Friday, December 30, 2011

Building for the future

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash (Matthew 7:24-27).

Nowadays, a lot of people have gutter guards on their homes. A gutter guard is designed to keep leaves and twigs from collecting in your gutters and eventually clogging the down spouts. Several years ago a young man lived in a house that was equipped with them. He didn’t give the gutters much thought until one day when he was walking in the yard after a heavy rain. As he passed by one of the down spouts, he noticed something lying in the grass nearby. It was the remains of a bird’s nest.

A few days later he was pulling into the driveway after work. Looking up, he saw birds going in and out of a hole in his gutter guard. He took out a ladder and climbed up for a closer look. Sure enough, the birds were building a nest in the gutter, a place that was up high and in the shade. Those birds had no idea of the disaster they were inviting. They did not realize that the next time a rainstorm came, all their work would be flushed into the down spout. All they were trying to do was build a safe and permanent home.

In this life, each of us wants to build a safe and permanent home. But like the birds, we often build in places that invite disaster. Some people build where there are mud slides, while others prefer living near shorelines where hurricanes threaten destruction. Some people build on top of old landfills; some even make their homes close to volcanoes! It is amazing how stubborn people can be—they are warned not to build in a certain place, but they do it anyway.

In the same way, people build their spiritual nests in places they never should. They think that a safe and permanent home can be created here on earth. For the Christian, such a home is found somewhere else—a different place that cannot be seen by human eyes. Although we live here on earth, we don’t think of it as home. We think like Abraham; Hebrews chapter 11 tells us, by faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents…because he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Speaking of God’s faithful people, Hebrews goes on to say: they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth…they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

We are citizens in the kingdom of God. Our safe and permanent home is not found here on earth. Jesus walked this world for 33 years, yet He never considered it home; He said, foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). When He was standing trial before the Roman governor, Jesus said my kingdom is from another place (John 18:36). Jesus always kept His focus on heaven, and He encouraged His followers to do the same: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

Jesus warned about building your life on the wrong foundation. Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

After the pouring rain, gushing floodwaters and howling wind, what will remain? That is the question that needs to be answered. The lessons of this world teach us something about our relationship with God. No one in their right mind would build a permanent house on sand. In the same way, why would anyone try to build a life that does not have the truth about God as its foundation? There are many opinions about who God is, what His priorities are, and how He interacts with mankind. But the truth can only be found in the Bible; all other opinions are distortions and lies. Yet astonishingly, we are quick to build on teachings not found in the Bible. We fail to see that we are building nests in the gutter.

Throughout the Christian life, there is constant tension between our everyday experiences and what we are looking forward to in heaven. The problems and pleasures of today have a tendency to overshadow what lies in the future. The issues that come up in our daily lives don’t seem to have anything to do with God, because our future with Him is somewhere off in the distance. You might find yourself wondering, “what does believing in Jesus and heaven have to do with the things I’m dealing with today?” There are times in your life when things aren’t very pleasant; it is tempting to think that faith in Christ doesn’t actually do you any good. We know that God has the power to make things better, yet many times He doesn’t. This kind of thinking leads some to conclude that God and Church are only a waste of time. When this happens, people start building on sand. They build their lives on misunderstandings, half-truths and outright lies about God. They think they know who God is, but they really don’t.

When God becomes less important, the future becomes less important too. When building a life on faith in God loses its appeal, building on shifting sand looks more and more reasonable. What kind of sand do people build on? Looks. Money. Education. Family. Career. Yet all these things are fleeting; a disaster can wash them away in moments. And when you die and stand before God’s judgment, how valuable will these things of sand prove to be? When You are facing the storm of God’s anger at your sins, a sandy foundation will be swept away; your life will end in ruin.

When God calls you to give an account of your life, you need a strong foundation to stand on. That foundation is Christ. With Jesus supporting you, God’s anger will not sweep you away and throw you into hell. If your life is built on Jesus, your sins are forgiven and God will be pleased to welcome you into heaven. So you need to build on the truth. You need to anchor your life in the Word of God. You need to think about the future and build accordingly.

I’m sure that you’ve heard the expression, “home is where the heart is.” We live in many places over the years, but not all of them are home. You might have lived in a dorm room or an apartment, but it didn’t feel like home. You might have moved to another city or state, but it didn’t feel like home. If you live some place that you don’t like, it can affect your attitude about nearly everything—how much you enjoy the food you eat, how you feel about the work you’re doing, your opinion of the people that surround you. All of us have experienced times of wishing that we were someplace else.

When we think about our relationship with Christ, we must realize how flawed by sin we are and how much we need Jesus in our lives. We need His forgiveness. We need His wisdom. We need His protection, strength and patience. We need a home that is safe and permanent, a home that our sins cannot mess up and cannot be ruined by anyone else. When we realize that life in this world will be tainted by sin until Christ returns, it changes our perspective on what is truly important. When our focus shifts to Jesus and heaven, the things of this world start to lose their attraction. Building for the future becomes more important than building for today.

We are just passing through this world as we travel to a much better place. Like Abraham and other people of faith, we are looking forward to a heavenly home—a home built on a foundation that will last forever. While we live in this world, we frame everything on that foundation, resisting the temptation to build on sand. We build on the eternal Rock of our salvation. That Rock is Christ, the Son of God who promises the end of sin and death, and a new life that can stand the test of time. The world around us can’t understand such things; building on promises of future glory seems foolish. But we know better. We have Jesus’ personal guarantee. By faith we can agree with Paul when he says, our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

In Luke chapter 16, Jesus tells a parable that illustrates the importance of keeping your priorities straight. There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

How can any of us think for one minute that a sand castle on a beach is in any way superior to a magnificent castle of carved stone built upon a large and majestic rock? As we find ourselves at the beginning of a New Year, it is a good time to evaluate where we are headed. Do you think that home is here, or are you on a pilgrimage that won’t end until you’ve arrived in heaven? Are you building on the Rock that will last forever? May God keep you from building your nest in a dangerous gutter.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Flipping the calendar

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

When the calendar flips to a new year, people have varying reactions. Some get nostalgic for the past, figuring that their best years are behind them. Others get depressed as they realize how many goals were not met over the past twelve months. Some get excited about the possibilities a new year brings. Others are fed up with the problems of the past twelve months and are anxious to just move on. Some people are pessimistic—they don’t get excited about the coming year because they don’t think anything will really change. Others are scared to death of the future because they dread the possibility of change.

Will the future be an improvement or a disappointment? That largely depends on you. When your life goes through an upheaval, will you seize the moment to make things better, or will you let trouble crush your spirit? When an opportunity for change presents itself, will you charge ahead thoughtlessly, hide in fear, or pray about what to do?

No one knows what the future holds—no one except the Lord. Horoscopes don’t reveal what’s going to happen. No investment counselor or meteorologist can be 100% sure of what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone a week from now. Only the Maker of heaven and earth can see what’s in store for you in the months to come.

It’s hard to face tomorrow when you are still troubled by yesterday’s mistakes. Psychologists can try to teach you coping mechanisms, but no amount of therapy can erase the bad things you’ve done. Thankfully, God can. Jesus paid the penalty for all your mistakes when He suffered on the cross. If you are His friend, He will lift the guilt from your shoulders so you can face tomorrow with renewed energy.

At New Year’s, we can feel paralyzed by past mistakes and uncertainty over the future. Thankfully, the Lord of heaven and earth takes a personal interest in your life. He offers forgiveness through faith in Jesus. He offers the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help you navigate the weeks ahead. When troubles come, He will give you peace. Going from one year to the next doesn’t have to be stressful, if you put your faith in the Lord.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The greatest gift

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-17).

The tradition of giving Christmas gifts dates back to a real person who lived in the fourth century. His name was Nicholas, and the gifts that he gave to European children were small by the standards of today—fruit, nuts, candy, and simple toys. Europeans brought this tradition with them when they settled in America; by the 19th century gift giving was widespread, and took on a more lavish approach that has grown into what we experience today.

Why did St. Nicholas give gifts to children at Christmas time? We assume that he was motivated by the gift God gave us all by sending His precious Son to be our Savior. When we give presents to others, it can symbolize God’s generosity to a sinful world. Those gifts under the tree can represent The Greatest Gift Ever Given.

It was the last present opened on Christmas day. It was from his mom and dad. Billy ripped the package open to see what was inside. There in the box was a gold coin, large and shiny. Billy’s father tried to explain how valuable the coin was and what it could buy; he also told Billy that Jesus was like gold but much more valuable. Billy was hardly listening; he was fascinated with how the coin sparkled as it reflected the lights of the tree. Seeing this, his father told him, "The world will lose it’s shine, but the shine of Jesus and His gifts will never fade away." Nevertheless, Billy played with the coin as if it was just another toy, and within a couple of days he lost it somewhere.

We all have precious things in our lives, yet so often we take them for granted. We misuse, abuse or lose them. One example is how we treat our relationships. You met a person who was wonderful to be around, but as time went by you misused or abused them until they walked out of your life forever. It is especially easy to treat our relationship with God this way. We know that Christ is a treasure of priceless worth, how the holy Son of God lived and died so that we could be forgiven our sins and have the hope of eternal life. But we misuse this incredible gift. We cheapen the love of God by stubbornly pursuing wickedness, until our faith dies with a whimper and we lose the gifts that were most precious to us. Just as a gold coin is not a toy to be played with, the salvation won for us by Jesus’ suffering and death is not a gift to be treated lightly. But treat it lightly is something we frequently do anyway.

Our relationship with Jesus is valuable—as valuable as eternal life in paradise. Yet so often we treat it as something of little importance. We trade Christ for things that we think are shinier. Maybe we hunger for a lifestyle filled with shiny expensive goods, or we crave the sparkle that comes from being someone who is famous or powerful. Or maybe we decide that Christianity has lost its luster, as we deal with one tough struggle after another. Regardless, the most important gift of all is ignored and eventually lost.

Jesus once told a parable about a lost coin. He said, suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? (Luke 15:8). Being lost is something every Christian should be terrified of; without Christ there is no release from the guilt of past mistakes, no hope for a better tomorrow. It is a sobering reality that on any given day there is a risk of becoming lost; no Christian is immune to the temptations that would make us forget about God’s Son and the hope that He brings. And so God must work hard constantly; like the woman in the parable, He shines His light into our dark world and searches for the lost ones. It is only through His efforts that we are found and kept safely as His prized possessions.

When we participate in an office gift exchange, everyone tries to give presents of roughly equal value. The same holds true between friends and lovers. But when it comes to children, that standard of equity goes out the window. Children can’t match their parents in gift giving, nor are they expected to. It is the same between God and us. We have done nothing to earn His favor; all that we deserve from Him is punishment for our sins. But in spite of this, God the Father chose to send us the Greatest Gift Ever Given. God loves us despite our sinful condition, so He gave us a gift we can never repay—the life and death of His own beloved Son. Paul speaks of how sin and death seek to destroy the shininess of God’s beautiful creation. But the gift of God changes things completely; Paul says that this gift has brought justification.

This fancy word is very important because it summarizes The Greatest Gift Ever Given. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to shine us up. Sin creates scuff marks; it hides beauty behind ugly scars and prevents the light from being reflected. But Jesus reverses this damage. He was born into our world to do for us what we cannot. He came to live a perfect life for you. He came to suffer hell on the cross and die, so that you might enter heaven and live. The Holy Spirit brings you these gifts through God's word; He finds you and declares you righteous for the sake of Christ. Polished by Jesus, His light shines in our lives and is reflected to others as well. Whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned but will enjoy eternal life in paradise.

At this time of year, the word of God points us to the manger. As we peer down at the holy Child, we are confronted with a great mystery—the Word of God made flesh. Underneath the wrapping paper of His humanity, that baby is the Son of the living God. Since Jesus is both God and man, He is our perfect substitute. Because He was a man, Jesus could live the life of obedience and love that God expects from all people. Because Jesus was God, what He did for us back then has the power to change our lives today. Because He was a man, Jesus could suffer, die and be raised from the dead; because He is the Son of God, His suffering, death and resurrection frees us from sin and guarantees our welcome in heaven. Son of God and Son of Man—only Jesus can bridge the gap between sinful humanity and holy God.

At Christmas, Jesus comes to us. From our current vantage point, we cannot see His face—for now, we only see the wrapping of preaching and teaching, of baptismal water and communion bread and wine. One day the wrapping will be torn away and we will see Him as He is. But even though we only see the wrapping, The Greatest Gift Ever Given is ours even now. There is nothing that can possibly be shinier than that. So when we are tempted to think that other things are more attractive, or when hard times make us wonder if the Gospel has lost it’s luster, it is time to reflect on all that we have been given in Christ—freedom from guilt, protection from the devil, strength to endure hardship, the forgiveness that fixes broken relationships, and a passport to heaven when we die. We have something far greater than anything earth can offer; we have hope. And so we can join Peter with joyful hearts and say, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Three months after Billy lost his shiny gold coin, his mother died in a terrible car accident. Three years after that, his father passed away after losing a fight with cancer. Billy became a bitter young man. Nothing could ease his grief or give him peace of mind. He frequently found himself in trouble with the law, and struggled with anger and depression. Finally, the day came when he was old enough to receive his inheritance. At the end of all the legal hassle, the lawyer handed him an envelope. Inside he found a set of keys for a safety deposit box that was set up by his father before the cancer took him.

Billy was alone in the vault when he slowly opened the box. The artificial light reflected off of something shiny—it was the gold coin he had lost all those years ago! He had pretty much forgotten about that coin, but the sight of it took him back to the Christmas when he got it. Underneath the coin was a letter from his father that began with these words:

Dear Billy: By now you are a young man. I wish I could have been there for you. I hope life has been good, but under the circumstances, it probably has been hard. When your mother died and I found out I had cancer, I lost all hope and hated God. One day, I was cleaning up the house and found your gold coin. I remembered the words I said to you when we gave it to you. Do you remember? I said, "The world will lose it’s shine, but the shine of Jesus and His gifts will never fade away." I hope you haven’t forgotten that, like I did, but if you have, I pray you will find it again as you have found your gold coin today.

Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, puts shine in our lives now and for all eternity. He is The Greatest Gift Ever Given. Nothing is or ever will be greater than the birth and sacrifice of God’s one and only Son. So when everything seems to lose its shine, remember what a treasure you have in Him. His shine fills our dark days with the sparkle of God’s love, and guides us towards a bright future in heaven. That is the blessing of Christmas. As Peter says, it is a gift that will never perish, spoil or fade.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

God with us

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).

The true meaning of Christmas. Some would say it is love. Some would say it is generosity. Some would say it is peace and fellowship. Christmas is all these things, but it is also something far more. The true meaning of Christmas is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’

God designed humanity to be perfect in every way—loving, generous, peaceful. Tragically, we have all listened to the devil’s lies and are tainted by evil; as a result, the world is filled with hate, selfishness and conflict. Our sinful nature makes us the exact opposite of what God intended. God hates sin, and so He ought to hate us.

Amazingly, though, God does not hate us. Despite our flaws, despite our mistakes, God still loves us and wants the best for us. He wants us to be close to Him always, but for that to happen, our sin must be removed. So God sent His one and only Son to deal with sin personally.

God caused Mary to become pregnant and give birth to a very special child. That boy was Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Jesus lived the kind of life that God expects from each of us, a life uncontaminated by evil. Jesus never disobeyed God in what He thought, said or did. But Jesus did even more than keep God’s Law for us; He also died for us. Sin is punishable by death; the Son of God offered His life in place of our own. On the cross, Jesus suffered all of God’s punishment that we deserve for being sinners. Jesus lived for us, and He died for us.

That’s the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. In Jesus’ birth, we see how much God loves us and how much He hates sin. In Jesus’ time among us, we see how far God was willing to go to rid us of sin so we can be close to Him forever. Christmas is about love, generosity, and peace—these are God’s wonderful gifts to us. But most of all, Christmas is about Immanuel, God coming to be with us. We don’t deserve His presence or His gifts, so let’s be sure to let Him know how grateful we are.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas music

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music (Psalm 98:4).

Music is all around us, but I wonder if we appreciate the effect that music has on us?

Some of the time, we burrow into music like a warm and comfy blanket. A man who’s going through a breakup might find solace in a bunch of ‘she done him wrong’ songs; although depressing, such music gives comfort that he’s not alone with his pain. An angry teen might prefer music with a hard beat and aggressive lyrics, the kind of music that reflects her mood. Music can echo how you feel.

But music can also take us on an emotional journey from where we are to where we want to be. Someone who is lonely finds solace listening to songs about love. Someone who is worried or depressed can find relief in songs that are filled with happiness and joy. Music can change how you feel about things, at least for a little while.

Music can manipulate emotions, and corporations make use of this knowledge. Some office buildings play music in the background that is designed to keep the workers attentive and moving at a brisk clip. Medical centers use music to give anxious patients a tranquilizing effect. And stores use music to encourage shoppers to spend time browsing the aisles, filling up their carts with lots of things to purchase.

This is especially noticeable during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Everywhere you go, the air is filled with music chosen to make you feel nostalgic, so you’ll buy pretty things to dress up home for the holidays. Songs about dinner parties and gift giving encourage purchases of food and merchandise.

But when you are out and about, you don’t hear many of the older Christmas songs—the ones about Jesus. Songs about the Christ Child coming to bring us peace with God don’t encourage shopping—such music draws us to Church and the worship of God’s Son. The old songs remind us that we are sinners who would be cursed to an eternity in hell if God had not offered His forgiveness through the Messiah who came to die for us. Those old Christmas Carols are still the best holiday music available; listen for them, because the message they carry changes lives forever.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Preparing for Christmas part 4

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write `The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews." Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written" (John 19:19-22).

An ornament is defined as "something that lends grace or beauty." It is hard to pinpoint exactly when people started to hang them on Christmas trees, but it’s been going on for a long time. An ornament can be anything from a gingerbread cookie to some of the most colorful and intricate glass structures imaginable. The choice of material seems almost limitless, and the meaning that one attaches to an ornament usually depends on the social and religious views of the people who hang them.

If I were to visit your home and look at the ornaments on your Christmas tree, what would I see? Perhaps I would find something that celebrates a baby’s first Christmas, or one from a special vacation, or maybe even an antique handed down from a relative. The point is that you put them up because they have meaning, or they remind you of something important that you want to remember. We hang such ornaments so that everyone can see them.

Today, we remember our Savior. We remember by reflecting on a most unusual ornament—the notice of execution that was hung above Jesus’ head on the tree of Calvary. For Pontius Pilate, that sign was not intended to lend ‘grace or beauty’ to the situation; he had the notice put up to aggravate the religious leaders of the Jews. But God allowed that sign to be hung on the tree as An Ornament For Everyone To See. It has meaning; it is a thought-provoking ornament.

That notice was written in three different languages, and so far as we know, it contained the very first words written about Jesus during His 33 years on earth. Those words are recorded in all four Gospels. The words written on that notice not only spoke about Jesus on the cross, they echoed the same words spoken by wise men from the east who came looking for the Christ child. And so, whenever we place ornaments on the tree, it would be good to remember these words that ornament the tree of Calvary: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

This statement is packed full of meaning. What I would like to emphasize today, however, is the thought of Jesus being our King. Since humanity fell from grace into lawlessness, God has established kings to keep evil in check and maintain a degree of order in the world. Sin, death and the devil are like a river at flood stage; good kings are like sandbags that can only do so much for so long. Nevertheless, they are evidence of God’s loving care for us in this chaotic world. They are kind of like a spare tire that we can get by on until the real thing becomes available. Like a spare tire, earthly kingdoms only last for a short while. If you’ve ever used a spare, you know that it is limited in the distance it can go and the speed it can withstand. And so it is with all earthly kingdoms; they collapse under stress or from the passage of time. None of them ever last and achieve the goal of a perfect society.

We live in the midst of these temporary kings and crumbling kingdoms. There is no political solution that will fully and permanently shield us from sin, death and the devil. We must contend with these three enemies until the very end of time. Unfortunately, while confronting the problems they cause for us, we sometimes lose sight of the cross and the sign fastened over Jesus’ head. Sometimes we forget why Jesus was born. We start to believe that everything is spinning out of control, wondering if God is far away and unconcerned with what we’re going through. Whenever we despair over the conditions of the world and start living as if God has left us to be eaten by the dogs, we show that we have forgotten why Jesus came to Bethlehem. We are tempted to think that it is up to us to solve these problems on our own. Such thoughts only lead to a pit that is deep and dark.

Some of the most thrilling moments in human history are those when a king rises from obscurity to do battle against the seemingly insurmountable forces of evil. People are elated when he wins the victory and then rules over them with love and kindness. In the Old Testament, David stands out as a powerful example of such a man. Stepping from obscurity, a young sheepherder faces a giant professional soldier, one on one. Armed only with a sling and some small stones, David kills Goliath, setting in motion a string of events that would eventually lead to the royal throne. During David’s subsequent reign, God made a significant promise: although David would eventually die and be buried with his ancestors, one of his descendants would be a king who will rule over God’s people forever.

According to His human nature, Jesus is a descendant of David. He was born in a lowly stable, King Herod tried to have Him murdered, He faced Satan in the wilderness, the religious leaders of the Jews flatly ejected Him, and people laughed at Him as He died on the cross. He grew up in Nazareth, prompting one person to ask "Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46) When brought to him for trial, Pilate could scarcely believe that the man standing before Him was a king; but Jesus made it clear that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Indeed, as Jesus died on the cross, only a handful of followers remained at His side.

It is at the cross that we clearly see what Jesus is all about, and what the ornament above His head really means. The most amazing thing about Christ is that he comes to establish His kingdom through death. From a human perspective, this makes no sense at all. Yet the Bible says that the foolishness of God is greater than human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25). Hidden in lowliness and defeat lie greatness and victory. Jesus is a king, a king who rules the hearts of those who love Him. He is the mighty King who defeated sin, death and devil, and lives to tell the tale. His throne is in heaven, and earth is His footstool. We who serve Him will live in His kingdom forever, where we will be safe and happy and content.

As long as we live in this world, we will continue to confront sin, death and Satan. There is a wonderful Calvin and Hobbes comic strip that illustrates this. Calvin has had a horrible day. His mother nags him. His teacher criticizes him. The bully at school threatens him. Bad weather prevents him from going outside to play. His father corrects him. And, at the end of it all, his mother tucks him into bed, gives him a kiss and says, "Have a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow’s another big day!" The lights go off, and all Calvin can do is shake his head and sigh. Yes, in this world there will be much trouble. In that comic strip, Calvin is left alone in the dark. We, however, have a conquering hero on our side.

Sometimes it seems that evil has the upper hand, but whenever we are overwhelmed, we need to ponder these words of Paul: he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14). This is the greatest comfort anyone could ask for. No matter what, we have been freed from sin, death and devil by the holy and precious blood of Christ, blood that offers us forgiveness and peace.

Things are not spinning out of control; by the power of God, everything is working towards our salvation. When we question or doubt God’s concern, we need to remember how He has rescued us by sending His one and only Son. And when we find ourselves slipping into despair over the condition of this world, we need to remember that God has not abandoned us but has given us the victory that lasts forever. All of this is a wonderful gift that we did not deserve. It has been graciously given to us by God, who chose to enter the battlefield for us, to overthrow sin, death and the devil. Knowing that we could not achieve this for ourselves, He fought and saved us to be His beloved subjects forever.

Not everyone looks forward to God’s eternal rule. Many people refuse to acknowledge that God exists; they are terrified by death because at that point all control over one’s life is gone. Satan and his minions fear God as well. Do you remember when Jesus freed a man from being possessed by a legion of demons? They begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, because they desperately wanted to avoid the punishment that awaited them in hell. Both unbelievers and devils wage war against Christ and the Church. But Psalm 2 reminds us, The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill." As you can see, it’s as good as done. The raging of both unbelievers and demons is like a fly trying to move the universe. Their efforts are absolutely futile.

And so we laugh with the One who laughs. Christ is King, and everything must work for the good of His kingdom. We are His kingdom, so there is nothing for us to fear. We need to remember that when we hang our ornaments on the Christmas tree. Remember the ornament suspended above Jesus’ head on the bloodstained tree, a sign that read JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. The baby whose birth we celebrate is the King who gives us victory. No matter what happens down here, no matter how things might appear to be, we are safe in His hands for all eternity. As it is written in 2nd Timothy chapter 4, The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The best gift

Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).

Shopping has become the Great American Pastime. Our national economy rises and falls based on how much consumers are willing to spend. Shoppers brag about the good deals they’ve gotten, as if buying stuff is some form of competition. Bargain hunters spend hours clipping coupons or searching out the best deal. Going shopping has become just as popular a way to spend time as playing games, going out for dinner, or taking in a movie.

To be sure, getting new things is fun. But most of us have to live on limited resources; most of us have to plan for retirement. When you use shopping as a way to have fun, you put your financial stability at risk. Advertisers are experts of manipulation; they know how to make a product so attractive that you feel as if you have to buy it, regardless of your bank balance.

At this time of year, the problem is compounded by love and guilt. We have been raised to believe that in order to show love, you have to spend money—money on gifts, money on parties, money on travel. And if you can’t spend as much on friends and family as you did last year, you start feeling guilty. Love and guilt can push you into making purchases that you really can’t afford.

Christmas is a holiday that has become massively abused by corporate America. Yet Christmas also points us to a different way to think about money, love, and gift giving. On the very first Christmas, 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 (John 3:16). The shepherds brought no gifts. When the Wise Men showed up, they gave their gifts to the Lord, not to each other. There was no dinner party; Mary and Joseph and their guests were in a stable, their attention focused on worshipping the Son of God who came down to earth to save us from our sins. There in Bethlehem, the focus was on one thing only—love.

There is no better gift than love, because love draws God and man, woman, and child all together in perfect happiness. You can’t find that kind of happiness by going shopping. No amount of money can ever purchase love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (Romans 4:7).

For many people, snow is something you see in pictures but never experience in person. Snow is not part of the Christmas landscape in Florida or the major cities of California. Children in Iraq and southeast Asia don’t have any snow capped mountains nearby that they can go and visit. For a lot of people, snow is something of a fairy tale.

Now I realize there are times when you might wish that snow only was a fairy tale. Snow can be a nuisance to shovel. Large amounts of snow can interfere with your plans by closing roads, cutting off power, and forcing events to be rescheduled. Snow can be expensive when slippery conditions result in car accidents. Snow can be an annoyance.

Yet children always have fun with snow. They make snow angels, snowmen, and snow forts. They sled and slide and jump into snowdrifts. A lot of the time, kids see what adults do not—that snow is beautiful.

I think it’s a tragedy that some people will never experience snow, and that so many others have lost their appreciation of it. Snow is a wonderful thing. Snow is a great illustration of how God shows His love to human sinners like you and me.

Everyone is a sinner. Each of us has nasty thoughts, speaks hurtful words, and does things that are selfish and irresponsible. Sin makes life look like a field where everything has dried out and turned brown. Sin makes life look like a grove where all the leaves have withered up and fallen to the ground. Sin makes everything look drab and dead.

But snow covers up the fields and groves with soft and gentle whiteness. Snow picks up the rays of sunshine and sparkles in response. This illustrates what God does for us; He covers up our flaws with His righteousness, a pure white covering that makes everything look wonderfully new. Jesus offers to take away our sin and cover us with His perfection; if we accept this gift, our lives can sparkle with new beauty as His holy light reflects on us.

With enough snow, anything ugly can be covered over and become pretty; through the gift of forgiveness, Jesus can do the same for you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Preparing for Christmas part 3

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18)

Jenny was excited to help her mom decorate the tree. Like most four-year-olds, she would help for a while and then get distracted. Trying to keep the little girl focused on what they were doing, Jenny’s mom said, "my favorite decoration is the snow-white tinsel—it just makes everything beautiful."

As they decorated, mother and daughter sometimes had to step over Rusty the family dog. He didn’t mean to get in the way; he was a good dog, most of the time. But that Saturday afternoon was an exciting day with all the activity and things to sniff. Although he was housebroken, Rusty got so excited that he had an accident, right there on the living room floor.

"Rusty!" Jenny’s mom shouted. Angrily, she stormed out of the room to get her cleaning supplies. When she return, the scene in the living room stopped her in her tracks and made her break out in giggles. Jenny had covered Rusty’s mess with a heap of snow-white tinsel. Clearly Jenny had been listening when her mom said, "it just makes everything beautiful."

Many people like to put some snow-white tinsel on the tree; it creates the same dramatic contrast that real snow brings to the trees outside. Why do we like the cold white stuff so much that we look for ways to decorate our homes with it? Part of the reason is that snow changes how everything looks. With just a little snow, the world seems transformed into an entirely different place. Tinsel and snow fill areas that are bare and discolored. The whiteness covers up imperfection, and gives everything an appearance that is soft and peaceful.

God says, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Those are wonderful words to hear as we celebrate Advent and Christmas. It is easy to think of Snow-White Tinsel as a symbol of Christ. Like white snow or tinsel, Jesus changes everything; He can even change scarlet sin and make it white.

Scarlet is a bright, garish red. It is a type of color that can easily be overwhelming. If you were to enter a room whose walls were all painted scarlet, it would quickly strain your eyes. If that scarlet room had a mirror, when you looked into it even the whites of your eyes would be tinged with red. Some of you reading this might be familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. Set in New England 300 years ago, it tells of a woman who cheated on her husband and was made to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her clothing to mark her as an adulteress. The letter "A" was in scarlet to make sure everyone in town could easily see her disgrace.

Our scarlet sin is a glaring reality that is impossible to hide. It shows itself in our thoughts—thoughts that waste time in endless daydreaming, that are consumed with plotting revenge, that find pleasure in the discomfort and humiliation of others. It shows itself in our words—words that make unreasonable demands, put other people down, and distort the truth. It shows itself in how we act—ignoring people who need our help, wasting money on luxuries, and taking foolish chances with our health. We look at the law of God and we see failure—failure to love the Lord above everything else, and failure to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our sin is a redness that discolors our appearance and paints a letter of scarlet shame on our clothing that is impossible to anyone to ignore.

TV reality shows are quite popular these days. What if a camera crew injected you with truth serum, asked you to reveal you most secret thoughts and desires, then aired the result on national television? Just the idea makes us squirm with discomfort. But God knows it all. Nothing escapes Him, and He will punish those who sin. Paul says that the Lord will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts (1 Corinthians 4:5).

As we shudder at these strong words of Law, we also need to hear powerful words of Gospel. Deep down inside, we know who we are and what we have done—the thought of it all being brought to light makes us want to crawl into a hole so that no one can see us. And so we breathe a huge sigh of relief when we hear these comforting words from God: I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). This short verse is rich in the power of God’s love and mercy. For those who feel terrible about their sins, the words and remembers your sins no more are like a breath of fresh air to a person who is drowning. These are words that we need to hear over and over again.

Even though we have offended God with our scarlet sin and deserve His eternal punishment, He has decided to blot out our transgressions. To blot something out is to cover it up completely and permanently; it’s like making a mistake in ink, then covering it up using White Out. Imagine a thick book that tells the story of who you are and what you have done, down to the finest detail. As you leaf through that book, you find that it is written in red ink—every moment of your life has been made scarlet by sin. Although God does not owe us anything, He chose to blot out every speck of red through the saving work of His beloved Son. Because Jesus lived a perfect life for you and me, and because He suffered the punishment for our sins on the cross, Christ has the power and the authority to blot out all record of sin that is written in your book. By grace, through faith in all that Jesus has accomplished, your sins are remembered no more.

In the last book of the Bible, John uses picture language to describe the head and hair of Jesus; he says that they appeared white like wool, as white as snow (Revelation 1:14). The color white represents holiness. The head and its hair are symbols of authority and strength. Put these elements together, and you see Jesus as the holy one who has the authority and strength to make others holy as well. Because He is both God and man, His holy life was lived for our benefit, and He is able to touch us and make our scarlet sin as white as snow.

Bleach is used when washing clothes to remove stains and color, leaving the garment white. In baptism, the Holy Spirit applies bleach to us—the bleach of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Miraculously, Christ is applied to us in such a way that our scarlet sin becomes as white as wool. In 1st Corinthians chapter six Paul writes, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Having been washed in the name of Christ, we are bleached clean of sin and are regarded as children of God. We have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, so that when God the Father looks at us, He no longer sees our sin but only the holiness of His Son. We are members of the great multitude that John sees in the book of Revelation chapter seven: These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

But these words from Revelation speak of more than just hope—they also warn of trouble. These are they who have come out of the great tribulation. The Christian lifestyle is not easy. As long as we live in this world, there is constant danger from scarlet sin. It confronts us everywhere we turn; it haunts our thoughts and twists our desires. Sin clamors for our attention and results in many sleepless nights. Sin causes stress and tribulation every day of your life. Thankfully, God sends His Spirit to give you strength, and in baptism you have Christ’s promise to forgive every red mistake that makes you hang your head in shame.

The book of Revelation also warns of a scarlet beast. On his back rides a prostitute who is dressed in purple and scarlet. These colors symbolize royalty and sin. The beast and prostitute are opposed to God’s authority and purity. They hold up sin as something to enjoy and be proud of; they invite God’s people to embrace evil and call it ‘good.’ We must not listen to their lies or desire the pleasures that they offer; instead, we need to make prayer a daily part of our routine, confessing our sins to Christ, begging for His mercy, and seeking His guidance. Only Jesus can save us from the scarlet beast and the prostitute dressed in garish red.

The days ahead will not be easy for the people of God. The struggles and tribulation will only get worse as we get closer and closer to the end of time. But we have hope to cling to; Jesus says, Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). Sin and Satan are terrible adversaries, but Christ overcame them on the cross; so long as we trust in the Savior, they do not have the final authority over us.

A day is coming when the Lord will call you from this world to stand before Him in judgment. When God looks at you, what will He see? He will see white, because you will be covered with righteous purity of God’s Son, as Isaiah tells us (chapter 61:10): he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness. That is why Snow-White Tinsel is a good symbol for Christ. Our scarlet sin has been covered over by the perfect whiteness of our Savior. And so, whenever you look at Snow-White Tinsel during this advent and Christmas season, remember that it is Christ who makes us clean. He covers up our scarlet sin and makes us white as snow. He makes everything beautiful.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The road less traveled

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 has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In other words, the ends never justify the means. Your actions are just as important as your motives.

Take the ‘white lie’ for example. How often have you tried to spare someone’s feelings by telling them what they want to hear instead of speaking the uncomfortable truth? But a lie spoken in love or sympathy remains a lie, regardless. If that person finds out that you lied, she might be grateful; she might also become furious with you. And regardless of what she says, she will always wonder, deep down inside, if your word can be trusted. ‘White lies’ can destroy relationships.

Another example. Many people hold strong views on politics, religion, and our society. They are fearful of things going in the wrong direction and are always ready to argue their position. For the sake of the common good, they feel compelled to take a stand. But good intentions are derailed when the desire to win a debate leads to unfair generalizations, assumptions about motive, and constant fixating on worst case scenarios. The result of such bitter talk is fear, anger, and an inability to work together with others in pursuit of common goals.

Or consider this statement attributed to Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." In order to avoid giving offense, we often keep our mouths shut when something needs to be said. How do you respond when a friend tells you that he’s having an affair? Do you accept his behavior without comment, even though he is hurting himself as well as others? When the group at your break table starts telling mean-spirited jokes at the expense of others, do you keep your peace, even though prejudice shreds the dignity and respect that all people deserve?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The path to heaven is less obvious, the road less traveled. You cannot find it on your own. Let Jesus take you by the hand and lead you. He can teach you how to link good actions to good motives, and forgive you when you fail.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who is your pilot?

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory (Psalm 73:24).

Imagine that you have boarded a large jet for a lengthy flight. The cabin is filled with people—some excited and noisy, others quiet and alone. You have a comfortable seat and the cabin is at a pleasant temperature. After a smooth departure, your plane quickly climbs above the clouds and levels off. The voice over the intercom assures you that everything is as it should be. Stewards are constantly making sure that you are comfortable and have something to help you pass the time—drinks, food, magazines, or an inflight movie.

The passengers around you are a mixed group. A few are very good-looking and fashionably dressed; most look rather average, and a couple are the kind of people you’d just as soon stay away from. Some chat with each other, others tune everything out while they read, listen to music, or work on a laptop. Every now and then, you hear a baby cry or a voice raised in anger. Over all, however, there is nothing remarkable about your flight. Until you land.

When the plane drops beneath the clouds on final descent, you glance out the window and quickly realize that you’re not where you planned to be. As the aircraft comes to a stop and the door opens, armed men rush the compartment. As fear takes control of the passengers, word quickly spreads that the pilot was working with terrorists—you have all been betrayed and are now hostages. The flight that seemed ordinary and secure was actually a journey into terror, but you had no inkling of the danger you were in.

You might be on such a journey right now. You are flying through life, but do you know where you’ll end up? Who is your pilot? Is it a terrorist who plans to take you hostage when you land? How can you tell? The world outside your window is blanketed with clouds of confusion and uncertainty, which make it hard to see clearly. Look at the people sharing the cabin with you—they look quite ordinary, for the most part. The stewardesses work hard to keep you happy and distracted. The voice from the cockpit assures you that everything is going well. But who is really behind that cabin door, flying your plane? If it’s Satan, he’s taking you towards hell.

Don’t wait until the final descent to find out where you’re going. Make sure that Jesus is your pilot, before your trip through life comes to an unexpected, horrifying end.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Preparing for Christmas part 2

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: 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).

Immediately after setting up the Christmas tree, most people string the lights. It may surprise you to know that the custom of arranging lights on the tree comes from a time before electricity was discovered. There is a tradition that the first Christmas tree lights were actually put up by Martin Luther.

As Luther was walking home one winter evening, his mind was occupied with thoughts about Jesus. Looking up at the night sky, he was taken with the twinkling stars. The scene was so beautiful and moving that he wanted to reproduce it in his home. When he got to the house, Luther set up a tree in the main room, then used wire to fasten candles to the branches. When he lit the candles, he explained that they were to be a reminder that Christ is the light of the world.

Christmas tree lights are more than just holiday decorations. They are a symbol of the Savior! We love to sit and gaze at the glowing lights on the tree, don’t we? But today we move beyond a simple string of lights and the warm feelings they stir in our hearts. Today we consider the topic: "Our Dark Night, God’s Bright Light."

Darkness and light—they are daily facts of our existence. You can consult any encyclopedia for an explanation of the physics involved; we, however, want to understand what light and darkness mean for us spiritually. For those answers, we turn to the Bible. Think back to the first verses of Genesis. What was the universe like in the beginning? We are told that the earth was formless and empty, and everything was shrouded in darkness. The first thing God did was to fill the universe with light; it was only later that He gave our world form and filled it with life.

In the account of creation, darkness and light are powerfully contrasted. Darkness is associated with the time when things were undefined and lifeless. Light is God’s creation that confronts the darkness and paves the way for life and purpose. As we now live in a world corrupted by sin, this contrast takes on further spiritual significance. Darkness has come to represent sin and death, while light represents truth and life.

Prompted by the Holy Spirit, the prophet Jeremiah illustrates this in an eye-opening way. The people of God had become faithless and deserving of punishment. On account of their rebellion against His Laws, God was going to exile them in Babylon. That exile is a picture of eternal punishment. Their sin and exile are described using terms that point back to Genesis. Jeremiah writes (in chapter four), I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger. As you can see, God’s punishment takes us back to a time when things were formless and empty; as a result of sin, light is taken away and creation falls apart.

We love ourselves, and the goodies of creation, more than we love God; we deserve to have everything taken away, to be left in the darkness with only ourselves for company. It is foolish in the extreme to love creation and put ourselves on a pedestal, while forgetting about the One who made it all and gave it to us as an expression of His great love. Instead of viewing things correctly, mankind has become skilled at doing everything wrong. No one knows how to please God, and so we ought to have everything crumble and disappear. We all deserve to be left alone in utter darkness.

Each of us has had this experience, I’m sure. You woke up in the middle of the night. Everything was quiet. Your eyes strained to see anything in the darkness. Maybe you wanted a drink or needed to go to the bathroom, but you couldn’t make yourself get out of bed. You couldn’t make a sound. Your nightclothes were sticky with sweat. The darkness was so intense, so smothering, that it pinned you to the bed and would not let you move.

This is only a picture of what we deserve for putting God in second place behind us and all the things that we want to do. It gives us a glimpse of the terrible reality that is hell. During the time of the exodus, the Egyptians got a taste of such hellish darkness. It is written that Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. The darkness was paralyzing. Such darkness is what all of humanity deserves, not for just three days but forever. All of us should be afraid of the dark and looking to Christ to spare us from Our Dark Night.

Many youngsters—and maybe some adults—would agree that the night-light was a great invention. That small light reveals that there is something out there in the darkness. It gives just enough illumination to reassure you that a monster isn’t standing there waiting to pounce; it gives you the security of knowing that someone, somewhere, is awake and sending electricity to your home. You have no reason to hide under the covers in fear. Jesus says, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12). These are beautiful words of comfort.

A light shines through the darkness of sin and death; that light is the light of forgiveness and life. That light is the light of truth—of who Christ is, what He did for us years ago, and what He continues to do for us today. That light still confronts the darkness; it gives shape to our formless lives and fills the empty void inside us. And even though the stars will fall from the sky and the earth will be consumed with fire on the last day, the light of Christ is the promise of a new creation that will last forever. If you have any doubt or worry about light overcoming darkness, look to the cross of Christ. For three long hours, He suffered the darkness of hell, darkness so intense that even the sun stopped shining. On that cross, Jesus experienced our hopelessness, yet He never lost hope. When He declared His work finished, Jesus looked up to heaven with complete confidence and said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46). With that, Jesus died and the light returned—He had conquered the power of darkness forever. Our sins are forgiven and we have the light of life. The monsters of sin, death and hell have been chased away forever, banished by the light that Christ shares with those who believe in Him. Paul writes, God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Jesus is Our Bright Light. He provides a miraculous escape from darkness and dazzles our eyes with a glorious vision of heaven. During the years of travel in the desert, God told Aaron to bless the people with these words: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26). In John’s revelation of heaven, these words of promise are fulfilled: There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light (Revelation 22:5). Every day that passes, we draw closer to this glorious, unending light. This is our comfort in the face of darkness and the approach of the end of time.

But as we wait for Christ’s return, we need to remember our purpose. The light of Christ has begun to change us already. Because of this, we are considered vessels of light. In the gospel of Matthew chapter five Jesus reminds us, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. What an amazing thought, that God has made us instruments of light to shine in the darkness of other peoples’ lives! Knowing how terrible the darkness is that we’ve been rescued from, we should be seizing every opportunity to talk about Our Dark Night and God’s Bright Light.

Luther gazing at a starry sky, then hurrying home to fasten candles to a tree. We can understand why the light affected him as it did. It really is incredible to think of what God has done for us through His one and only Son. As you wrap strings of light around the Christmas tree this year and enjoy the sparkles of brightness filling the room, remember that they symbolize the Savior who has rescued us from everlasting darkness. The best gift you can share this Christmas season is the same gift God has given you—God’s Bright Light.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thanksgiving part 4

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness (Psalm 7:17).

If you stop and think about it, you will see that God is very generous to us. Martin Luther gives us the following list—food and drink, clothing and a place to live, money and goods, the means to earn a living, a family devoted to God, Christian friends and neighbors, good government and good weather, peace and health, self control and a good reputation. While some have more and others less, all of us have received these blessings from God.

Even better, the Lord has given us the gift of His Spirit, who blesses our lives with all sorts of spiritual gifts. Listen to Paul’s description in Galatians chapter five: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the gifts that fill our lives with joy; these are the gifts that connect us to each other in bonds of love and mutual support.

Best of all, we have God’s gift of salvation given through His Son, Jesus. Christ lived a perfect life on your behalf so you can be forgiven for not measuring up to God’s righteous standards. Jesus suffered and died in your place so you can be spared God’s terrible punishment for being a sinner. Jesus rose from the dead so that when a loved one is laid to rest, you have the assurance of a new life together in paradise. And Jesus returned to heaven to open its gates for you, promising that any friend of Christ is welcome in His home.

God has blessed you richly, and His generosity is all the more amazing because we have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. We are disappointments through and through; our thoughts are often vile, our words frequently hurtful, our actions riddled with mistakes. Yet in spite of all this, God still loves us and cares for us. Paul writes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).

How do you respond to such unmerited generosity coming down from heaven to fill your life with goodness? Martin Luther said it best in his Small Catechism: "For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true."

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