Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving part 3

Do not covet (Romans 7:7).

It’s in our nature to whine and complain. We see advertisements for new products and immediately want to go shopping, then get irritated when the money just isn’t there. We become envious when a friend or relative or coworker gets something shiny and expensive. We get bent out of shape because we can’t have the best of everything.

In His commandments, God tells us not to covet. To covet is to want something so badly that it dominates your thoughts and affects your behavior. A child might covet a new toy so much that he throws a temper tantrum in the store, trying to force mom or dad to get him what he wants. A teenager might want the position of head cheerleader so much that she starts spreading vicious rumors about any girl that stands in her way. A businessman might be so attracted to his secretary that he can’t concentrate on getting his work done.

Constant desire for things that you don’t have wastes time and makes you unpleasant to be around. Coveting interferes with the things God wants us to be doing—loving and serving. If your mind is consumed with wanting something, you’re not going to notice when a loved one is unhappy and needs your attention. If you are competing with another person for the same thing, your desire will be to push him aside instead of finding out which of you actually has the greater need. If you can’t get something that you want, you’re likely to be sullen or irritable, the kind of grumpy person others stay away from. You might even get so frustrated that you lash out at others, hurting them with nasty words or physical violence. Coveting destroys relationships and leaves you alone with your bitterness.

In 1st Corinthians chapter seven, Paul tells us how to view the things we covet: those who use the things of the world [should live] as if not engrossed in them. Easy to say; difficult to do. But try to put things in perspective: when you’re sick in a hospital bed, which do you want more? A room filled with things, or a room filled with people who care about you?

It’s nice to have things, but nothing bought with money can give you lasting happiness. That’s why it’s so wonderful that Jesus gives us love and salvation absolutely free.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Preparing for Christmas part 1

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse (Revelation 22:1-3a).

Where did the idea of Christmas trees come from? Researchers believe that this custom dates from 8th century Germany. At that time, Europe had two major religions. Druids worshipped the oak tree; Christians worshiped Jesus. Boniface was a monk from England; he came to Europe to do mission work among the Germanic tribes. One year he was preaching about the birth of Christ to a group of Druids outside the town of Geismar. In order to convince them that the oak tree was not sacred, Boniface took an ax and chopped one down. The tree fell, crushing everything in it’s way—except for one small evergreen. According to legend, Boniface interpreted the little tree’s survival as a miracle and said, "Let this be called the tree of the Christ child." Ever since that day, the Christmas tree has symbolized Jesus Christ.

During this Advent and Christmas season, we will explore the theme "More Than Just Christmas Decorations." Every year, most people put up a tree with lights, tinsel, and a star on top. We put presents in boxes and wrap them in attractive paper. We decorate using red and green. When we do these things, we hope to generate a certain mood or feeling that will give us pleasure during the hustle and bustle of the season. We may even have a few religious thoughts about these decorations. But it is only rarely that we consider what these Christmas trimmings communicate about the Babe of Bethlehem. Many of them can be understood as symbols of the Savior. And so, as we start the Advent season this Sunday, we begin with "Putting Up The Tree."

Whether the legend of Boniface is true or not, one thing is certain—most people in our country put up a Christmas Tree. It’s only a tradition, but connecting that tradition to our Savior is a good thing to do. In fact, it ties in beautifully with God’s holy Word.

Trees are significant in the Bible. Consider the two trees that God planted in the Garden of Eden. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represented God’s holy Law. Adam and Eve were clearly prohibited from eating the fruit of that tree, and were warned that doing so would result in certain death. The other tree, the Tree of Life, represented God’s wonderful promise. The fruit of this tree offered eternal life to those who ate from it. Both trees expressed the will of God for the people that He loved. When we think of Jesus the Son of God, we see both trees represented in Him. He is the fulfillment of God’s Law, and in Him there is eternal life.

In the Garden of Eden, these trees were an opportunity for Adam and Eve to live in the image of God. But for them, the creation became more important than the Creator. They chose to oppose God’s Law; this act of rebellion doomed not only them but all of us as well. Paul says in Romans chapter five, When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Every man, woman and child is cursed with sin and deserves both death and God’s eternal punishment. If only we could go back somehow and try to undo what has been done. But none of us can ever go back. Those who are imperfect are not worthy of paradise and are banished as a result. And so those two trees can no longer be found. Pleasing God by good behavior has become impossible, and no human is capable of making life last forever. Left to ourselves, we are sentenced to suffer the consequences of sin now and forever.

To one degree or another, all of us have felt the blazing heat of the sun. We begin to sweat, our mouths dry out, and we start feeling woozy. Some pass out from the heat; others die if left unattended. In the book of Isaiah, the suffocating heat of the desert and the merciless baking of the sun are used to picture the terrible reality of sin and death. When the sun is beating down on us, it is impossible to find rest.

Life underneath the blazing sun is a vivid picture of the troubles we have caused for ourselves. No one can entirely escape the suffocating heat of sin and death. Oh sure, you can try and build some air conditioned rooms for yourself; a part of your life that is hazy from heavy alcohol or drug use, a room in your life filled with the distraction of movies or books, a work place where keeping busy helps you to avoid thinking about spiritual matters. But no matter how hard you try to avoid it, from time to time you have to step out outside and feel the heat. Angry and disrespectful words, lies and broken promises, crime and betrayal—we are all sinners who suffer as a consequence of our bad behavior. We cannot build lives that guarantee happiness. The air conditioners of wealth and power and family will all eventually wear out and fail. The consequences of sin cannot be avoided forever; we all die and must stand under the blazing light of God’s holiness, sweating as we face His judgment. Who will rescue us from the blazing sun of sin and death?

In Deuteronomy chapter 21, take note of Moses’ important words: If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. Compare this to what Peter said to God’s people in Acts chapter 5: The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. In five different places, the New Testament refers to the cross of Christ as a "tree."

Taken together, these passages of Scripture paint a dramatic picture. We read about Jesus hanging on a tree at Calvary. He is the perfect Son of God, yet He is under a curse. On Good Friday, Jesus became cursed with our sinfulness. He suffered for our sins and died the death we deserved, so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life. Do you remember what I wrote earlier? If only we could go back to the Garden and try to undo what has been done. Going back is impossible, but Christ did just that. Combined in the tree of Calvary, we see both trees of the Garden. We see both law and promise. By hanging on a tree, Christ becomes a curse for us. He fulfills the law, and embodies the promise of forgiveness and eternal life. He does what we cannot do, and becomes our tree of salvation.

Jesus died at a place called Calvary, the "place of the skull". A skull makes us think of death and evil. Jesus hung on a tree that stood in a place reminiscent of sin, death, and the power of the devil. There in the midst of death stood the promise of new life. On that remarkable tree, Jesus crushed the devil’s head, ended the curse of sin, and destroyed the power of death to hold us captive. And think about this. When Jesus spoke to the criminal dying next to Him, our Savior used language that takes us back to the Garden of Eden: Today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). Wasn’t humanity kicked out of paradise after falling into sin? But now, through Christ, paradise is reopened to all who believe.

Think back to a time when you were roasting under a hot sun and you found relief under a shady tree. Do you remember what it was like? Resting under that shady tree was almost like being in a different world. Your eyes can relax, your skin stops burning, you can even feel the light breeze that you didn’t notice before. What a wonderful moment that is. In the same way, we have shade under the tree of our Savior’s cross—and what a blessing it is to have that shade! Christ is the air conditioner that will never wear out or fail. He is our salvation from the burn of sin.

Being under the shady tree of the cross means that we have seen two things: we have seen the depths of our sinfulness and the wonders of God’s forgiveness. We find comfort in God’s undeserved mercy and cling to it every day of our lives. The sun will continue to blaze down on us in many different ways, but underneath the shady tree of Christ we will be able to endure whatever comes our way. We will even be able to face the heat of God’s judgment on the last day. We will not be sent away from paradise, we will not burn up in hell’s fiery furnace, because we are under the tree of Jesus, which protects us from the punishment that we deserve. Christ chose to hang on the tree and suffer God’s burning anger so that we might escape unharmed. And so we sit under that tree by grace through faith in Jesus. We look forward to sitting under that soothing tree forever. John writes: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.

"Putting Up The Tree." We do this tradition every year before Christmas. And what a wonderful tradition it is, when we are reminded by it that Christ came into this world to die on a tree so that we might have shade and rest. From that tree we gain fruit that nourishes, leaves that heal, and the end of the curse. It’s more than just a Christmas decoration. It’s a symbol of our Savior that helps us to remember all that He has done.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving part 2

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).

God is generous with us; He blesses us with everything we need to live and love and serve, and often much more besides. Sadly, we tend to abuse God’s generosity. We take His gifts for granted, we constantly whine for more, and we let our love for stuff get in the way of our love for God.

God fills our lives with good things that we rarely thank Him for. When’s the last time that you woke up and thanked God for giving you another day of life? How often do you tell God thank you for a clear blue sky or sparkling white snow? When’s the last time that you thanked God for your home or your job? And when the Lord forgives your sins, how hard do you try to resist temptation as a way to show Him your gratitude for His mercy? Or do you think to yourself, "It doesn’t matter what I do—Jesus will forgive me anyway?" Do you take God’s generosity for granted?

We also have the bad habit of never being satisfied. You see it at Christmas when someone is disappointed that there are no more gifts to open, even though the floor is covered in shredded paper. We are a nation of overeaters, because we always want just one more helping. People trade in perfectly good cars because they want something newer. People file for divorce when they think that another partner can better meet their needs. How satisfied are you with the things that God has given you?

Worst of all, we lavish more attention on what we have than on who gave it to us. How often is lying in bed more pleasurable than going to worship the God who gave you that bed? How often do you spend so much money on yourself that there is nothing left to give back to the God who filled your wallet in the first place? The Lord says You shall have no other gods (Exodus 20:3), yet how often do you let work or family or leisure time distract you so much that you forget about prayer or reading the Bible?

Thankfully, God is also generous in dealing with sinners. When we go to Him for mercy, He does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). If we trust in the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood, He will wipe away our guilt and focus our attention where it should be—squarely on Him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving part 1

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

What do you have to be thankful for?

A lot of people are feeling glum going into the holiday season. Although the economy is starting to pick up, unemployment remains high. People like to invite family over for big fancy meals at this time of the year, and have lots of gifts to open when Christmas arrives. But with money as tight as it is, who can afford lavish dinners? Who can afford to travel? How can you afford the kinds of presents that you’d like to give?

I would like to suggest that the holiday season is not dependent on money. Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we have; that attitude of appreciation should set the tone for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Instead of worrying about the things we don’t have, why don’t we celebrate the things that God has blessed us with?

A popular holiday gift is something fashionable to wear. But I wonder how many clothes and shoes you already have stashed in your closet? Are you grateful for having something warm to wear when the wind starts howling at this time of the year? Are you grateful that you have a choice of outfits to wear? Are you grateful for the washer and dryer and indoor running water that make it easy to keep your garments clean?

And let’s talk about food. Sure, it’s nice to have an expensive cut of meat on the serving platter. Sure, it’s nice to eat out at a fancy restaurant. But how grateful are you for the produce that grows in your garden? How grateful are you for the canned goods that fill your cupboards? How grateful are you for the stove and microwave that make cooking so easy?

Most importantly, how grateful are you for the relationships in your life? The closeness of family? The support of friends? The respect of coworkers? The love of Christ that forgives your mistakes, gives you peace of mind, and encourages the best from you?

My friends, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You have much to be grateful for.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Which way are you headed?

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

How much do you think about the future? Are you putting money away to send your kids to college? Do you have an IRA set up for retirement? Have you decided where your body is going to be laid to rest when you die?

If you’re like most people, I doubt that you’ve given much thought to the future. When life gets hectic, it’s hard to make plans for anything more than a few weeks in advance. When money gets spent as fast as it comes in, it’s hard to make savings a priority. And most people don’t really want to think about death; decisions about cemetery plots get put on the back burner for as long as possible.

But it is important to look ahead. Most people cannot retire comfortably without a sound financial plan. You cannot expect to graduate from college unless you declare a major and choose the right classes to go with it. And you cannot ignore the subject of death by hoping that everything will sort itself out at the proper time.

Like everything else, death must be planned for. It’s like taking a drive through unfamiliar country; if you don’t know where you are going or how to reach your destination, you’ll end up hopelessly lost. And if there is one time when you don’t want to be lost, it is when God calls you from this life to stand before Him in judgment.

We would just as soon avoid thinking about death, but focusing on other things won’t make it go away. Death is coming, and Paul warns us that it is something we must think about and plan for: we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Everything we do now will have repercussions down the road. Everything you say and do is shaping your future; it is dangerous in the extreme to live only for today. When you die, God will judge you. He will look at your life from beginning to end and measure it against His righteous standard of conduct. Based on that examination, one of two futures awaits you. One future is heaven; the other future is hell.

We throw these words around very casually. On one of her albums Anne Murray sang, "Heaven is that moment when I look into your eyes." Many songs echo this sentiment; for example, Belinda Carlise sings, "We'll make heaven a place on earth." People also pepper their language with references to hell, like answering a question with "hell, yeah." Comparing something to hell can even be a compliment: "buddy, that is one hellacious looking girlfriend you got there."

But heaven and hell are very real, and getting into the right one when you die should be extremely important to you. When you were a kid, you couldn’t imagine what life would be like 50 years in the future. But once you got older, you realized that childhood was just the beginning of life. Eternity is the same way. Our years on earth are just the beginning—we are children who cannot grasp what life is really all about. When we die, we enter the long stretch. I imagine that people in heaven look back on their earthly lives and shake their heads over how foolish and shortsighted they were back then. Most of your existence will be lived in eternity, so it is critically important that you arrive in the right place.

When your soul leaves this world, there are only two places it can go—heaven or hell. Heaven is the good place; hell is the bad place. Heaven is where God can be seen and experienced; hell is the place where God is not. Because God is love (1 John 4:8), heaven is filled with love, while hell has no love at all. Because God is light (1 John 1:5), heaven is filled with glory, while hell is shrouded in darkness.

Heaven is the kind of home you always wished you could have but never really experienced. There is no sin in heaven; imagine a family reunion where no one gets drunk, no one says anything thoughtless or mean, no one gets bored or feels left out, and no one ever has to leave. Jesus said, In my Father's house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). Imagine a sprawling city where everyone has more than enough personal space, yet there is no rent to pay. You are close to all your loved ones; you never have to fear going outside because there is no crime and the city is completely safe from terrorist attacks. Imagine living in a place where there is no gossip, no bad news, no lying or promise-breaking. Imagine having enough to eat and not having to worry about stretching your paycheck. Imagine a life where there are no regrets, no hurts, no disappointments, no loneliness or sadness or fear. Imagine a place where you never get weak or lose your memory or have to take medicine.

But as wonderful as all this is, it isn’t even the best part. What will make heaven truly wonderful is that we will finally see Jesus face to face. We will hear His voice and feel the love radiating from Him like the warmth of sunlight. We will finally get answers to all the questions that have troubled us for years. And for the first time, we will know with absolute certainty that we are loved with an everlasting love.

Want to go there? I sure do. But if we are not careful, our lives here on earth can lead to a very different place. Hell was designed by God to punish evil. It is not a place where Satan and his demons torment you—hell was designed by God to make the devil suffer for being wicked. If Satan himself finds hell to be unbearable, can you imagine how terrible it will be for humans? In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus pictures hell as a place of fire, where the rich man craves just one drop of water on his tongue to ease his suffering. Isaiah describes it as a place where you are constantly suffering burns, but you never escape the pain by dying. He also describes it as a place of rot and decay, where maggots live in your body as they do in a corpse.

But hell is not only about physical pain; there is mental suffering as well. Jesus says that the people in hell will be in anguish because they know what they are missing by not being in heaven. They have no love; they have no hope that things will ever get better. Hell is filled with people, yet they cannot comfort each other or find relief from loneliness and fear. All they have are endless days of darkness and despair.

Certainly not a place that I want to go. And yet people like Billy Joel write song lyrics like these: "They say there's a heaven for those who will wait Some say it's better but I say it ain't I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints the Sinners are much more fun...you know that only the good die young." Songs like this show that most people have no idea how awful hell truly is. If you’re wise, you’ll give serious thought as to where your life is leading—is it heaven or is it hell?

Paul says, We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. So what can we expect when called to account? Does God have a giant spreadsheet? Does He have one column for good deeds and other column for bad deeds, then adds them up and calculates our net worth? No, it doesn’t work like that. When it comes to how we perform, God has only one standard: Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2). To be holy is to be perfect from conception to death, never once saying a mean word, never once telling a fib, never once breaking a promise, never once talking back to your parents. To be holy is to love God so much that you never once get crabby about going to church or putting money in the offering plate for God to use. When God looks at all that we’ve done in our lives, He expects to find not even one evil deed.

I hope that you are honest enough with yourself to realize what this means. Your life is pointed towards hell. It’s the only thing you deserve for all the sins that you’ve committed. You deserve hell, I deserve hell, everyone deserves God’s punishment for the evil that we’ve done.

So how can anyone end up in heaven? Although getting there is beyond our reach, nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). He has provided us with a way to enter heaven despite all that we have done wrong. He sent His Son Jesus to rescue us from hell. Jesus was born into our world so that He could be subject to God’s righteous standards, just as we are. He lived the perfect life that God demands for access into heaven. Then He allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross; while He hung there in agony, He accepted all the punishment from God that our sins had coming. During that long day at Calvary, Jesus suffered hell for us. We know He suffered hell because the sun went dark and the light was hidden. We know that He suffered hell because He cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) Jesus suffered in darkness, separated from God’s love—He suffered the hell that you and I deserve. Then he died and was buried.

For two long days the world held its breath—what had Jesus’ death accomplished? The first rays of light on Easter morning revealed the glorious answer. Jesus had risen from the dead! He had done everything needed to free us from sin, death and hell. Jesus had offered His perfect life to God in place of our sinful lives; He had suffered the punishment our sins deserved, so that we might avoid being sentenced to hell. Remarkably, God accepted this exchange—He proved it by raising Christ from the dead. All who belong to Jesus get credited with His perfect life and are spared the hell that He suffered.

So what happens when we die and God looks at the record of our lives? The spreadsheet will contain only a listing of good deeds. All entries mentioning something bad will be erased. When Jesus forgives our sins, all record of them vanishes; God says I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

Let’s be clear—entry into heaven is impossible without Jesus. We are flawed and unacceptable to God; only Christ can take away our sins. Jesus shares His perfection with us so we can stand before God without fear of rejection. He says, I am the LORD, who makes you holy (Leviticus 20:8). This is the Good News that filled Isaiah with joy—I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and dressed me in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). We need Jesus at our side on the day of judgment; our Lord says, I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

It is vitally important to plan for the future. Every time you open your mouth to speak, every time you decide to do one thing instead of something else, that action points you towards either heaven or hell. So what will you say? What will you do? Jesus says, Enter through the narrow gate. For 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). It is easy to wind up in hell—just do what you want and don’t think about Jesus. But in order to get into heaven, you must cling to the Savior the way a baby clings to its mother. I know that you don’t want to end up in hell; heaven is your goal. So keep your focus on the future. If you do, it will affect the decisions that you make today. Remember that every decision can have eternal consequences.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christ--God's solution to our sin

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Bible urges, Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). In this we have failed, failed miserably. Every single day, we thumb our nose at God by violating His rules. Even worse, Scripture says whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). Do just one thing wrong and you are a lawbreaker, a criminal, a sinner who deserves nothing from God but punishment and has no rightful place in His home when you die.

Yet amazingly your situation is not hopeless. God loves you despite your sin, loves you so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus was born into our dark world as the Son of Man to suffer the punishment for all human lawlessness. Christ died for those who struggle with pornography and inappropriate sexual attraction, those addicted to shopping and gambling, those who lash out because they are insecure or push others around because they feel entitled to. Whatever your failings, Jesus offered His life to spare you from God’s anger. The Savior of mankind has reopened heaven, and invites you to be His guest when this sorry life is over.

Through Jesus, God releases you from guilt. But He does more than that—He sends His Spirit to help you change and stop incurring so much guilt. John tells us, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7). Thanks to the Son of God, the weight of our past mistakes is lifted and the prospect for our future has been rehabilitated in brightness!

So ask the Lord to change your heart. Ask Him to help you see how damaging sin is, and how ugly it makes each sinner. Ask Him to strengthen your resolve when given a choice between the righteous path or wallowing in filth. Pray for God’s mercy in Christ Jesus every day, knowing that You need forgiveness more frequently than you realize. Pray for God’s mercy every day, confident that because of Jesus, His forgiveness is unquestionably yours.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The ugly behavior that results from pride

The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished (Proverbs 16:5).

Pride is the worst sin of all, because it pushes God out of the picture. Pride was the chief sin in the Garden of Eden. Remember how Satan tempted Eve to sample the forbidden fruit? He said, when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God (Genesis 3:5). The devil appealed to human pride, and rebellion followed—our first parents broke the only command God had given them, because they wanted to be His equal. As a result, God punished their newfound corruption with the terrible sentence of death.

Pride is a problem everywhere you turn. Politicians grandstand during Senate hearings and on the floor of the House, sure that they are absolutely right and the opposition is dangerously wrong. Pride moves commentators in the media to mix editorializing with news reporting. Pride leads sports stars to talk trash about their opponents and even take shots at their teammates. National and religious pride can lead to war, terrorism, and rioting in the streets.

But pride can sweep you up unawares, too. We all want to be accepted, admired, and respected. It’s easy to fall into a group of people that share common values—a taste for fashion, commitment to a sports team, or a shared cultural identity. Sadly, these groups can easily change into cliques. The fashionable girls laugh at other students who are overweight or socially awkward. The top athletes treat their teachers with disrespect, confident they are too valuable to be punished by the administration. A group of local kids pick on the few in the school who are seen as foreigners. This despite the fact that we are all God’s children, and equally valued in His sight.

Pride also sparks gossip. No one wants to feel like a loser, so when other people do something bad, it is easy to point the finger and start spouting criticism. Which is completely unjustified. You might not have done what they did, but you have done plenty wrong yourself. Scripture says, The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have become united in corruption; there is no one who does good, not a single person (Psalm 14:2-3). None of us can legitimately claim the moral high ground over anyone else.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Christians are in love with their sins

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

I know Christians who smoke. I know Christians who need to eat less and exercise more. I know Christians who consume more alcohol than their bodies can handle. They know that God wants us to take good care of our bodies so that we can serve Him effectively for many years. By smoking, overeating and drinking too much, they are living in sin—they are not taking good care of the bodies that God has given them.

I know Christians who gamble. I know Christians who spend money foolishly. I know Christians who have large bank accounts but are stingy when it comes to giving. They know that everything we have belongs to God, that we are only managers of the riches that belong to Him. By wasting money, ignoring the poor, and not funding the church properly, they are living in sin—they are not handling God’s gifts responsibly.

I know Christians who are living together but are not married. I know Christians who are divorced and have no interest in reconciliation. I know Christians who are gay and lesbian. They know that God’s design for sex places it solely within the marriage of a man and a woman. They know that God hates divorce. By going on this way, they are living in sin—they are deliberately ignoring God’s commands for intimate relationships.

All Christians are sinners—but have you really thought about what that means? Are some sins worse than others? What about a Christian who sins but doesn’t realize that he did something wrong? If you are a Christian, but you keep on committing a sin because you enjoy it too much to stop, will you go to hell when you die?

Let’s start with this question: are some sins worse than others? Some are committed in a moment of passion or weakness. For example, a man finds out that his wife is having an affair so he grabs a gun and shoots her. A woman discovers that she is unexpectedly pregnant and immediately schedules an appointment at an abortion clinic. But what about the alcoholic who keeps a bottle of liquor hidden in the cupboard? What about the man who puts a condom in his wallet before heading out on a date? These people are planning to sin; is premeditated sin worse than a momentary lapse of judgment?

Listen to the Word of God on this subject. Romans chapter three: There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. James chapter two: whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Romans chapter six: The wages of sin is death. Scripture is clear—all sin is damning. Whether carefully planned out or committed on the spur of the moment, every sin invites God’s everlasting punishment in hell. This is because God has a high expectation for human behavior; He says be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2). Anyone who fails at being perfect is not welcome in heaven.

Thankfully, the matter doesn’t rest there. God made us and He loves us—loves us despite our sins. So the problem facing God was this—how to bring sinners into heaven, where no sin is permitted? God’s solution was unthinkable—He chose to send His perfect Son to bear the responsibility for our sins. Our guilt was transferred to Him; we were spared God’s awful punishment because it was inflicted on Jesus as our substitute. Jesus suffered and died so that we might be forgiven and live—live forever in the holy place where sin is not permitted. Jesus rose from the dead to make an astonishing offer: if we trust in Him for mercy, He will exchange our guilt for His holiness. This is what Paul speaks of when he writes, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are put right with God. But what are the limits? Jesus said, Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15) There are two things at play in Jesus’ command—repenting and believing. And we wonder: can a believer be sent to hell because he did not repent?

So we come to a second question: Can a person commit sin without realizing it? Absolutely! In Psalm 19 David offers God this prayer: How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. In Luke chapter 18, Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and the Tax Collector. Notice how Jesus describes the tax collector’s behavior as he prays in the Temple: the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' The tax collector did not try to list all his sins; he just owned up to the fact that he was a sinner through and through. Jesus goes on to say that this man went home at peace with God.

Early in his ministry, Martin Luther wrestled with forgiveness. He would go to the confessional multiple times each day, asking to be forgiven for every sin he could remember doing. But he was tormented by the thought that he was committing sins he wasn’t even aware of. Luther worried that God would send him to hell if there were some sins in his life that were left unforgiven.

Luther prayed and studied the Bible, and eventually he came to a realization—repentance is not an item on your daily schedule, it’s how you relate to God. Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, we come to the Lord acknowledging that we are sinners—it’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. Sin is like a cancer that has spread to every cell of your body. You may have days when you feel good, you may have days when you feel weak and sick—but every moment of every day, you are infested with cancer. And so you need remission from your sinful condition.

When Jesus forgives us, He doesn’t go down a checklist marking off sins one by one. When we ask for mercy He gives us His righteousness, which makes us completely acceptable to God. Listen to how Jesus promises salvation in John chapter three: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. Eternal life is promised on the basis of faith in Jesus alone. Listen also to Jesus’ words in John chapter six: they asked him, "What must we do, to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." The one essential thing needed for salvation is to trust in Christ. And Paul has this to say in Ephesians chapter two: because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. Did you get that? Before we even had the opportunity to repent, Christ had already done everything needed to bring us back to God! If you don’t seek forgiveness because you were unaware of your sin, that ignorance does not let you off the hook—but if you believe that you are a sinner who needs Christ’s mercy, that relationship built on faith saves you. This was the conclusion that Luther reached, and it freed him from the crushing weight of trying to confess every single sin in order to be completely forgiven.

Our third question is this: what about repeated sins? When we do the same bad things over and over again, does it mean that we are not really sorry for acting that way? A couple of examples: the alcoholic who swears to his wife that he’ll never touch booze again, yet comes home drunk a week later. Or the mother who feels terrible about screaming at her kids, yet has them hiding fearfully in their rooms again just a few days later. Although they feel bad about their behavior and want to stop, they don’t—does that mean that their repentance is not sincere? Not at all. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans chapter seven: I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul understood all too well what slavery to sin is like. It’s like an addiction. And that craving will be with us until Christ takes us from this world.

But now we arrive at the hardest question: what about people who believe in Christ as their Savior, but still choose to embrace a sinful habit? They know it’s wrong, but their love for that sin seems to be stronger than their love for Jesus. If a Christian lives knowingly in sin, is that person lost?

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says "repent and believe". Jesus says that we are to turn away from a sinful life and start over, living a new way. There are many Bible passages that say the same. Romans chapter six: We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Ephesians chapter 4: throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Colossians chapter 3: now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don't lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. But no matter how sincerely we try to live this way, a day free of sin is impossible—regardless if the sin is known or unknown, regretted or embraced.

Jesus died to forgive us. He invites sinners to Himself to share in His righteousness and thereby gain access to heaven. But here’s the rub—what if you don’t seek forgiveness? What about behavior that we know is wrong but choose to do anyway, not from a moment of weakness, but because the love for that sin is so entrenched that we don’t want to stop—sins like smoking or living together without getting married? Scripture tells us to repent, to change our attitude towards sin, to flee from temptation. The Bible also says that we are to love God above anything else; love for a favorite sin slaps God in the face on a daily basis. If a Christian doesn’t even try to correct sinful behavior, is that person damned?

In Isaiah chapter 42, the prophet said of Jesus, A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Jesus said, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me…For it is my Father's will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life (John 6:37-40). Jesus is patient and gentle with us, especially with those whose faith is weak. Just because sin dominates your life, it doesn’t mean that Jesus will give up on you. And if there is any doubt in your mind whether a sinner belongs to Christ or Satan, just listen to what that person says about Jesus. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 12: no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. He also writes, if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

To be sure, there are people who dabble in Christianity and then leave the faith; Jesus spoke of them in Luke chapter 8. Two kinds of short term Christians are mentioned—those who don’t develop strong faith and fall away in times of stress, and those who let the concerns of earthly life distract them so much that Jesus is ignored and faith dies. Therein lies the danger—although the Savior forgives every sin, living in unrepented sin can take over your life to such an extent that love for Christ is squashed and the saving relationship is lost.

Sin is the biggest problem any of us has to face. It exerts a powerful influence over us. So long as we cling to Jesus and acknowledge that we need His mercy, we are safe from everlasting punishment. But if we let love for sin distract us from Jesus, there is great danger. I urge you to give up your favorite sins, even though it will be hard. To keep on embracing them is like cradling a poisonous snake in your arms.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The insidious craving for money

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10).

The love of money is insidious. How many career professionals put in long hours at work while ignoring the emotional needs of spouse and children? The love of money can lead to delinquency and divorce. How many entrepreneurs got successful in business by paying bribes, telling lies, or using unethical business practices in order to beat the competition? Look at all the people hurt by Bernie Madoff, people who lost their life savings because they were only numbers in his business ledger.

Sinful use of money can be a subtle, sneaky thing. Take gambling. How many people, desperate for cash, throw away what little they have in hopes of winning it big? Gambling can become addictive. Think of all the wedding rings have been pawned for a visit to the casino. Think of the children who have been left outside in hot cars while Mom or Dad were inside, focused only on gambling. The desire for money can be so consuming that even those precious to you are temporarily forgotten.

Or consider shopping. Shopping has become the Great American Pastime. Instead of gathering for an afternoon of playing cards or going to watch a sporting event, visiting the store has become a recreational activity. But if you go shopping when you don’t need to, problems result. Store managers take great pains to make sure you don’t leave the premises empty-handed. Placement, display, and pricing are all designed to make you want something desperately or at least make a purchase because you got such a good deal. But getting things you don’t really need diverts your money from other things—saving for retirement, giving to charity, or supporting the work of missionaries. Constant shopping only fills you with constant desire for more, making it almost impossible to be content with what God has given you.

Jesus warned, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). Money urges us to spend our resources on pleasure; God wants us to devote our resources to honoring our Creator and caring for the needs of our fellow man. Don’t let money dictate your priorities—you cannot put a price tag on the relationships that give life its worth.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The lure of illicit sex

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4).

One of the most powerful forces at work in our lives is sexuality. God made us male and female, and installed the desire to pair up and start families. Sex is a wonderful gift from the Almighty that gives special joy and satisfaction to married couples. But sexual desire has been twisted by sin into something dark and ugly. Prostitution turns sex into a business transaction, thereby cheapening it. Rage can turn sex into a weapon called rape. The craving for sexual intimacy leads men and women into straying from their marriage vows. Sinful desire makes some men crave the company of other men for sexual gratification—and the same happens among women. Deviant sexual urges lead some adults to prey on children. Even the beasts of the field are not immune to human abuse.

Such behavior strikes most people as repugnant—and well it should. But sexual misconduct is widespread. Our society tolerates much more than it should—to the point where some misbehavior is no longer regarded as sinful. Viewing pornography is one example; as an industry, it generates more dollars than any other type of Internet business. Viewers claim that it’s harmless, a victimless crime. But pornography has many victims. There are the models who degrade themselves in prostitution, risking infection with AIDS and other terrible diseases in order to make a product for others to watch. Also victims are the children who stumble across x-rated websites while surfing the web; they are exposed to images that have the power to permanently change how they think about human sexuality. Many viewers become addicted to Internet porn, wasting loads of money that could be better spent on other things, and leaving the person they married sexually neglected. Worst of all, pornography encourages the viewer to think of others as objects to be used and played with, not as individuals who need to be loved and respected.

God provided sexual attraction to draw couples into the life-long partnership of marriage, an arrangement where husband and wife find special joy in each other’s company, a passionate connection that can lead to the birth of a family. Any other use for sex is misguided and unproductive. When sexual desire tempts you to ignore God’s intentions, remember that the Bible says honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Saturday, November 05, 2011


I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow (Jeremiah 31:13).

People don’t handle death well. Some won’t go into a hospital room to visit a dying friend. Others cannot bring themselves to look into an open casket and say goodbye. Some people behave very badly at the funeral home, screaming at others instead of embracing them. Other people seem to disappear after the funeral; they hide in their homes and shy away from anyone who reaches out to them.

It all comes from grief—deep sadness over the loss of a loved one. Death tears us apart like nothing else in life—no betrayal, no tragedy hurts as much as the death of a person held tightly in the heart. The grief caused by death is something everyone goes through many times in life; it is devastating in the amount of hurt that it causes. And yet our society discourages grieving; you are supposed to get a funeral organized within three or four days, have a good cry with a group of friends, and then get back to work. If you want to talk about your lingering grief, people get uncomfortable; they try and change the subject, while wondering why you can’t just let it go and get on with your life. And so you hide your grief behind an artificial smile; you try to ignore the ache in your heart and pretend that everything is just fine.

My friend, grief does not go away in a week or a month; it takes time to sort things out and find happiness again. Some people are weighed down with grief for years, especially if they try to ignore the pain instead of working through it. Some people become so oppressed by grief that they lose all sense of purpose; they merely exist when they should be living. And the grieving process is complicated by other feelings that death stirs within us.

For one thing, death makes us afraid. As the years go by after a funeral, we start to forget things. You look at the calendar and realize that his birthday was last week. Your wedding anniversary slips by unnoticed. You have trouble remembering what her face looked like or how she smelled when you went out to dinner. You struggle to recall what his voice sounded like or how his skin felt when the two of you held hands. You are forgetting someone who meant the world to you, and the realization terrifies you.

Death makes us afraid in other ways too. We fear letting our grief show. No one likes to be the object of pity; better to hold the pain inside and pretend to be okay; that way, other people will treat you like normal instead walking on eggshells when they’re around you. Also, there are other people who are depending on you to be strong; you don’t want to show weakness when they need you to comfort them. Finally, we fear the truth—that the person we loved is really gone. Looking into the casket makes you face reality—that person is not away on an extended business trip or vacationing overseas. It is a truth that we are afraid of facing.

Jesus knows that death makes you afraid. Jesus knows how much it hurts to say goodbye as the coffin is lowered into the ground. When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept—He shed tears even though He had the power to raise Lazarus back to life (John 11:35). Jesus wept because death happened, and death is the enemy of everything that lives. But Jesus did more than just grieve at the tomb; our Lord and Master allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross so that He might die for us. His body was laid in a grave, but on the third day He rose from the dead to live once more. He rose to open heaven’s gates for us. By rising, He proved that He can lift us from our graves to live forever at His side. 2 Timothy chapter one tells us, Christ Jesus…has destroyed death and has revealed life and immortality to us.

You don’t have to be afraid of death. Heaven is real. Everyone who died while believing in Jesus is there right now, enjoying peace and happiness that we can scarcely imagine. Jesus has washed you of your sins by His blood shed on the cross; because of that holy cleansing, you are invited to join the saints in paradise when you die. Your loved ones are not gone forever; a reunion is coming and it’s really not all that far off.

I have one thing more to say about forgetting. At many funerals, you will hear someone say words along these lines: "So long as he lives in our hearts, he is never really gone." That idea was front and center in the movie Titanic and Celine Dion’s song My Heart Will Go On. Such words put a terrible burden on us; if we forget a loved one, are they lost forever? Most emphatically, the answer is no! Even though our memories get faulty with age, the blessed in Christ are safe at His side. So go ahead and treasure your memories; leaf through photo albums and put mementos on the shelf. But don't become trapped by the past; go ahead and make some new memories too.

Death also fills our lives with regret. You know that heaven is wonderful and that your loved one is better off being there than here. But you have a selfish desire; you’d rather have that person here with you, even though life on earth is far from perfect. And so you feel guilty, because you are putting your own desire for happiness first.

Maybe your dearly departed passed on after suffering through a long illness. If that’s the case, you might have felt relief when he died. You were worn out from watching him suffer day after day; you are secretly glad to be done with the role of caretaker. But these feelings bring a sense of guilt as well; you feel terrible for being happy that your loved one finally died.

Others walk away from funerals filled with regret over opportunities wasted. Why didn’t you visit or call or write more often? Why didn’t you mend fences after that last fight? Why didn’t you say "I love you" when you had the chance? And so you feel guilty for letting the other person down, and now it’s too late to do anything about it.

First of all, you need to remember that Jesus forgives you—forgives you completely. John tells us the blood of Jesus…purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7). No matter how selfish you have been, no matter how badly you have messed up your relationships, Jesus can take all the guilt away. You can’t change the past, but Jesus can free you from its burdens so that today is a new start and tomorrow is full of fresh possibilities. And there is one more thing that I want you to consider. Heaven is a place of perfection; no one living there is afflicted by sin in any way. That includes the sin of harboring a grudge. This means that not only are you forgiven by Jesus, but everyone in heaven forgives you as well. So you don’t need to feel guilty about the past; ask Jesus to take away your sins and to help you do better with the relationships you have today. Spend time with the people you care about, even when the situation is uncomfortable or the timing inconvenient. Patch up broken relationships now, not next week. Say "I love you" without hesitation or embarrassment.

There are situations where death fills people with anger. For some, it is anger over old hurts that were never set right; now that death has ended the relationship, you suddenly realize that you’re never doing to get an apology for the wrongs done to you. You have waited for closure, but death has stolen the possibility away, leaving you with hurt and anger and no resolution. For others, the anger is about feeling abandoned—how dare that man just give up and die, leaving me to deal with all this stuff on my own? In our grief we want to lash out in pain, and sometimes the target is the person whose death has caused that pain.

If you have anger in your heart for someone who has died, please consider this. Every one of us is a sinner from cradle to grave. Every one of us violates the laws of love and inflicts hurt on everyone around us, even those we cherish. The one who hurt you and died was no different. She was a sinner who needed God’s mercy in Christ, just as you are a sinner who needs God’s mercy in Christ. Sinners don’t treat us as we deserve to be treated, and they don’t necessarily give us closure when they leave. But Jesus died to forgive that person, just as Jesus died to forgive you. And so Paul tells us, be imitators of God…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3).

Forgiving others is hard, but terribly important. It is so important that Jesus put it into the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. So long as you hold a grudge, you can never be free of the emotional pain; the only remedy is to let it go by forgiving the other person from your heart. Thankfully, Jesus helps—His love can soften the hardest of hearts and free us from sin’s deadly grip.

Very often, the death of a loved one leaves a person feeling disoriented. The old routines are disrupted. Sitting in church with no one beside you. Setting the table for one. Suddenly having to take over the checkbook, the laundry, the yard work, the repairs around the house. These kinds of changes can make you confused. What needs to be done? Who can you go to for help? Will things ever settle down to some semblance of normalcy?

In times of confusion, it is important to remember that God is in charge. He knows you personally; Jesus said, even the very hairs of your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). God has plans for your life; listen to what He said through the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 29): I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. God has tasks for you to do in His service, as Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 2: we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Even though you might be unsure of what the future holds, God has things for you to do. He can clear out the mental cobwebs; He can give you patience and hope and courage. These gifts come through His Spirit, and His Spirit speaks through the Word. So when death has left you feeling lost and unsure of what to do next, turn to Christ. Immerse yourself in God’s Word by attending church regularly and reading the Bible every day. Pray to God frequently for comfort and direction. Take time to grieve, but don’t wall yourself off from others; get out of the house and let God surround You with the love of your fellow Christians!

As you deal with grief, there are a couple of important questions to ask yourself. The first is this: do you regret the years you cannot share with your departed loved one, or are you grateful for the years the two of you did have together? The other question is: what will you choose to remember about the years you shared? Will you focus your attention on the good times or the bad? Feeling grief after someone dies is inevitable, but being a slave to grief can be avoided. How grief impacts your life depends on how you respond to it. If you try to deny grief and just soldier on pretending to be fine, it can eat away at your mental health like an untreated wound that eventually gets infected. If you wallow in your grief out of continuing self-pity, it can smother you and isolate you from everyone else. But there is a third alternative—trust in Jesus. Turn your regrets and fears and anger and loneliness over to Him; He will forgive you, He will dry your tears, and He will stay by your side as you go on living the life that God has given you. Grief is normal and it has to be wrestled with—but with Jesus at your side, grief will not dominate the rest of your days on earth.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Halloween part 4

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only' " (Matthew 4:10).

For the past few devotions, I’ve been comparing the fantasies of Halloween to the reality of God’s love shown us in Christ. Today we’ll wrap up this topic.

On Halloween, Satan gets a holiday. By that, I don’t mean that he gets a day off; I mean that he gets the kind of treatment that he wants from foolish humanity. Some people honor him by devoting time and money to thinks he promotes—astrology, magic, spiritualism. A very few even worship him directly. Others laugh at the supernatural and dismiss it as a bunch of make-believe. This pleases the devil, too—if no one believes that he exists, he can operate in plain sight without being recognized or opposed.

The deadliest enemy is the one you don’t see. Just ask any policeman who comes under sniper fire. Just ask any soldier who has tripped a roadside mine. Also dangerous is the enemy you don’t take seriously; how many angry young men have filled classrooms with blood because no one saw the warning signs? How many stalkers have ended up committing hideous crimes?

When we don’t take the powers of darkness seriously, we open ourselves up to terrible danger. This is why God warns us away from the devil’s playthings: Let no one be found among you who…practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). This is why Scripture urges us to regard Satan as a serious enemy: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

We must take the powers of darkness seriously. Yet at the same time, we must not be afraid of them. In the past, people who feared the spirit world tried to please the powers of darkness with their devotion. They became slaves of the devil because they feared his power. But we don’t have to share their fate; we don’t have to be controlled by fear. Jesus has defeated Satan, crushed the serpent’s head under His mighty heel. The light of Christ dispels all darkness, and unlike Satan, Jesus rules our lives with love and compassion. He gives us courage to face every situation with hope and joy.

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