Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The devil (part 1)

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Most people in the world believe in some sort of god—a higher power who created the universe. But far less believe in the devil, despite all the misery that everyone has to contend with. Some believe that evil is just another name for chaos and misfortune; others say that evil is the result of humanity gone wrong.

It surprises me that so many are reluctant to believe in Satan. Every world religion up to modern times has included one or more gods of darkness, beings that found delight in stirring up trouble and causing misery on earth. But for some reason, most people today no longer fear attack by satanic forces.

In part, it may be a result of advances in science. A psychologist is not going to diagnose his patient as being possessed by an evil spirit; instead of seeking a religious solution, the therapist will prescribe powerful drugs to keep wild behavior under control. I wonder how many times medicine has been used to mask symptoms of something that is not really a psychological problem.

Many believe that humans are born morally neutral; they learn to be good or evil as a result of their upbringing. This idea is attractive, because it holds the promise of building a perfect society if we just educate our children properly. Belief in a terrible agent of darkness, whose only goal is to corrupt us, throws a monkey wrench in building a perfect world. How do you train children to fight an unseen enemy? It’s far easier to just dismiss the devil as nothing more than a bogeyman.

The most dangerous enemy is the one who hides in plain sight. We all live in fear of terrorists who walk unnoticed in our streets; anonymity is their greatest weapon. So it is with Satan; he can do far more damage if no one recognizes him as a legitimate threat.

Don’t be fooled. Satan is real. He has you targeted in his crosshairs. He wants to strip away everything that gives life value—faith and hope, trust and compassion, generosity and peace. Don’t give the devil an easy target; know your enemy and be on your guard always.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ, " he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men (Acts 17:1-12).

As Americans, we don’t think much about nobility. Nobles are the kind of people you find in Great Britain, people who have been granted the title of "sir" or "lady" by the royal family. They are respected as being a cut above everyone else; people look to them for an example of how the best and brightest conduct themselves.

America doesn’t have royalty; we don’t have kings or queens, barons or duchesses. And yet, in a very real sense, we do have nobility in this country. They just aren’t identified as such. We have people who are given a lot of respect. We have people who get special privileges, even if it’s under the table and out of sight. We have people that we look to as an example of how the best Americans should live. We have many people that are treated like nobility.

Who are these people? They include political families like the Obamas and the Bushes. They include movie stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They include sports figures like Eli Manning and Michael Jordan. They even include singers like Madonna and celebrities like Paris Hilton. These types of people get preferential treatment; their words and actions have influenced many lives.

Why are these people as influential as they are? It’s wonderful that Angelina has adopted several kids and given them a privileged upbringing, but what about all the other children who are still dying from malnourishment and neglect? What kind of role model is Paris being to teenage girls? How many public figures support a cause purely out of concern for others, and keep on supporting it even after the cameras have gone someplace else? Have any of America’s ‘nobility’ touched your life personally and changed you for the better?

Noble people are supposed to act a certain way. What kinds of behavior do you think of as noble? Should these kind of people be proud of their achievements, or should they be humble? Should they be on the cutting edge of fashion, or should they be secure enough that they don’t need to worry about what’s trendy? Do you expect nobility to show off their wealth, or do you expect them to be generous with what they have? Do you prefer them to be sophisticated and reserved, or do you prefer that they be down to earth and accessible? Should the nobility have refined tastes, or is better that they are able to appreciate beauty and happiness wherever it may be found?

Humans may have contrasting ideas about what nobility should be like, but God has His own views on the matter. In Isaiah chapter 32, the prophet describes noble character by contrasting it with the behavior of foolish and evil men. The fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil. He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the LORD; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water. The scoundrel's methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands. According to Isaiah, God views as noble those people who speak wisely and keep their minds occupied with good thoughts. They follow God’s laws and share His truth with others. They give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty. They are concerned with doing things the right way, and they devote time to projects that help the needy.

Jesus talks about noble behavior as well. In the Parable of the Sower, He compares His word to seed, and human beings to different types of soil. Some are just not interested in what Christ has to say, and the devil snatches God’s word from their lives—just like crows make off with seeds that are left on the ground unwanted. Others are curious about Christianity, but they give up on faith when life gets hard—just like a seedling is easily killed when it is planted in soil that is too shallow for roots to take hold. Then there are those who love Jesus, but get so distracted by life’s worries and pleasures that they never attain spiritual maturity—just like a plant that is choked out by growing among a bunch of weeds. But there is a fourth type of soil—Jesus says, the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15). By Jesus’ definition, people of noble character are those who listen to God’s Word, build their lives around it, and work hard at honoring the Lord with everything they have.

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about how we should occupy our minds. Listen to what he says: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you. According to Paul, nobility includes an interest in what is true, pure, lovely, and excellent.

And in the book of Acts, Luke also describes noble character. He says, the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. When Paul and Silas came with the message of God’s salvation offered through Jesus Christ, the Thessalonians listened politely. But when enemies of Christ came to town with words of hate, many were quick to believe their lies and get enraged. As a result, Paul and Silas had to quietly slip away so that things would cool down. But the situation in Berea was different. There, the message about Jesus was received with great interest, and they spent time every day studying God’s word so they could evaluate the truth of Paul’s words. By Luke’s estimation, people of noble character get excited about God’s word and want to understand it better.

Many people that we treat as nobility don’t act noble at all. They boast about their achievements. They are slaves to every change in fashion. They spend their money to make themselves look good. They sneer at ordinary pleasures; they are never satisfied with anything less than the absolute best. They act as if they are better than most other people; they expect to be catered to, and when they speak, they assume that right-thinking people will agree with them.

Christ is different. Jesus is true nobility—Son of God and descendent of King David. Jesus is the rightful heir to both the throne of earth and the throne of heaven. And Jesus embodies nobility of spirit. He is humble, not arrogant. He is dependable, not pushed around by trends or pressure from lobbyists. He is generous, not selfish. Although He had the finest of everything in heaven, He was willing to leave it all behind and live with us in our poverty. Jesus came to serve us in our need, washing His disciples’ feet as an example for us to follow. He did not insist on being treated as royalty; instead, He submitted to the judgment of church and state, both of which condemned Him to death on a cross. Jesus is nobility personified, and that nobility led to giving up His life so that our sins could be forgiven.

Jesus calls on us to act like nobility. He wants us to be humble, steadfast, generous and open. He wants us to love His Father, love His Word, and love our neighbors as ourselves. He wants us to hunger for a deeper, more committed relationship with God. But we are sinners through and through—how can we possibly be of noble character?

For such a thing to happen, we need Jesus. In Jesus, God loans His nobility to us. Jesus is not the kind of celebrity that comes to the ballpark to throw out the first pitch or sing the national anthem. He did not come to be the Grand Marshall in a parade, waving to the cheering crowds. Jesus came to save us. He teaches about God’s law, so we can know what makes God happy. He teaches about sin, so we can understand how much we’ve angered God by our misbehavior. He lived a life of perfect obedience for us, so that the Law might be fulfilled in spite of our sin. He died in our place to spare us from God’s awful judgment. He rose from the dead to open heaven for all who believe in His power, love and mercy. He’s not like Angelina Jolie, who can only adopt a few children and give them a better life; through Christ, billions of humans are adopted by God as His beloved children, and are rescued from sin and the threat of hell.

We can show nobility—with God’s help. Relationships that are shallow and superficial can benefit from an investment of time—time to listen, time to get involved, time to care. So imitate the Bereans—get to know God more personally through frequent worship and a commitment to Bible study. As you grow closer to Him, the Spirit of God will equip you with other noble qualities—the ability to stay positive, honor God’s law, share the Gospel with others, offer good advice, serve others with willing hands and wallet, and appreciate beauty wherever you find it.

Although America may not have royalty, we are still influenced by people who act like nobility. But you don’t have to be famous or good looking or wealthy to act nobly; just follow the example of the Bereans. Their noble character came from their devotion to Christ. Because of it, we are still talking about those devout people two thousand years later. If you want to be remembered, be of noble character—dedicate yourself to a deeper relationship with Christ, and follow where He leads you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A lifetime of perfect scores

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin (1 John 3:4).

When you play darts, you want to hit the bullseye. When golfing, your goal is to get the ball into a very small hole. In basketball, you must get the ball through the hoop in order to score points.

Life is about hitting the target. Managers give targets for the sales staff to aim for; if you are a failure at reaching target numbers, you can expect to be shown the door. Soldiers who can’t hit a target wind up stuck behind a desk or working on a carburetor in the motor pool. Fail to aim your car properly, and you’ll end up stranded in the ditch or lying dead from a head-on collision.

Hitting a target requires accuracy and precision. It’s not enough to hit the sweet spot every once in a while; a good baseball pitcher must be consistent in his performance. Only the best hit the mark dead on, time after time after time.

God expects us to obey His laws perfectly. He demands 100% accuracy and 100% precision. Think about that. Imagine scoring a 300 every time you bowl. Imagine pitching nothing but perfect games for an entire career. It is just as impossible to impress God with your spot-on behavior.

Way too often, we miss the mark. Our efforts fall short; our successes are scattershot. The Bible has a word for this failure—that word is sin. To sin means that you didn’t hit the target dead center; to be a sinner means that you average a pitiful score when it comes to being a good person.

In baseball, weak batters can be sidestepped by putting in a pinch hitter. That’s what God did when He sent Jesus down to earth centuries ago. The Son of God is our substitute batter. Jesus has the accuracy and precision that we lack; where we fail to meet God’s lofty standards, Christ has succeeded. He takes the stat book of our lives, erases our miserable scores, and replaces them with His own. Because of this substitution, God awards us a trophy we do not deserve—the trophy of everlasting life in paradise.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dressing warmly

I delight greatly in the LORD…For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and dressed me in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).

When the weather becomes chilly, it forces a change of wardrobe. As much as you might love wearing shorts and tees, they are impractical when the wind is cold and overnight lows drop near freezing or below.

Maybe you are one of those stubborn sorts who won’t let the weather dictate how you dress. I know the type—wearing sandals while walking through snow, going bareheaded in sub-zero temperatures because hair spray and stocking caps don’t mix.

I’m a practical man. If the weather is cold, I bundle up. For me, being warm and dry trumps any concern over how I look. But I know that a lot of people are willing to suffer and even risk getting sick for the sake of fashion.

I’ve seen this same mentality at work in how people think about God. It’s not fashionable to be a Christian. You don’t turn heads by being humble. You don’t draw attention for watching your tongue. If you are devoted to Jesus over everyone else, you won’t be the life of the party.

The world is a cold place to live, and it’s getting colder all the time. A person can be attacked on the street, and those who see what’s happening just watch instead of helping. Celebrities make the news for bad behavior, yet their popularity increases instead of shrinking. This kind of coldness deadens the heart and extinguishes the warmth of goodness.

Jesus offers you warm clothing to wear, so the chill of sin does not numb your heart and kill your soul. This garment of salvation is a robe made of His righteousness. He offers to cover sin with the shelter of His forgiving love. But many people reject Christ and His generosity. Despite the frigid situations they find themselves in, they would rather be fashionable, cutting edge. They push Jesus to the side so they can be the center of attention, even as they turn pale and shiver uncontrollably.

Don’t be that person. You can be warm and safe in Jesus’ arms. Don’t suffer for the sake of appearances. There is nothing more attractive than a face warmed by God’s love.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Religious buffet?

"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:1-10).

I don’t know about you, but I like buffet-style dining. Why be forced to order a few things from the menu when you can sample all sorts of different things without restriction? Not only that, but for one fixed price you can eat as much as you want of the foods you like best. Of course, there are a couple of drawbacks to this kind of dining—buffets are generally more expensive than ordering from the menu, and when you can eat as much as you want, most people consume more calories than they should.

Buffet-style dining is just one example of how the world has changed to offer us all sorts of variety. When I was a kid, there were little grocery stores scattered all over town; you never had to walk more than three blocks to pick up canned goods, fresh meat, and dairy products. Of course, your selection was limited; these mom-and-pop stores only stocked the basics. I remember how excited my parents got when the first big grocery stores began opening; there were only a few of them in town, but they offered an amazing variety of fruits, meat, and freezer items. Of course you had to use the car to go shopping; the stores were too far away to walk, and you probably bought more than you could carry home anyway. But there was a down side to the big food stores. When you walked to get your groceries, you made several trips each week—good exercise for the heart, and it saved on gas. And as the big stores grew more successful, the little corner shops eventually closed their doors and went dark—they could not compete with the large retailers.

When you go shopping these days, the amount of choices available to you is staggering. You can spend hours shopping in a mall or wandering through the departments of a super store. If you can’t find the exact item you want or the price you’re looking for, you can search countless stores and auction sites by logging onto the Internet. Almost every day, some company or another sends you their newest catalogue in the mail, making you hungry for something that you didn’t even know you wanted. But having all these options available to us causes some problems. We buy things that we don’t need. Our homes get so crowded with stuff that they are hard to keep clean, and soon we are buying bigger homes or putting up storage sheds. Worst of all, we spend money that should be saved for the future or donated to charity.

Multiple choice also extends to the field of higher education. By the time you’re a sophomore in high school, the guidance counselor is pushing you to think about your future and choose electives accordingly. By your senior year, there are any number of colleges, universities and trade schools that are waiting for your enrollment. These days, you can major in almost anything—some schools even encourage you to design your own course of directed study. Of course, these kinds of choices come at a price—huge tuition fees, and the need to prop up the bloated egos of some deans and professors.

Regrettably, our world also offers a great deal of variety when it comes to religion. There is Judaism and Islam and Hinduism. There is Mormonism and Scientology and atheism. And even Christianity is fragmented between Lutherans and Catholics, Baptists and Methodists, and so on. This variety encourages experimentation. We are so used to shopping around for the best deal that we treat religion the same way. A recent study showed than nearly half of the people in our country make a religious switch some time during their lives. We are so used to putting what we want on our dinner plate at a buffet that we treat spiritual teachings the same way. Many people assemble their own belief system by adopting bits and pieces from many different faith traditions. I remember a classmate in high school who grew up Lutheran, but decided that it wasn’t the right religion for him. He tried out several others, before settling on one that matched his views and priorities. That faith was Baha’i, a religion that combines elements of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

We are used to having a lot of choices to pick from, but sometimes all those options simply overwhelm us. When this happens, we make decisions without fully understanding the long-term consequences. This is especially critical when it comes to religion—what we believe not only affects how we live today, it will also determine what happens to us when we die.

In a world of seemingly endless choices, few ask a very important question: what if one religion is right, and all the other religions are wrong? This is a very uncomfortable question for many to consider; they would prefer to see good things in all religions and cherry-pick the best from each, like a diner going through the buffet line. If you believe that only one religion is correct, your choices evaporate. This way of thinking does not sit well with the American consumer.

Most people aren’t comfortable with the idea of one religion alone being right. Modern thinkers claim that there is no such thing as absolute truth; what is true for you might not be true for me, and what is true for you now might change with the passing of years. For decades now, college students have been taught that the situation determines whether a certain behavior is right or wrong. For example, breaking into a grocery store and stealing food might be justified if you were living in New Orleans during the days following Hurricane Katrina. People with adjustable morals don’t want to hear Christians say that stealing is a sin, period.

Political Correctness is another problem. Some people are very uncomfortable when the claim is made that only one religion is correct. These days, there is more pressure than ever for individuals to be tolerant of each other, and labeling a religion as false seems very intolerant. Claiming that your religion is the right one can make you a lot of enemies. Just consider what happened to Stephen when he dared tell the Jews that they must believe in Jesus to be saved—he was lynched by an angry mob. No matter how gently you try to explain the truth, some will call you unloving, arrogant, narrow-minded, or a fanatic.

But how many paths actually get you into paradise? Are all religions equally valid? Jesus said, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. Elsewhere in John, our Lord also said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). Jesus leaves no wriggle-room—heaven is accessed exclusively through Him.

I am the gate for the sheep. Back when Jesus spoke these words, sheep pens did not always have a gate that you could close and latch. Many times the shepherd would herd his sheep into the enclosure, then lay across the entrance to sleep. In a very real sense, the shepherd was the gate for the sheep—access to the sheep pen was exclusively through him.

What about religions that do not recognize Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lay down His life for the sheep? Our Lord calls them thieves and robbers. Those religions try and steal us away from Christ and take us someplace else. Jesus warns that their goal is to kill and destroy. Religions are not all the same; they do not all lead to the same destination. Jesus is the only gatekeeper to the realms of eternal light.

What makes Jesus so special? How can He claim sole authority to judge the living and the dead? Jesus earned that right on the cross. We were spiritually dead because of the sinful thoughts and desires that rule our lives; hell awaits all who anger God by failing to love Him or obey His commandments. But Jesus accepted the moral responsibility for our sins, and God punished Him in our place—punishment so severe that it killed the Son of God. But by willingly doing this for us, God the Father rewarded Jesus—rewarded Him with resurrection from the grave and the authority to sit in judgment over every human being. Jesus alone decides who will be forgiven and who will be condemned—and He makes His decision based solely on one thing: faith in Christ. Jesus said, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:16). Our Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep, and now He is the gate for the sheep.

Jesus said the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them…his sheep follow him because they know his voice. Why should we follow Jesus, and not someone else? Psalm 23 gives us many good reasons. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Look at all the blessings! Our needs taken care of. Peace. Guidance through difficult decisions. Protection from the forces of evil. Support in the face of death. Eternal life with God in His kingdom. And it’s all freeit is by grace you have been saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

No other religion offers its benefits for free. Every other religion demands that you do something to earn your blessings. But Christianity is different. Our Good Shepherd knows how weak we are, a truth that Paul affirms in Romans chapter 6: you are weak in your natural selves. Jesus knows that we are incapable of earning God’s favor, as Isaiah makes clear: all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (chapter 64). So Jesus took action to save us, without expectation that we could or would repay Him. He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:5). Unlike other religions, Christianity is for people who know how flawed they are, and are fully aware that they do not deserve God’s love. We realize that we are sheep who desperately need a Shepherd.

Jesus is the gate for the sheep; whoever enters through Him will find pasture. No other religion truly offers God’s forgiveness, rescue from hell, and life everlasting. Is it unloving to speak of this uncompromising truth with other people? No—the true act of love is to warn people of hell and introduce them to the Savior, before they die and are condemned eternally. Of course, we must offer the truth as gently and winningly as possible—no one likes to be told that what they believe is wrong, and we must respect other people, even if their beliefs are dangerously flawed.

We have grown up with all sorts of choices to make. But when it comes to our relationship with God, there is only one choice to make—accept Jesus as Your Lord and Master, or reject His outstretched hand of welcome. Don’t listen to the false shepherds calling out their lies to you. Don’t let them trick you into wandering away from the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you. Jesus is the only gate that opens into eternal happiness. Remember His promise in Revelation chapter 2: Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The chase

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

I was watching my cat chase something the other day, and I got to wondering why objects in motion fascinate cats the way they do. I think it has to do with the thrill of the chase, the challenge of catching something that moves quickly and unpredictably.

In some ways, we’re like cats. We also find thrill in the chase. When playing together, children spend much of their time chasing each other. Some guys like it when a girl plays ‘hard to get’; it makes dating seem like pursuit. We love to watch ball games that turn into shoot-outs, but lose interest when one team completely dominates the other. When stores offer door-buster sales, early-bird shoppers feel good about beating everyone else to the best deal.

Why doesn’t church elicit the same kind of enthusiasm? On Sunday morning, I don’t see people rushing to get the best seat. Is it because Jesus has done all the work for us? When Christ died on the cross, His lifeblood washed away the stain of every bad thing you’ve done. When the Son of God stepped alive from the grave, He inaugurated a new way of thinking about death—that it is a temporary aggravation, not an eternal curse. In Jesus, God has solved our biggest problems—the corruption of sin and the decay of death. Thanks to the LORD, we don’t have to chase after satisfaction or security—the good life is His free gift to us.

Maybe knowing that Christ has done it all takes the thrill of the chase out of religion. Perhaps we’d be more interested in the outcome of life if it was uncertain, still up in the air. Personally, I am relieved to know that I have a place in God’s home as Jesus’ guest; I wouldn’t want to spend my life worrying that, in the end, I might fall short and be unwelcome in heaven when I die. I like having the security that Jesus gives to His forgiven people.

Christianity is hardly boring. The devil works tirelessly at getting in your way, distracting you, making you stumble and fall. He wants to you take your eyes off the prize. Don’t let Satan trick you into stopping when Christ has secured the prize for you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Body armor

Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11).

When I was a kid, going to the museum was pretty boring. But there was one display that did fascinate me—they had a metal suit of armor from the European Middle Ages.

The history of body armor goes back to ancient times. When war broke out, soldiers needed protection from being stabbed. The earliest armor was made from leather. Of course, man is always inventing new and better weapons to kill with, so armor had to be improved as well. At first, bits of metal were attached to the leather to help deflect attack. Later on, whole coats were made from links of chain. Eventually blacksmiths started making full suits of armor that covered a warrior from head to foot in solid metal.

But turning a soldier into a walking turtle made him slow. With the advent of reliable firearms, speed and mobility changed the battlefield. Heavy armor keeps its wearer from diving for cover when bullets start to fly, and makes it impossible to chase down a fleeing sniper. Modern body armor must balance weight and flexibility against overall protection. A soldier must always be aware of his surroundings and move with caution; his armor might save him from the first salvo of an ambush, but it cannot protect him from sustained enemy fire.

Each of us lives with a sniper taking aim at us from the shadows. That sniper is the devil. He uses a wide assortment of ammunition. He often tries to bring us down with bullets of guilt. Sometimes he launches grenades of half-truths and lies to disorient us. He plants roadside bombs of pride and fear, so we lose precious time arguing with each other about the best way to proceed. He strafes us with prejudice and mistrust, so we scatter in all directions as we dive for cover. Satan has the tactical advantage—the world is his battlefield. We try to armor ourselves with education, self-discipline, and psychological counseling—sadly, these limited defenses cannot protect us for long, and the devil has no trouble outflanking us.

But we can survive the journey through life if we have the superior body armor that is issued by God’s Son. Jesus deflects the attacks aimed at you by using the truth of His words, the hope of His promises, and the power of His unshakable love. When you wear the body armor of Christ, the devil cannot bring you down.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, `A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel."

Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, `The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" "Come," he replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ) (John 1:29-41).

This reading is an interesting one. It tells us who Jesus is, and His purpose for coming among us. Yet these verses can be a little confusing, so today I’d like to help you make sense of them.

Some names are more common than others—there are lots of people named Chris or Dylan or Ashley, for example. In Jesus’ time, John was a popular name. Two men named John figure prominently in Jesus’ life. One is John the fisherman, brother of James and son of Zebedee. The other John was the only child of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth; this man was Jesus’ older cousin, although the two boys grew up in different towns.

John the fisherman was called by Jesus to be a disciple. John was one of the three disciples who were closest to Jesus; he was permitted to see the Lord’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. John was the only disciple with enough courage to approach the cross and stay with Jesus as He suffered. John was the disciple who cared for Mary after her son Jesus had died. John was one of the first disciples to find Jesus’ tomb empty on Easter morning. John wrote the story of Jesus’ life in the Gospel of John; he also wrote three letters that are preserved in the Bible, and he was given a look at the future which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

John the cousin of Jesus was something of a miracle baby. His mother Elizabeth had gone through life unable to conceive; it was only after an angel visited Zechariah that the elderly woman became pregnant. Like his father, John grew up to be a religious man. When he turned 30, he went out to the wilderness along the Jordan River and began a ministry of preaching and baptizing. John gave up the trappings of civilization; he dressed like an Old Testament prophet and ate what he could find growing wild in the area. He preached a powerful message—repent and be baptized, because the kingdom of God was close at hand. He became something of a celebrity—people traveled miles to see him, and some stayed to learn from him as disciples. But John’s outspoken ways rubbed some people the wrong way; he got thrown into prison for criticizing the morals of the royal family, and was eventually put to death by beheading.

John the Gospel writer was a fisherman by trade, but he had a sharp mind; after three years being taught by Jesus, John became quite the philosopher. Of the four Gospels, John’s is by far the most thoughtful. John the baptist was a prophet who heard God’s voice; as such, he too would speak of mysteries beyond the ken of human minds. So when John the Gospel writer tells us about John the baptist, it’s not surprising that deep thoughts are involved.

John the baptist did not lay eyes on Jesus until the day when they met as adults at the Jordan River. John was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah; John says the reason I came baptizing with water was that He might be revealed to Israel. ‘Messiah’ is the Old Testament name for Christ; both titles refer to the one special person sent by God to free mankind from sin. John had no idea who the Messiah was; all he had to go on was what God had told him: The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel writer John does not give us the details of Jesus’ baptism. Of the four Gospels, John was written last; as a result, John did not feel the need to rehash what others had already written. Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell us of how Jesus was baptized by John and what happened immediately afterwards: as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Luke 3:21-22). John the baptist was one of the few people to hear the Father, touch the Son and see the Holy Spirit, all at the same time!

The coming of the Holy Spirit convinced John that Jesus was the Messiah. I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. So the next day, when John saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" For any foreigners in the audience, this would have made no sense. But the Jews who were there immediately understood what John was talking about.

The first time a lamb in mentioned in the Bible is back in Genesis chapter 22. Abraham was an old man before God blessed him with a son. Abraham waited so many years for that boy that he was tempted to prize Isaac over everything else in life. But God is our maker; God is the source of all good things in our lives. Because of this, God demands first place in our hearts; Jesus said, Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37). So God put Abraham to the test; He said Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about. As father and son climbed the mountain, Isaac asked an important question: where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." When they reached the spot God had chosen, Abraham steeled himself to go through with the sacrifice—he loved and trusted God above everything else in life, his son included. At that moment, God gave Isaac a reprieve; Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. This is the first reference in the Bible to a lamb.

Hundreds of years later, God’s people found themselves as slaves in Egypt. God sent Moses to lead them to freedom, but Pharaoh refused to let them go. On the last night of their captivity, each family was instructed to choose a spotless lamb and slaughter it. The blood was to be painted on the doorways of their homes. During the night, the angel of death killed every first born son in Egypt, but he passed over the homes marked by the lamb’s blood. The next day, a grieving nation allowed the Israelites to leave. Forever after, lamb’s blood reminded the Jews of God’s deliverance from captivity.

All of us are by nature slaves to sin. All of us need deliverance from captivity. That is what Jesus came here to do—rescue us from sin. Jesus was pure and without sin; it is His blood that protects us from eternal death, blood that flowed from His sacrifice on the cross. When we are marked by the blood of Christ we are protected from God’s judgment, like the lamb’s blood protected the Israelites from the angel of death. Jesus was offered to God as a sacrifice to spare us from eternal death, like the ram was offered to God in place of Isaac. And so John calls Jesus the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is verbal shorthand that any Jew would instantly understand.

John went on to say this is the one I meant when I said, `A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' In one sense, Jesus came on the scene after John. John the baptist was older by most of a year; he had been preaching for months before Jesus made His public debut. But Jesus was far older than John; although born of a woman, Jesus had God as His Father. Jesus was old when the world was young. Daniel referred to Him as the Ancient of Days; the prophet Micah spoke of Jesus as someone whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Jesus Himself said, before Abraham was born, I AM (Jhn 8:58). Because Jesus is so much older—eternal, in fact—John recognized that the Messiah surpassed him in every way. John said, He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie (John 1:27).

John the baptist wraps up his testimony about Jesus with these words: I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. John is God’s prophet, and these are the most important words of his career. If Jesus is only a man, then He’s just another prophet or priest or future king. His life would eventually end, and while it might send ripples through history, He could accomplish nothing of lasting permanence. But Jesus is more than just a man—He is the Son of God as well! Jesus would only live on earth for 33 years, yet He would change history forever. Sin is mankind’s ultimate problem—it separates us from God, turns us against each other, and results in death and hell. Only the Son of God could fix this. Only the Son of God could offer His life to free us from sin’s curse, visit hell to tell Satan that he’s defeated, and rise from the grave to lead us to heaven. Our Messiah has reunited us with God, and teaches us to forgive each other so that we don’t have to go through life bitter and alone. Jesus changes the hearts of killers, cheaters, liars and thieves; He takes hearts wounded by hatred and fills them with love; He takes souls quivering with fright and gives them hope for a better tomorrow. Only the Son of God can forgive sins, and correct the problems caused by sin.

John the baptist had disciples of his own, but now that Messiah had come, it was time for them to leave and learn from the Master. The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus…They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" "Come," he replied, "and you will see." The career of John the baptist was over; soon he would be arrested and put to death. But he had carried out the task God had given him; he had prepared the people for Messiah’s coming, and pointed them to Christ. Now it’s your turn. Will you follow Jesus and eagerly learn from Him? Will you tell others that He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world? I hope that you will be moved to spread the message of Andrew with everyone you know: "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Have you done enough?

Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

How do you know when you’ve done enough? After a big fight, your wife seemed happy with the flowers you brought her, but has she forgiven you completely? You’ve been careful to attend every school activity that your son participates in, but does he still resent the fact that you divorced his dad?

Some people are quite willing to let you know how much you’ve disappointed them. But most of us keep our feelings bottled up inside. It could be that you want others to see you as a person who is always nice and pleasant to be around. Or maybe you don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing how deeply they have hurt you. And there are many people who have a hard time talking about their feelings.

The point is, most individuals guard what they say, especially when relationships are tense. So when you are trying to mend fences, how can you know if you have done enough to resolve the problem between you? Although you might be told what you want to hear, resentment may still linger beneath the surface, slowly festering into bitterness.

You never have to worry about this with God. In the Bible, the Lord has clearly explained what makes Him angry. He hates it when we waste time craving stuff we don’t need. He hates it when we lie and cheat and break promises. He hates it when we are rude and hurt each other. Most of all, God hates it when we ignore Him or treat Him disrespectfully.

The Bible is also clear on this point: there is nothing you can do to make things up to God. He created everything—what could you possibly give Him that is not already His? The Lord expects us to live every moment of our lives in holiness; you cannot extend your life somehow to make up for all the minutes you have foolishly misused.

Thankfully, God does not demand that you make things up to Him. Instead, to bail us out of an impossible situation, He sent His Son to make restitution on our behalf. On the cross, Jesus suffered the punishment and death that we deserve from God. He took care of it all; there is nothing left for us to do except fall to our knees in gratitude to Christ.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jesus changes you

We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10).

When Jesus takes hold of your heart, things change. Your guilt is lifted. Your panic is brought under control. Your bitterness is eased. Your emotional hurt is soothed. You have peace for today and hope for the future.

The changes do not stop there. Jesus is the Great Physician, but He does more than just cure what ails your soul. Patients are released from the hospital so they can return to work. Christ heals you of sin so you can go out into the world and do something productive with your life.

With Jesus’ help, you can be patient. When others start to annoy you, remember that you angered God with your sin, but He spared you from hell by sending Christ to be your Savior. Jesus suffered for every evildoer, including the person who is causing you aggravation. You show the love of Christ when you heed the words of Paul who said be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).

With Jesus’ help, you can show kindness. Instead of frittering away your time on things of no importance, you can bring joy to others or offer help where needed. You might visit residents confined to a nursing home. You might volunteer at a school. Remember that Jesus said, Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me (Matthew 25:45).

With Jesus’ help, you can pray. Thanks to Christ, God listens to your prayers. Prayer can be done anywhere, anytime. You can pray from bed, pray while taking a walk, or pray in the shower. You can pray for reconciliation with people that don’t like you. You can pray for our leaders in Washington and for our troops overseas. You can ask God to soften the hearts of unbelievers, and bring to heel those who attack the Church. Paul writes, pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:18).

The Bible tells us that God works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). Jesus changes you, and He wants to show His love to others through your words and behavior.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Fulfilling all righteousness

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:13-17).

If you are driving someplace you’ve never been before, it’s essential to have a map of some kind. Roads are unpredictable. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a street can change names without notice as you cross a township line. In Wisconsin, every county road is identified by a sign because stubborn German farmers would not let the county run pavement through their fields, resulting in roads that twist and curve around any number of property lines. When you’re out driving, you never know when you’ll be stopped by a river with no bridge or a street that dead ends at a city park. It’s hard to find an address when some city streets are laid out on a grid, others cut through town at an angle, and still others curve this way and that because of hills. Trying to navigate without a map can make for a very frustrating trip.

County commissioners don’t have an easy job. No one wants their property condemned so that a road can be laid in a straight line. When I was in high school, a four lane was being planned that would join Milwaukee with Green Bay; the route cut through many farms, and some people were so upset that, during the night, they would tip over caterpillar tractors and put sugar in the fuel tanks of the trucks. City planners don’t have it any easier. People don’t want their trees cut down in order to widen the street; business owners fear losing business if traffic is routed through another part of town. People are selfish, and many times their selfishness results in road design that is hard for visitors to navigate.

God hates disorder. Disorder can make lives unnecessarily hard and steal the joy from living. From the very beginning, God has been bringing order out of chaos. Describing our world at the beginning of time, Genesis chapter one says the earth was formless and empty. Our world was in utter chaos; the first thing God did was to establish order. He separated light from darkness and land from water. He put the heavenly bodies in their place, and arranged the stars to mark the passage of time. It was only after everything had been organized that God created man and woman.

Even in paradise, there was a sense of order. Genesis chapter two says, The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. From the very beginning, it’s been our job to keep God’s creation in good order. And there was Law in the garden, too. The LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). All this is because God hates chaos; chaos makes life stressful. Our God desires the peace that results from order. 1st Corinthians chapter 14 says, God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

Of course, perfection did not last long. Although they had only one law to respect, Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and that act of chaos ruined the peace of God’s perfect order. Every harvest was made difficult because of weeds and bad weather. Animals that used to get along peacefully began eating each other and attacking man. Within a generation, Cain murdered his brother, and in time the spread of chaos made things so bad that God flooded the world in an effort to wash sin away. The only people that God spared were Noah and his family, but within months of planting a vineyard after the flood was over, a night of drunken behavior caused problems for God’s chosen family. As their descendants repopulated the earth, sin and chaos spread once more. God even wrote His laws on stone with His own hand, but humanity continued to choose chaos over God’s order.

But God never gave up. And so, two thousand years ago, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus came into our world holy, and He never sinned during the years He was growing up. Finally at age 30, Jesus was ready to begin His work in earnest. He came out to the Jordan River to be baptized by His older cousin John. This request surprised John; he had been telling the people that they needed to repent of their sins, and he baptized them to show that God had accepted their change of heart. But John knew full well that Jesus had never done anything wrong; there was no reason to baptize Him. So John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

Fulfill all righteousness—that’s what Jesus came here to do. God the Father has high expectations for us—be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2). Sadly, being perfect from cradle to grave is completely beyond us. So although it did not apply to Him, Jesus chose to obey the Law perfectly on our behalf. In order to do this, the Son of God left heaven to become the Son of Man. Jesus was born to represent mankind in its totality. Through His perfect life, each of us gets credit for living perfectly even though we haven’t. When He died for our sins, each of us is credited with having suffered God’s punishment even though we haven’t. Jesus makes everything right between God and us. This was only possible because Jesus took God’s Law seriously—He was determined to fulfill all righteousness. This even included baptism, the baptism that we need but was otherwise superfluous to Him. For Jesus, no aspect of the Law was overlooked.

What about you? How do you feel about fulfilling all righteousness? Do you think that it is done by showing up at church occasionally, dropping something in the plate, and praying the Lord’s Prayer? What does God’s Law really entail? Doesn’t the Law tell you to love God with all your heart and mind and strength? Aren’t you to love your neighbors as yourself? God expects you to love Him so much that you want to be in church at every opportunity, because you enjoy spending time listening to His Word and singing His praises. God expects you to value Him so much that you are praying to Him throughout the day, just as the disciples chatted with Jesus wherever they were and whatever they were doing. God wants you to love other people so much that you go out of your way to bring them to Christ for salvation. God wants you to love your neighbors so much that you would never hurt them, use them, or ignore their needs. God wants you to respect Him so much that you would never dream of breaking even one of His commands.

But we want to get by on the minimum, don’t we? We take shortcuts with righteousness when the whim moves us, when we are tired, when we are bored and want some excitement, when we’re scared or grasping at straws, when we’re being pressured by others or are trying to keep everyone happy. God’s ways don’t always mesh with our lives, and so a choice needs to be made. Then we act, sometimes forgetting that God says, "My Way or the highway."

Actually, God’s Way is the High Way. When we turn away from God, we end up taking the low way. Do you know where the term ‘highway’ comes from? In ancient times, good roads were elevated to prevent them from being washed out. Ordinary roads were little more than tracks in the dirt; highways were built on a lasting foundation. This is the imagery of Isaiah chapter 35, where the prophet speaks of the perfect world that Jesus will bring about: a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God's ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it. Only the redeemed will walk there. Of course, a system of highways takes work to establish and maintain—consequently, such roads are few and always lead to an important place. If you want the safety and comfort of highway travel, your choices are limited; you must follow where the road goes. If you want more freedom in your choice of direction, you have to get off the highway and drive along the back roads. Now, you might find that some of them go nowhere because a bridge is out or they are not maintained; gas stations might also be hard to find. Or if you want complete freedom of movement, abandon your car and start walking through the fields. You can go any direction that you want, but you risk turning an ankle, getting poison ivy, or becoming lost.

I’m sure that at some time or another, you’ve had the experience of taking the wrong exit from a highway and getting lost. You could still see the highway in the distance, but couldn’t find an ‘on’ ramp. That happens to us spiritually as well. We make some foolish decisions and end up traveling a low way, a muddy and rutted path that makes everything in our lives filthy, and threatens to get us stuck somewhere by ourselves with no help to be found. Thankfully, in baptism Christ gives you a promise—whenever you repent and seek His aid, He will wash away your sin and restore you to the path of righteousness. This is why Jesus had to fulfill all righteousness—without a perfect life having been lived for us, we would be lost eternally, seeing the highway but not knowing where it leads or how to get up on it. We need Jesus’ perfect life to satisfy God’s requirements for us, and we need His atoning death to protect us from God’s anger at our sins.

No ordinary man could do this for us. Psalm 49 says, no one can redeem the life of another by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live foreverand never see the grave. No human being can redeem another. God expects 100% perfection from each of us; how could anyone be more than perfect, so that he or she had leftover goodness to share with others? Anyway, all of us are terribly sinful, never performing at even a fraction of what God expects. So Jesus had to be more than just a man—He needed to be infinite God, so that His perfect life would have infinite value, value enough to satisfy God’s requirements for all of humanity. Jesus needed to be a man in order to live as a subject under God’s Law—but He also needed to be God so that His perfection could be credited to all believers. Paul writes, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might have the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus took seriously every one of God’s laws—early in His ministry He said, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus took God’s Law seriously because 1) He loved and respected His Father, 2) if He did not satisfy the requirements of the Law for us, we would be utterly lost, and 3) He hates chaos and disorder. Jesus took the High Way seriously because He is righteous. Through baptism, Christ offers that same righteousness to you. Please, take it seriously as He did.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The purpose of the Church

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

Two thousand years ago, the Son of God came to live among us for a brief time. He was put to death by those who hated Him, but shortly thereafter He rose from the dead and returned to heaven. But before Jesus departed, He founded the Christian Church, a legacy that remains with us to this day. Why did Christ train a small group of men to establish the Church? What is the church supposed to do?

Some people think that the purpose of the Church is to make sure that a nation is governed in righteousness. Certainly we want God’s law to be respected by the courts and the leaders who are in power, but steering national policy is not the chief purpose of the Church. If the Church does its job, every citizen will know who God is and what He says to us, but Jesus did not establish Christianity to run this country or any other.

Many people think that the purpose of the Church is to care for the poor and free the oppressed. These are good objectives, but they are not the chief purpose of the Church. If the Church does its job, the poor will be blessed and the oppressed will experience freedom, but this is a happy consequence, not the main objective.

Most people think that the purpose of the Church is to shape children into good adults, members of society who are productive, respectful, caring and generous. But while such a goal is worth pursuing, it is not the chief purpose of the Church. If the Church does its job, many people will become wiser, more polite, faster to offer help. But change in personal behavior only happens in response to the work that Christ gave the Church to do.

Jesus established the Church for one main purpose—to share the light of God’s message with a world that is lost in darkness. The message is this. You have broken God’s laws. You are guilty of sin and deserve punishment in hell. But God sent His Son to suffer that punishment for you. He died so you can live in paradise with God forever. Lay yourself at Jesus’ feet, sorry for doing wrong and trusting in His love. That’s it—that’s the purpose of the Church. If the Church shares this message, people will change, society will change, the world will change. But the Church does not make this happen; it is the Word of God that changes lives for the better.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Deserving of criticism

There is…no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

How many times have you been criticized? How often have you been told that you did something wrong, said something hurtful, or failed to come through when your help was needed? I would guess that you’ve been told such things many times over the years.

I’m sure that on some occasions, those criticisms were unfair. But more often than not, those harsh words stung because you knew they were true. You have let people down. You have spoken cruelly to others and about others. You have gotten into fights, broken things, took stuff without permission. You have been selfish, stubborn and wasteful.

As the years go by, the guilt you feel over past mistakes eats away at you like stomach acid. It can make you bitter. It can make you desperate. It can make you feel worthless.

Sure, you’d like to fix things, but how can you take back words that should never have escaped your lips? What can you give that would erase the hurt caused by the promise you broke? How can you apologize to a friend who has moved to parts unknown, or to a parent who has died? How can you ever be rid of the guilt?

You may not be able to fix what you’ve ruined, but there is hope for things to improve. In fact, there are three things I’m about to tell you that can change everything for the better. First, you can be forgiven. God sent His Son to suffer for your dark thoughts, nasty words and negligent behavior. On the cross, Jesus took responsibility for the punishment you deserve. Then He rose from the dead, so He can lift the guilt that weighs you down. Second, you’re not in this alone. Christ is always near; although you cannot see Him, He is close by and willing to lend you His strength and patience, His wisdom and courage, His compassion and His peace. It’s yours for the asking. Finally, this too shall pass. Friends of Jesus are assured a welcome in heaven when they die, a place where there is nothing to fear, nothing to get angry about. The problems of life will not go on forever; in paradise you will be able to enjoy life as God intended it to be.

You and I, we’re failures. But thanks to Jesus, our failures no longer define us. What defines us now is love—the love of God, which is shared with us through His Son.

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