no reason to donate money to a charity unless they can get a tax advantage for doing so. They resent anyone trying to tell them what to do and what not to do. They are comfortable with their bad habits and addictions. They believe that religious people don’t know how to have a good time.

Many people are so attached to their current lifestyle that making any significant change is too unpleasant to consider. So they seek other options; they look for a religion or philosophy of life that doesn’t demand a radical change of priorities. They would rather listen to a comforting pack of lies than the uncomfortable and challenging truth. This is one reason why I commend you; you have done what many won’t do. When Christ spoke, you did not close your ears and walk away—you listened and you let the truth rearrange what’s important to you, even when those changes have been uncomfortable or worrisome.

Jesus demands first place in our hearts, a place so far above everything else that even love of parents and children is moved down to an entirely different level. And this is no mere rhetoric on Jesus’ part—many believers have to choose between Christ and their loved ones. There are places in this world where people are rejected by their families for becoming Christian; some converts even risk death at the hands of religious extremists. It is no wonder that Jesus tells us to weigh the costs carefully before setting off to follow Him.

When we follow Jesus, there is a cost that cannot be avoided. Jesus warns that we must be willing to take up our crosses when following Him. On Good Friday, Jesus carried a cross to the place of His execution. That cross was the painful burden of God’s anger at our sins. Yet Jesus carried that burden willingly, because His suffering would achieve a wonderful result—forgiveness for your sins and mine, forgiveness that makes us eligible for entry into heaven. That was a gift Jesus desperately wanted to give us, even though it cost Him more than we can imagine.

The cross that we bear when following Jesus is similar in some ways, different in others. It is the same in that it involves suffering while we walk towards our deaths. But our suffering cannot begin to compare to what Christ went through for us. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul describes our suffering as light and only lasting for a short time. Nor do we suffer for the same reasons as Jesus. Our suffering does not pay off any debt of sin; when He died at Calvary, Jesus paid the full price to free us from hell’s fiery grip.

The cross we carry is the burden of obedience. It is hard to give up favorite pleasures that God forbids. It is hard to make time in our busy lives to reach out and show care for others. It is hard to share the things we have with strangers and those who are in need.

It is also hard to face the pressure to conform. We feel uncomfortable telling our friends no when they want us to join them in sinful behavior. We want to be part of the group; we don’t being an outsider. And we certainly don’t enjoy being made fun of for trying to do the right thing.

And following Jesus feels restrictive. What’s the point of growing up, we think, if we can’t start doing whatever we want? We prize our freedom; it’s hard to submit to Christ’s authority.

Jesus says that anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Him cannot be his disciple. This sure sounds tough. But I congratulate you for struggling to do the right thing, for carrying the burden of being a Christian. Frankly, it is not as heavy a burden as Satan would like you to believe it is. You know that; you take comfort from Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 11: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Christ wants us to follow Him, so He shares our burdens with us. He wants us to receive the blessings of discipleship—having our guilt removed and experiencing peace of mind, confidence that we have value because God loves us and that our lives have purpose when we serve Him, and assurance that death is not permanent and that we will be reunited with all our loved ones who died in the faith. These are the benefits that come from taking up our crosses and following Jesus.

I commend you for doing what most of the world is unwilling to do—hold Christ high in your life and regard everything else as of lower importance. But before you get a swelled head, I should remind you that the only reason you follow Christ is because the Spirit of God is helping you along the way. He gave you the faith to believe; He points you in the right direction; He supports you when you get tired and lifts you up when you have no strength left. You can only follow Jesus because God helps you to.

And let’s be honest, you don’t always make Jesus number one in your life. You make many decisions without first praying for guidance. You might go for hours, even days, without thinking about Jesus or offering Him a word of thanks. You have friends and relatives who need to hear the message of salvation, but religion is the one subject you never talk about.

Thankfully, Jesus forgives you and me for our half-hearted devotion. He forgives us for whining about how hard it is to follow Him. He forgives us for making moral compromises. He forgives us for acting as if God is not aware of what we’re doing. He forgives us because He is patient, loving and generous. He picks us up and dusts us off so that we can continue following Him along the narrow road to paradise.

Jesus tells us to consider carefully the cost of following Him. You have calculated the cost and you have seen the truth—that the benefits of being a Christian far outweigh the drawbacks. Praise God that He has given you the wisdom to see this truth, because it is a truth that most are unwilling to face.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The fruit of laboring for Christ

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:27).

Today I’d like to take you across the world to Nigeria and introduce you to a wise man named Madaki. Some time back, Madaki was the chief elder of the church in Kwoi and one of the wealthiest farmers in the region. One day he issued the following announcement: "Madaki wants all the women to gather at his house tomorrow morning. Pass on the news." When the women gathered at his home the next day, Madaki asked them to go out to his farm and carry home his field corn.

104 women and girls walked the seven-mile round trip, carrying baskets of every size. Some brought back a big load. Others only fetched a few ears of corn. One woman carried such a huge amount that she ran out of strength before finishing the trip.

When all the women gathered back at his house, Madaki made a startling announcement: each person could keep what she brought back! There were many shouts of happiness and gratitude. However, there were also sighs of regret. Many complained, "If only I had known, I would have taken a larger basket."

There had been some women who refused Madaki’s request. They had muttered, "I have enough work of my own." When they heard what had happened, they dropped everything and rushed to the farmer’s house the next morning, begging for the opportunity to cash in on his generosity. But he quietly told them, "the time is past; the corn was brought in yesterday."

Through this kind deed, the church elder accomplished two things. First, he gave welcome assistance to many needy families. But even more important, he preached a quiet sermon that was frequently repeated throughout the community. Our Lord Jesus asks us to work for Him. Some are happy for the opportunity to serve. Others drag their feet and try to get by with doing as little as possible. Many simply refuse to give up their own priorities for Jesus’ sake. But our Lord is generous. He is no slave driver. Those who work hard for Him with no expectation of being repaid will be richly blessed in eternity.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Praying with confidence

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).

You cannot pray to God without faith. The Bible says, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The Maker of all things is not interested in prayers that start off with words like “if you’re really there” or “I hope you’re listening.” There are a lot of people who only speak to God when faced with a crisis and have no place left to turn. They offer a desperate prayer, figuring there is nothing to lose by appealing to a God who they don’t know and never really think about. God feels no obligation to answer such prayers—not if that petitioner will just go back to a godless existence after things settle down again.

Our Father in heaven wants us to come to Him with confidence—confidence in His power, His wisdom, and His love. The Bible gives each petitioner this warning: when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-7). Listen to this exchange between the Son of God and a worried parent: Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered…"If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "If you can?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:21-24)

Praying with confidence includes being persistent. Jesus makes this promise: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8). The Bible tells many stories of people who had to wait a long time for God’s promised blessing, but in every case the LORD followed through when the time was right. When you pray persistently, it shows God that you believe He is listening to you; giving up demonstrates a lack of faith.

How important is prayer? Scripture tells us that Jesus frequently went off by Himself to pray. As important as His work here among us was, communication with His Father was always a top priority. Jesus praised the Father’s goodness and relied on His support. Jesus also prayed for those He was close to, those who were in need, even for those who hated Him. If the Son of God prayed this way, shouldn’t you?

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).

King Saul should have been a happy man. The Israelites had never had a king before; he was privileged by God to be the first. Nor did he have to face this awesome responsibility alone. He had a wonderful son named Jonathan who was a great warrior, a loyal son, and a compassionate friend to others. He had God’s prophet Samuel to give him advice from God’s own lips. And he had David, a handsome young warrior who could compose, sing, and play beautiful music for the king.

But Saul was an impatient man who often charged into action when waiting to see what would happen was the better choice. On one occasion, his army was massed for attack against an enemy force, but the prophet Samuel could not be found to give the Lord’s blessing before battle commenced. Unwilling to wait, Saul offered the sacrifice to God himself—a clear violation of God’s law which only allowed prophets and priests to offer sacrifices. Another time, Saul wanted God’s advice on a coming battle, but when the Lord remained silent, Saul consulted a witch—another clear violation of God’s law. Saul would also fly into fits of rage—and the target of his anger was often David. Saul had been a great general in his day, but David’s victories began to eclipse his. On several occasions Saul got angry and tried to kill David—moments of unrestrained passion which he regretted after he had cooled off. Saul’s life came to an end on the battlefield, when he impulsively chose suicide over capture by enemy forces. Saul’s lack of patience cost him leadership of God’s kingdom and eternity in heaven.

Our world needs more patience and less rage. People get angry at being caught in slow moving traffic. Children throw temper tantrums if they don’t immediately get what they want. Parents beat their children if they are slow to obey or do something wrong. Countries are more inclined to declare war than to wrestle with a diplomatic solution. TV shows are abruptly canceled if they don’t provide big ratings in the first couple of weeks. When marriages hit a rocky patch, many couples are quick to opt for divorce instead of making a commitment to marital counseling.

Where is the patience? How many travelers find something interesting to look at after making a wrong turn? How many shoppers chat up a stranger while stuck in line together? Do diplomats get the same respect as those who serve in the military? How many people choose to talk their problems out, instead of yelling at each other or stalking off and slamming the door? How many people are willing to forgive and start over?

One of the greatest blessings God gives us is His patience. In the Old Testament, God gave His people unambiguous laws to live by; yet no matter how clearly God spelled out His expectations for human behavior, even the most faithful believers still broke the law repeatedly. We see repeated examples of God being patient, threatening His people with punishment for sin, but then giving them a great deal of time to repent and change their ways. Then in the New Testament, we see God’s great patience given flesh in Jesus; instead of giving up on us for being habitual offenders, God placed His own Son on trial and executed Him on the cross for our crimes—all this to give us another opportunity to exchange love of sin for love of God. Peter writes, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

In Ephesians Paul tells us, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Patience is essential for healthy relationships. All of us are sinners; all of us say and do things that are unthinking, inconsiderate and hurtful. Without patience, these kinds of sin lead to broken friendships, runaway children and divorce. We can be grateful that God works hard at trying to teach us patience; He often does this by making us wait before answering our prayers.

Patience does not see other people as obstacles to be overcome. Rather, patience is willing to work with others because it respects all people as children of God who have dignity and worth. A patient Christian does not insist on having his own way at the expense of others. The patient person tries to solve problems peacefully; he will not intimidate others or work around them to get the outcome that he wants.

Rage destroys things that are built through patience. It only takes one moment of rage to end a career by speaking an ethnic slur out loud in front of the wrong people. It only takes one moment of rage to end a marriage by saying something spiteful or striking a loved one in the face. It only takes one moment of rage to end a life by pulling a trigger or stabbing with a knife. When rage is in control, you lose all regard for the rights and feelings of others. Rage is the antithesis of patience.

Jesus is the ultimate example of being patient when provoked. When He began preaching about the kingdom of God coming to earth through Him, His brothers and sisters thought He had lost his mind. His disciples were often thickheaded and sometimes arrogant. Judas stole from the group’s moneybag and plotted to betray Jesus into the hands of people who wanted him dead. The religious leadership condemned Him to death at an illegal hearing on trumped-up charges. Governor Pilate sent Him to the cross, even while acknowledging that Jesus had broken no laws. Jesus was stripped of His clothes, had nails pounded through His hands and feet, and was insulted by strangers as He inched towards death. Yet Jesus never responded in anger, never said hurtful words in retaliation. Instead, He patiently corrected misunderstandings and offered words of forgiveness. It was only because of Jesus’ patience that mankind has been saved from God’s terrible anger at sin.

Patient Christians are willing to endure another person’s sin and offer forgiveness for the sake of peace. Those who are patient offer mercy even to the unrepentant, as Christ did on the cross when He prayed for those who were executing Him: Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). The apostle Peter writes, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The only way we can avoid conflict is by being patient with each other. Patient love is the basis of all relationships because it covers over a multitude of sins, just as Christ’s patient love has done for us.

The classic example of patience is Job. Job was a man who had it all—he trusted God, was healthy, had a large family and was very well off. But Satan went to God, claiming that Job’s faithfulness was only superficial—take away his blessings and he would turn his back on heaven’s King. God gave Satan permission to test Job, and in short order the man’s life was visited with one calamity after another—rustlers stole his cattle and killed his servants, a windstorm cause the death of all his children, and Job himself became terribly sick—painful sores covered his body. His illness was so disgusting that few would have anything to do with him. Even worse, his best friends accused him of having done something terrible to call down such harsh judgment from God.

Job’s wife took a different view of things—she did not blame Job for their misfortunes, she blamed God. Her advice to her husband was shocking: curse God and die! (Job chapter two) But Job was not so quick to take a defeatist view. He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" He had confidence that with time, things would get better. And they eventually did.

How is Job an example of patience? First of all, he did not let the bad things that were happening to him take away his faith in God. He knew that the Lord had allowed these tragedies to take place, yet he did not blame God for treating him unfairly—he trusted that God had good reasons for what he did, reasons that Job might never find out. Nor was Job quick to give up; even though relief was slow in coming, Job did not abandon hope that God’s love would eventually make things better.

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 patient as we deal with others.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The importance of regular prayer

Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

People communicate with each other like never before. Everywhere you look, someone has a cell phone in her hand or is wearing a Bluetooth device on his head. Most kids are busy texting their friends while browsing in stores or munching on fast food. Business leaders hold virtual conferences using high-speed satellite communication. If you have access to a computer, you can communicate instantly with people anywhere in the world.

People love to talk. But how much of your conversation is directed towards God? What percentage of your time is devoted to prayer?

God wants to hear from you. Through the apostle Paul He tells us to pray all the time. When asked how to pray, Jesus offered the Lord’s Prayer as an example of the sorts of things prayer should include—praising God to show Him respect and gratitude, seeking His help and guidance, and asking for the restoration of broken relationships. When you consider how often we need these things, prayer should be a daily part of our lives.

Does God listen to prayer? Absolutely. He gave this promise to the Israelites at Mount Sinai: I will hear, for I am compassionate (Exodus 22:27). But God does not listen to rebellious sinners; the prophet Isaiah issued the warning your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2). This is why we always pray in Jesus’ name; the Son of God gave His life for us in order to reopen the lines of communication with our heavenly Father. Those who are sorry for their sins and are made clean by faith in Christ have the assurance that their prayers are heard.

Does it do any good to pray? You bet it does! James writes (chapter five), is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him…And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. When your sins are taken away by Christ, the Lord sees you as righteous—someone whose opinion matters to Him. As a friend of Jesus, your prayers are important and worthy of God’s notice.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


If a man does not work, he shall not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Sometimes a job can be unpleasant. That was certainly the experience of Pontius Pilate. He had a position of authority granted by the mighty Roman Empire. Yet that position of authority, for all its perks, was often a difficult burden to bear.

Governing the Jews was no easy task. They hated foreigners. They were intolerant of other religions. And they were quick to revolt against the Roman peacekeepers—some, like Barabbas, were willing to go so far as to commit murder. The Jewish leaders had sent several complaints about Governor Pilate back to his superiors in Rome, who were putting increasing pressure on him to keep the peace. Then, during a religious festival when Jerusalem was packed with fanatics, the religious elite brought him a man whom they wanted put to death—Jesus of Nazareth. They claimed that he was dangerous to the Roman occupation, that he stirred up the people with talk of freedom from oppression. Yet when Pilate interviewed Jesus, it was clear that this man was no political threat, nor had he broken any laws. It was Pilate’s job to enforce the rule of law; legally, Jesus ought to go free. But the Jewish leaders were willing to unleash a riot in order to get their way. Ultimately, Pilate took the easy way out—he let the Jews have their execution. Pilate’s unwillingness to do his job when things got hard resulted in the crucifixion of the innocent Son of God, the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the world.

Our world needs more diligence and less laziness. People live on government support and have no desire to support themselves. Some employees do the minimum amount of work they can get away with and still earn a paycheck; others arrive late, leave early, and take longer breaks than they’re entitled to. Parents let the TV entertain their children and avoid disciplining their kids for bad behavior. Kids in school cheat on tests in order to get a passing grade. Many would rather buy microwavable dinners than make a meal from scratch; others would just as soon eat out and avoid having to cook at all.

Where is the diligence? How many people take satisfaction in completing a hard day’s work? How many care deeply about the quality of the products they make or the service that they offer? How many workers think of their job as a way to meet the needs of others? How many believe that hard work is not only necessary for a healthy body, but that it also contributes to a healthy soul?

When Jesus came to live among us, He took His work very seriously. Jesus never goofed off or took shortcuts. When something unpleasant needed to be done, He rolled up His sleeves and got to it. His job was to bring God’s righteousness to a world fatally in love with wickedness. Inevitably, then, Jesus’ work involved confrontation. He confronted merchants who set up shop in the Temple precincts. He confronted people who taught false religion. He confronted the devil himself. And He confronted our sins on the cross. Jesus worked tirelessly to push back evil and reveal the glory of God’s truth.

We should be grateful that Jesus took His work so seriously. Because of his unwavering commitment, we have been rescued from sin and the hell it leads to. Saving us was no easy task; Christ suffered everything the devil could throw at Him in order to bring us back to God. The Son of God died so that we might live eternally. If He had not been fully committed to His cause, He might have chosen to avoid the cross, saving Himself from pain but dooming us to everlasting pain instead.

God looks for whole-hearted commitment from us as well. He expects our complete loyalty; He expects us to serve Him with all that we are and have. In Revelation chapter three, our Lord condemned a group of Christians for not taking their faith seriously enough: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot…So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. God wants more from us than just being wishy-washy; He wants us to be passionate about life.

Jesus spoke about laziness while teaching in the Temple during Holy Week. He told the story of a wealthy man who went on a long journey. Before leaving, this individual gave money to his servants to invest during his absence. When he finally returned, the man praised two of his servants for working hard to make his money grow. But the third servant got no praise from his master; all he did was hide the money in a secure location, claiming that he was afraid to lose it through bad investments. But the master understood what was really going on; he called the servant wicked and lazy. The servant did nothing with his master’s money because he did not want to be responsible for it—simple as that. As punishment, the servant was thrown out of his master’s house to live forever in a place of darkness and suffering. Through this story, Jesus communicated an important truth to His followers: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48). Laziness wastes time that could be used to serve the Lord.

Someone who is passionate works hard; he is fully committed to whatever he does. A Christian dedicates everything He does to the Lord. He looks forward to work, because through working he serves God’s purposes here on earth. He is careful to do quality work, because he wants to honor God with his efforts. He wants to earn enough money to support the church, take care of his family, and still have something left to share with the needy. He does his work with care and planning, so that the result of his efforts will benefit many people for a long time to come. He works so that he will be a blessing to others, not a burden. He doesn’t give up when faced with problems, because he trusts in the Lord to bring about a satisfactory result. He sets priorities and avoids distractions, because he knows that time is precious and limited. And when he is tempted to sluff off at work, the Christian finds renewed motivation in Paul’s advice: Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do (Colossians 3:23).

But passion for the Lord’s work goes beyond the workplace; it also includes effort on behalf of the Church. Jesus gave every Christian a job to do in the spiritual arena: you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And there is urgency attached to this work, because time is not an endless commodity—Jesus said, As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work (John 9:4). Passionate commitment to God’s work also includes devotion to His teachings and rejection of every attempt to dilute them with human ideas, rationalizations, or compromises. Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). It is hard work to be a committed Christian, but Jesus promises rich reward for our efforts on His behalf.

One hard worker of the Bible is Jacob. Jacob had to flee from home after he made his brother angry. With nowhere else to go, he headed north to Haran to seek employment from his uncle Laban. When he arrived, he met Laban’s daughter Rachel—a woman of beauty who tended sheep for her father. She immediately captured Jacob’s heart; having nothing else to offer as compensation, he offered to be Laban’s hired man for seven years in exchange for taking Rachel as his wife. But at the end of the seven years, Laban pulled a fast one—he gave Jacob his older daughter Leah instead, claiming that it was improper to marry off the younger daughter first. But, he added, Jacob could also have Rachel in exchange for an additional seven years of labor. Jacob agreed and Rachel was his.

Why is Jacob an example of hard and faithful work? First, he was willing to work for seven years to earn the thing he prized the most—Rachel’s hand in marriage. And when Laban changed the rules on him, Jacob did not get frustrated and quit—instead, he agreed to seven more years of work in order to gain his heart’s desire. Jacob understood that you have to work for the things you want.

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 work hard for things that matter.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

When God says "Not yet".

Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD (Psalm 27:14).

God answers every prayer. But He doesn’t always give the answer that we want. Sometimes the answer is “not yet—later.” This is a frustrating answer, because it requires patient waiting from us. But God has good reason to make us wait.

Anticipation builds excitement. When you work for hours under the hot sun, sweating and thinking about a cool beverage in the shade, that drink will taste wonderful when you finally get it. The longer you that wait for something, the more you will appreciate getting it in the end. When things come quickly and easily, we tend to take them for granted. The Lord takes pleasure in blessing us with His gifts; He wants us to enjoy them fully and be properly grateful for them as well.

God often makes us wait because we tend to be impatient, and impatience leads to sinful behavior. You can see it in almost any store. A little child wants something now. When mom or dad try to put the request on hold, a tantrum erupts. We don’t like being told to wait. We don’t like taking turns or being last in line. We want immediate relief from pain and discomfort. When we don’t get fast action, we start acting sinfully—being rude, making threats, exaggerating our need, or even resorting to outright theft or cheating. Jesus suffered and died to free us from being punished for sins like these, and God works hard at training us to behave decently. So there are times when He makes us wait.

And sometimes God makes us wait in order to strengthen our faith in Him. Worry and fear are the great enemies of faith. When we let worries consume our thoughts, we stop looking to God for answers. When we are consumed with fear, we no longer trust God to take care of us. If we don’t get an immediate response from the Lord after praying, we wrongfully assume that He isn’t listening or doesn’t care; then we start trying to make things happen, even though we lack the power and wisdom to make things better on our own. Sometimes God our Father makes us wait so we learn to stop reaching for the panic button and trust His timing instead.

It can be hard to wait patiently, but when God says “not yet,” it’s to make each one of us a better person.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When God says "No."

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17).

God answers every prayer. But He doesn’t always give the answer that we want.

Sometimes the answer is “no.” There are a couple of reasons for this. Many of our prayers are for things that are not good for us. A teenager might pray for a new sports car, but the Lord knows that a hot set of wheels will only get the young man into trouble. A career-minded adult might ask God for a promotion, but the prayer is denied because all the extra time spent at work would lead to a divorce.

Sometimes God says “no” because our prayers don’t line up with His plans for us. A high school graduate might pray to be accepted into a certain university, but if admitted to that institution the young woman won’t meet the professor that can awaken a life-long commitment to medical research. A man might desperately want to change jobs, but God refuses that prayer because the company needs him as a moral anchor and example of ethical conduct.

And there are times when God says “no” to a prayer because it asks for something inappropriate. God loves everyone; He is not going to curse another person just because they’ve made you mad. The Lord is not a vending machine either; He is not going to constantly feed your selfish desires when you should be focused on others as well.

Our Lord knows what you need. He will not answer your prayers by giving you something harmful. A child might see his dad’s gun and want to play with it; a loving father will say no to the request, even though the child doesn’t understand and might even throw a fit. God is our loving Father who is committed to only giving what is best for us. Jesus said, which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11) When we ask God for something and He answers no, don’t get angry or think that God doesn’t care. His “no” is always motivated by love.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

There is a saying that goes: “he who hesitates is lost.” Yet it is more likely that you will get yourself into trouble if you act before thinking things through. Peter serves as a classic example.

Peter frequently acted without considering the consequences. This is nowhere more evident than on the night of Jesus’ arrest. It started in the Garden of Gethsemane; when Jesus was detained, Peter took his sword and attacked a servant of the high priest. Only one other disciple had a sword; did Peter think that the two of them could defeat the entire crowd that had come for Jesus? Jesus quickly defused Peter’s catastrophic mistake by healing the injured man. Realizing that he had done something very foolish, Peter fled into the night, abandoning Jesus to the crowd. However, guilt soon drove him to the place where the Lord was on trial. Again, Peter acted without thinking things through—he entered the courtyard, hoping he would not be recognized and arrested. Of course, this hasty decision was just as bad as his impulse to fight in the garden; Peter was soon confronted about his relationship with the man on trial. Caught unprepared, Peter panicked and denied knowing Jesus, a denial that cost him his position as a disciple. Because he was so wrapped up in the heat of the moment that he didn’t think about the future, Peter turned his back on Jesus at the time our Lord needed his support the most.

Our world needs more prudence and less unthinking wastefulness. The citizens of our country are growing fatter as they eat whatever strikes their fancy, with little thought to moderation or good nutrition. People smoke, drink and use drugs without consideration of the damage these substances can do to their bodies. Our nation has embraced disposable things—disposable tableware, disposable diapers, disposable containers for water, soft drinks and beer. Few people fix things like kitchen appliances or CD players or vacuum cleaners when they break; such things are simply thrown away and replaced with something new. And gambling has become an obsession for many, even though the only consistent winners are those who offer the games.

Where is the prudence? How many people save adequately for retirement? How many think of money as a limited resource that needs careful management? How many young people make career plans before selecting their first college classes? How many couples discuss their long-term goals before deciding to get married? How many people consider the possible repercussions of an act before going ahead and doing it?

Our Lord always thinks ahead. He is never caught off guard or unprepared. When Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world, our heavenly Father had a plan ready to fix what they had broken. There in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were the first to hear about a Savior who would destroy the power of evil and bring sinful mankind back to its holy Creator.

But God thinks in the long term. Thousands of years would pass before Jesus was born among us to suffer and die. And two millennia have gone by since Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven; no one knows how much longer it will be before He returns to raise the dead and restore this world to perfection.

God wants us to think in the long term as well. He wants us to focus less on today and more on eternity. When we take the long view, it can drastically change the decisions we make here and now. Take an athlete, for example; few people like strenuous exercise, but by focusing on the future competition she hopes to win, the athlete finds the motivation she needs to keep at her training. Or consider a farmer plowing a field; if he spends most of his time gazing at the ground just a few feet ahead or keeps looking down to fiddle with his radio, the path he cultivates will be irregular and hard to plant. But if he keeps his eyes focused on a fence post at the far edge of the field, he can use that guide to plow a furrow that is straight.

Wastefulness comes from overindulgence—not knowing when enough is enough. If one chocolate bar is good, two are better; if one beer is good, three are better. If sex with one person is good, having sex with many different partners is better. If a couple of hours playing poker with friends is fun, a weekend gambling at a casino will certainly be even better. But thinking like this does not consider the future—the problems caused by weight gain, the loss of being able to experience true intimacy with a marital partner, or the difficulty of facing retirement without enough money saved or invested. Overindulgence makes it hard to think seriously about the future.

Jesus addressed the problem of wastefulness in the parable of the Prodigal Son. In His story, Jesus describes a family of three—a father and his two grown sons. The younger man is bored with life working at home for his father. So he makes an insulting request—he wants his share of the inheritance now before his father has died! Surprisingly, the father grants his son’s request and the boy is instantly well off. With money burning a hole in his pocket, he sets off to have fun—but he goes to a distant land so that no one who knows him will see what he’s doing and criticize him. He spends his inheritance on partying and prostitutes with no thought for tomorrow; soon the money is exhausted. Then the economy collapses due to a severe drought; the only employment the young man can find is feeding hogs, hogs that are better fed than he is. It is not until he has hit rock bottom that the wasteful son comes to his senses and returns home to a father who never stopped loving him and was waiting to forgive him. Through this parable, Jesus shows us the importance of thinking about the future before spending money foolishly.

When we take the long view, our lives can be freed from many foolish and hasty decisions. When you are focused on building a house big enough for a growing family, you start putting money into savings instead of spending it impulsively. When heaven is something you think about regularly, you will be more likely to support the church in its work to fill God’s home with forgiven people. When you take the long view, you realize that there is a limit to the time and resources God has given you—so you set priorities to help you in using those heavenly gifts wisely. Taking the long view involves planning; it requires discipline so that you don’t fall into the trap of only living moment to moment. The pleasures of this life never last for long; thankfully there is happiness that never fades away. Jesus offers eternal joy; keep your focus on Him and this gift will be yours.

Joseph is a good example of a man who could plan for the future. Joseph had been falsely accused of rape and thrown into an Egyptian prison. While there, he made several friends—including a member of the royal court, who was doing time in jail for angering Pharaoh the king. God had given Joseph a special ability—he could interpret dreams. This would be Joseph’s ticket out of prison. Pharaoh started having nightmares that no one on his staff could interpret. When the man who knew Joseph was allowed to resume his duties, he recalled Joseph’s ability and put in a good word for him with the king.

Pharaoh had Joseph brought before him and told him about the nightmare. Joseph explained that God was using this means to warn of coming events—seven years of abundant harvests, followed by seven years of devastating famine. Then Joseph suggested a plan—during the seven years of surplus, have someone make sure that 20% of each harvest be put into long-term storage, so that there would be a big enough reserve to get Egypt through the following years of famine. Pharaoh and his staff were so impressed by this suggestion that Joseph was given this important job.

How is Joseph an example of prudence? First of all, he took the long view, rather than waiting until the last minute to face approaching problems. Second, he had discipline—he knew that saving for the future required considerable sacrifice in the here and now.

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 balance the needs of today with planning for the future.

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