Monday, April 30, 2012

Baptism (part 4)

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

Baptism is a sacrament.  A sacrament is when God uses something of this world to touch our lives with His power.  The Lord God knows that we have a hard time believing in things that cannot be seen or touched; our weak faith needs something physical to grab hold of.  In baptism, God uses ordinary water to bring us His blessing. 

Baptism draws its power from the spoken word of God.  That’s how our Lord accomplishes things—by speaking.  In the beginning, God said “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis chapter one).  This is typical of how the Almighty One does things.  Jesus said “Lazarus, come forth” and a dead man walked into the light of day, alive once more (John chapter 11).  When God speaks, wonderful things happen.  When God’s word is spoken as baptismal water is applied, lives are touched by the Lord personally and are blessed by Him.

Baptism is not optional for a Christian.  Baptism is part of God’s plan for everyone’s salvation, as we find in Luke chapter seven: the Pharisees and the experts in the Law rejected God’s plan for them. They refused to be baptized.  1st Timothy chapter two says, God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  The Lord uses baptism to achieve this goal: He says, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16)

The day of your baptism is the pivot point in your life.  Before baptism, we are lost and condemned sinners; after baptism, we are children of God who are guaranteed forgiveness when we humbly admit our failures.  If you have a baptismal certificate at home, I suggest framing it and putting it on the wall in your bedroom.  If there is ever a night when you are lying in bed, unable to sleep because you feel terrible about your behavior, turn on the light and look at that piece of paper.  On it, there is a date—the date when Christ took you in His arms and said, never will I leave you, never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).  No matter how you feel, God’s promise is unchanging reality.  Your forgiveness is assured because when Jesus died, His blood purged the guilt of all your sin. There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  That is the Lord’s guarantee which is made to you in holy baptism.  It is a life-changing promise that will support you every single day, regardless of the challenges you might face. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012


We take our feet for granted.  Sure, you take care of your toenails, but that’s about it.  People abuse their feet by wearing uncomfortable shoes and working at jobs that require a lot of standing.  We walk in rough places where it’s easy to twist an ankle.  We go around barefoot and are angrily surprised when we stub a toe or step on something sharp.

Feet are important.  They allow us to stand and reach for things that are up above us.  They take us wherever we want to go.  Our feet give us freedom of movement.  Our feet serve our needs.

But feet can often get us into trouble.  How often have you used your feet to run away after you did something wrong?  How often have you used your feet to kick or trip someone?  How often have your feet taken you someplace that was supposed to be off limits?  How often have you walked away from your responsibilities?

Feet can take us in the wrong direction.  Jonah is a well-known example.  God told Jonah to head east to the great city of Nineveh and warn the populace to repent because they had angered God.  But Jonah didn’t want to go—the Ninevites were brutal and loved war.  Jonah wanted nothing to do with them, and he didn’t want to risk his life by angering them.  So Jonah went to a seaport where he got on a ship heading west.  Jonah tried to put as many miles as he could between himself and Nineveh.

Jonah’s feet took him in the wrong direction.  But God did not let Jonah go so easily.  A terrible storm came up that threatened to sink the ship.  As the situation got desperate, Jonah realized what was going on.  He volunteered to go over the side so that the crew might not die because of his mistake.  As soon as Jonah sank into the water, the storm subsided.  God sent a huge sea creature to swallow Jonah and keep him from drowning; after three days, it spit Jonah out on a beach.  This terrible experience ended Jonah’s stubbornness; when he got to his feet, he headed east towards Nineveh to do God’s work.

The Bible talks about feet in many places.  A recurring theme is the importance of following God and the danger of straying.  Job said (chapter 23), My feet have closely followed His steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside.  The writer of Psalm 119 told God, I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey Your word.  Solomon gave this warning about spending time with godless people: my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood (Proverbs 1:15-16).  And Jeremiah wrote (chapter 14): This is what the LORD says about this people: "They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet.  So the LORD does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins." 

Life can be a balancing act as we try to find stable footing in an ever-changing world.  It is easy to slip up, and many people have no sympathy for our plight. Job observed, When your feet slip and land you in misfortune, men who have it easy look at you with contempt (chapter 12).  Even worse, some folks go out of their way to try and pull us down.  Thankfully, God is on our side.  In Psalm 40, David gives thanks for the Lord’s help: He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  In Psalm 25, David speaks of how much he needs God when enemies cause him grief: My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.  With God’s help, we can stand against all enemies, even the devil himself; Paul writes: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Romans 16:20)

When God helps us along life’s way, we should be grateful.  David told God, You have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life (Psalm 56:13).  Although he was a king, David wanted to show God thanks through humble service.  We should feel the same.  We have this command from Jesus: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).  If you follow God, your feet can be a blessing to others.  In Romans chapter 10 Paul says, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.  When we go to those living in darkness and tell them about Jesus, it can be the dawning of a new and better life for them.  Of course, some don’t welcome the Good News about God’s Son; when that happens, remember what our Lord said to His disciples: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.  I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matthew 10:14-15). Our feet are to bring Good News, but even if the message is rejected, we’ve still done our part. Jesus said, he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Luke 10:16).

Let us consider Jesus’ feet.  One stormy night, the disciples were trying to sail against the wind when they saw something that scared them out of their wits.  Jesus was calmly walking on the water towards their boat!  When He reached them, the storm went away.  This miracle has significant meaning.  The Bible frequently uses stormy seas to represent the forces of chaos.  In Genesis chapter one, notice how things are described before God set to work: the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. At the end of the Bible in Revelation chapter 21, notice how John describes the perfect world to come: I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  “No longer any sea” means that when Christ returns, He will end all chaos forever.  And He showed His power over the forces of chaos when He walked on the stormy water.

In Bible times, students would sit at the feet of their teacher as a sign of respect.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His words, while her sister Martha fussed over dinner.  When Martha demanded that Mary help her in the kitchen, Jesus praised Mary for being where she ought to be—listening at Jesus’ feet.

Feet can also be a symbol of authority.  In Old Testament times, kings defeated in war had to lie on the ground while their new ruler placed his foot on their neck—this demonstrated who was in charge.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has won the war against sin, death and Satan.  In Ephesians chapter one, Paul says this about Christ: God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything

The first time that Mary came to Jesus, it was to beg His mercy.  In chapter seven of his Gospel Luke tells us, When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  Washing feet was an everyday necessity; there were no paved streets and most people wore sandals or walked barefoot.  But washing a visitor’s dirty feet was a lowly job, something you paid servants to do.  Jesus used this custom in order to teach His disciples an important lesson on the night before His crucifixion: He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him…When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" He asked them.  "You call me `Teacher' and `Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John chapter 13). By this action, Jesus showed that a heart filled with genuine love is ready for any kind of service.

Later that same night, Jesus’ feet took Him to Gethsemane where He was arrested on false charges.  Jesus’ feet took Him to court, to whipping, and then to Calvary where they were nailed to the cross.  Jesus walked the Way of Suffering for us, so that we might be spared God’s punishment for our sins.  Jesus walked a path no sinful human could—perfect obedience to God, even when that obedience resulted in a terrible death. 

Jesus’ feet have marked out a path that leads to heaven, and He beckons us to follow.  Many people have walked through life following a path of faith.  Abraham left his homeland and walked hundreds of miles to the west at God’s command; he didn’t know where He was going, but He trusted in God’s leadership.  When the Israelites followed God through the desert over a period of 40 years, their feet did not swell, their clothing did not wear out, and they finally arrived at the Promised Land.  When Paul set out on foot to plant Christian churches, he let the Holy Spirit guide his steps and he became the most successful missionary of all time. 

God gave us feet for a reason.  We are to use them in His service.  He wants us to go to church.  He wants us to go to the needy and give them help.  He wants us to go to sinners and tell them that the Son of God died so they might live.  We are not to lay around with our feet up, not when there is work to do.  Paul says that your feet [should be] fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians chapter six)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Baptism (part 3)

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Baptism is rooted firmly in the Trinity.  Through the Bible, God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God who interacts with us in three persons.  We see all three persons of the Trinity at work when Jesus was baptized: When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And 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). After Jesus rose from the grave three years later, He gave His disciples this Trinitarian command: go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).  From start to finish, baptism is founded on the one God who is also three persons.

We don’t understand how God can be three distinct persons yet only one God.  The disciples couldn’t grasp it either; in the 14th chapter of his Gospel, John records the following conversation: Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'?  Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  The second chapter of Colossians tells us, in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit—together they are God.  Together, they give baptism its power to save lives and change people forever.

In baptism, God the Father adopts us as His children and protects us from the devil.  In baptism, God the Son takes away our guilt and covers us with His purity.  In baptism, God the Spirit works within us, building a stronger trust in God, giving wisdom to tell the difference between good and evil, and providing strength to resist the temptations of misbehavior.  Through baptism, every facet of God’s power and love is brought to bear on our lives.  We don’t really understand how it’s possible, but we can find great joy in it, regardless.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Baptism (part 2)

 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Getting baptized is freeing. 

When you are baptized, a whole new world opens up to you.  For people untouched by Christ, there is only one perspective on life—constantly trying to pick the lesser evil.  Every day we are faced with many decisions, some involving minor things, others of more significance.  But as you weigh your options, every one seems to be freighted with problems.  This is because Satan is a master of illusion—he makes any good option look impossible or unappealing, so you only give serious consideration to the ways that he promotes.

When you are baptized, Jesus enters the picture.  He strips away the devil’s illusions and reveals the truth of things.  With the help of Christ, you can see good options that you never considered before.  When the Son of God is active in your life, the decisions you make can be good and pleasing to God.  Baptism takes away the devil’s undisputed control over your life.

Baptism also saves you from the terrible consequences of death.  When you are baptized, God adopts you into His family of believers. Jesus becomes not only your Savior, but your big brother as well.  In Galatians chapter three Paul says, You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  With this baptismal adoption, you don’t have to wonder how God feels about you—He loves you with an everlasting love.  When you are a member of God’s family, you don’t have to worry about what will happen to you when life comes to an end.  In Romans chapter six Paul writes, don’t you know that that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?  Through baptism, we died and were buried with Christ. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also can live a new life.  God will send His angels to bring your soul to heaven, and when Jesus returns on the last day you will rise from the dead to live forever in the paradise of God.   Baptism is the LORD’s promise of eternal happiness in spite of death.  Through it, you have a place among the one family that will never come to an end.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil (Proverbs 2:12).

In 1888, five prostitutes working the streets of Whitechapel were murdered and mutilated.  The unknown assailant came to be known as Jack the Ripper, and was never been identified or caught.  Since then, over 150 non-fiction books have been written about the mystery.  Shockingly, at least two toy companies have produced collectible figures based on Jack and his victims.

In 1957, Ed Gein was arrested on suspicion of murder; when his home was searched, authorities found that he had for years been digging up new graves for human skin, which he tanned and used for lampshades, upholstery, and even clothing.   Perhaps even more disturbing, the owner of a sideshow carnival bought the car Gein used to transport the bodies, and charged admission for people to see the "Ed Gein Ghoul Car"

In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested after a man he tried to abduct managed to get away and summon police.  Dahmer’s apartment contained vats of acid and severed heads in the refrigerator.  He later confessed to committing rape and experimenting with cannibalism.  Incredibly, two musical groups named themselves in tribute to Jeffrey Dahmer, and his legacy is referred to in the lyrics of at least 11 different rock and rap songs.

People are fascinated by watching victims suffer.  Look at how many crime dramas are currently on TV.  Why are they so popular?  Do people watch them to see good triumph over evil?  Do viewers fantasize about being the brave police officer or the smart detective?  Or is the draw something else?  Do people watch crime shows because they get a thrill from watching the crime being committed

The thrill of watching a victim suffer is not restricted to just physical abuse.  Most high schools have cliques—groups of kids who make sarcastic remarks about those who don’t dress fashionably or who have no athletic ability.  Most neighborhoods have residents who are quick to comment on the failings of the person living next door.  Late night TV comedians are sure to get laughs when they tell jokes that ridicule others. 

Do you like being in the middle of drama?  Do you enjoy hearing gossip and passing it along?  Are your favorite jokes the kind that make fun of other people?  Do you get pleasure from watching another person squirm as they try to deal with a difficult or painful situation?

Mankind has a long history of finding pleasure in the pain of others.  In ancient times, Roman citizens would fill arenas and cheer at the spilling of human blood when Christians were fed to wild animals.  During the French Revolution, citizens would eat lunch in the city square as they watched members of the aristocracy die by having their heads chopped off.  In our own day, there are people who slow down to stare at the scene of an accident.  There are many who get a thrill from violence in their sports, whether it be a brawl at a hockey game or a bare knuckles boxing match.  We even see it in our schools, when a child tears the wings from a fly and then watches it stagger in pain, or when a crowd eggs on a fight between two fellow students. 

Of course, most of us are more civilized than that.  Seeing blood is disturbing—unless it is the fake blood spurting in video games.  Watching people beating each other to a pulp is just plain sick—unless it happens during the final act of a movie.  There’s nothing deviant about enjoying that type of cruelty—after all, it’s just make-believe.

But who doesn’t enjoy seeing someone put in their place by a snide remark?  How many of you like hearing or telling ethnic jokes?  When you’re bored at a party, isn’t it fun to tease someone just to get a reaction? 

There are times when all of us are cruel.  How many times did you squeal on another kid, just because you wanted to see that annoying little twerp get punished?  How many times have you refused to forgive others, because you enjoyed how desperate they were to get back on your good side?  How often have you found satisfaction in saying the words “I told you so”?

We see a disturbing example of cruelty during the long hours of Good Friday.  When Jesus was brought to the Roman governor for trial, He was turned over to the ‘tender care’ of the soldiers under Pilate’s command.  These were professional fighting men, stationed in Palestine to ‘keep the peace.’  But they did not fit in; they did not share the religion of the natives, they were not fluent in the local language, and they were greatly disliked by most of the people.  As a result, they were bored and resentful—they had few outlets for experiencing a good time.  So when Jesus was given into their custody, it was a rare chance to blow off steam and have a few laughs.  First, they stripped Jesus of His clothes in order to humiliate Him.  Then, since He claimed to be a king, they decided He must have a crown—so they braided a hoop of thorns and jammed it on His head, making blood drip down His face and into His eyes.  A king also needs a royal robe, so they rummaged through their belongings until someone found an old cloak that they could fasten around His neck.  But the picture of royalty was not yet complete—something was still missing.  With a snap of the fingers, one man grabbed a wooden staff and thrust it into Jesus’ hand—His royal scepter, symbol of power over all His enemies! 

So there Jesus stood, the man who claimed to be King of the Jews, the rightful ruler of a bunch of hicks living at the edge of nowhere!  This Jesus was a king of rabble, and outside in the courtyard those very Jews were screaming for His death!  It was just too much—the soldiers had to laugh.  Laugh at how ridiculous it all was.  Laugh at these sorry vermin who dared oppose Rome’s superior culture and military might.  At first they bowed to Jesus, claiming to honor Him even as they snickered.  But Jesus did not give them any satisfaction—He did not cower in fear or plead for mercy.  Such behavior was infuriating—how dare He ignore their power over Him?  So they snatched the staff from His hands and gave Him a terrible beating to put Him in His place.  Others spit in His face to show what they thought of Him.  And through it all, no one objected to this behavior, no one ordered them to stop or sent for a superior officer.  When we think of the Abugrave prison scandal or photos of dead Taliban being urinated on, we realize how little things have changed in 2,000 years.

Frankly, I don’t understand why we like to see others tortured physically or mentally—but I know that we do.  History proves it; the nightly news proves it.  But it only goes to show how different we are from God.  Yes, He does allow bad times to come into our lives, to shake us out of our self-absorption and draw our eyes towards heaven.  Yes, God does send people to hell if they reject His love, as it is offered through His Son.  But bringing grief to mankind is not something God takes pleasure in; Jeremiah wrote, He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.  God delivered the following message through Ezekiel: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” 

For God, suffering has always been a means to an end.  Jesus underwent the worst suffering of body and soul imaginable to achieve the most important goal of all.  Our sick fascination with pain and suffering has earned us God’s terrible punishment, but Jesus suffered that punishment so that we could be spared from what we had coming.  Jesus accepted cruel and degrading treatment out of love for us. 

How do we step back from cruel behavior?  Perhaps we can draw inspiration from one of Jesus’ illustrations.  In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus spoke of the Day of Judgment—remember these words? Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'  They also will answer, `Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'  He will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'    Our Lord is clear: every time we see a person who is hurting, we should respond as if it were Jesus Himself waiting for our love.

Things change if you put Jesus in the picture.  Would you tell a bigoted joke to a group of friends if one of them was Jesus?   Would you steal a car and run down pedestrians in a video game if one of those bloody victims looked like Jesus?  Would you download a song about mistreating women if you were going to loan Jesus your iPod?  If someone came to you asking to be forgiven, would you smirk and say you’d think about it, if Jesus were standing there listening? 

If you want to take the pleasure out of seeing others in pain, you’ve got to start with Jesus.  Pray to Him—ask Him to forgive you and to free your heart from sin’s control.  Ask Him for the willpower to turn away from looking at cruel images; ask Him for the strength to walk away from mean-spirited conversations.  Ask Him to fill your life with other pleasures, things that are good and pure and uplifting. 

It’s easy to be cruel to someone you don’t like.  It’s easy to get a thrill from seeing bad things happen to a stranger.  In order to neutralize such pleasure, ask Jesus to help you look at the victim with love.  We are all God’s children; no one should be treated as an object for our pleasure, or an enemy who deserves our mistreatment.  Jesus said: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  The writer to the Hebrews cautions us: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it

Family, friends, strangers or enemies—regardless of who they are, God wants us to show loving care to everyone.  Jesus suffered on the cross to bring us release from suffering; far be it from us to find pleasure in the suffering of anyone for any reason!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baptism (part 1)

What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name (Acts 22:16).

Christians believe in baptism. But what is baptism, exactly? What does it do for you? What is the value of being baptized?

Baptism is a pledge, the making of a promise. In baptism, God makes a pledge to you—whenever you come to Him for mercy and a fresh start, He promises to show you His love, not His judgment. In baptism, you receive the blessed assurance of God’s tender care.

No one should assume that God will treat them with such patience or generosity. Every man, woman and child is corrupted by sin. Sin is the rebellious attitude we all have towards authority, God's in particular. When told to do something, our first inclination is to refuse, not to obey. We have to be taught to share and wait our turn, to say words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Each of us has any number of dark and disturbing thoughts that trigger nasty words and cruel behavior. None of us deserve anything from God except His righteous punishment.

This is why baptism is such a wonderful miracle! When you are baptized, God uses that water to wash your soul, removing the stain of your guilt. You are freed from regret over the terrible things you’ve said and done; through baptism, your sin is washed away. You can pray to the Lord with confidence, never having to worry that He won’t listen to you. No matter what you’ve done or failed to do, no matter how many times you’ve made a mess of things, baptism guarantees you God’s love when you come to Him to be forgiven.

Baptism is God’s gift to you, a gift made possible by Jesus. When Christ suffered on the cross, He paid the penalty for your mistakes and failures. The Son of God bled and died to spare you from God’s anger at your sins. Through great personal sacrifice, Jesus has made baptism available to everyone who wants to be set free of regret. Baptism is Jesus’ gift to you, a gift that offers peace of mind every day of your life.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Satisfying everyone

You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16).

We grumble about the weather. But it’s just as well that we can’t do anything about it. How could you get every farmer in the same region to agree on how much moisture we should receive and when? It would be like trying to get unity in congress about healthcare or tax reform. Each farmer has different needs. Topography, soil composition, access to water, even prevailing winds—no one has the same conditions to work with. In addition, some farmers have certain crops they prefer to grow. And those who specialize in livestock have their own ideas about agreeable weather conditions. Good weather for one person might be disappointing weather for another.

So it’s for the best that God reserves control of the weather for Himself. In fact, God keeps many things under His direct control. We are given stewardship of the earth, but sin makes us pretty bad managers. Under our watch, entire species have been killed off. Under our management, pollution has made a mess of the environment. Under our supervision, Americans grow fat while all over the world people are starving to death.

Because of sin, we think about ourselves first and foremost. Priority One is to make ourselves happy and comfortable. Considering what is best for others comes later. This is why God limits how much control we have over worldly matters. This is why the Maker of all things sent His Son to join us on earth, where the Son of God put our happiness and comfort before His own, dying on the cross in terrible agony so we can be forgiven.

We often grumble about things that we can’t control. I suggest praising God instead, because He works hard to bless each and every one of us.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How ought we to live together?

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:36-47).

In our country “Communism” is a dirty word. It represents everything we think of as un-American—governmental control over every aspect of life, a depressed economy, and severe limits on personal freedom. Communist countries have always been the enemy—Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba and North Vietnam. For years, Americans worried that these communist powers would try and take us over—fears that lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the McCarthy hearings on suspected communist sympathizers. Our nation has always viewed Communism as a major threat to our way of life.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that according to the book of Acts, the early Christians in Jerusalem behaved like communists?

Did I shock you? And yet it’s the truth. The thing is, modern Communism is quite a bit different from the communism of the Bible.

As we see it today, Communism is a form of government that is based on control. It controls natural resources, the economy, and businesses of every size. Communism tells people how to live, what to think, and what to believe. It claims to treat all people as equals, but some privileged folks are ‘more equal’ than others. We hate Communism because it limits personal freedom, and opposes Christianity.

In the United States, we have a tendency to think of countries as being democratic or communist. But that’s not a correct distinction. China is a country where a totalitarian government forces the people to live as communists; our country is a democracy that allows its economy to be run on the principles of capitalism. Capitalism and Communism are economic systems; whether or not you get to elect your leaders is a matter of politics. In theory, you could have a communist country that elects its leaders, and a country ruled by a dictator who prefers a free market economy.

Communism is simply this—it’s a way of life where people who have a surplus share it with the needy, so that everyone has enough to get by on. In a communistic system, everyone is basically the same, and is treated as such. That’s how the early Christians lived in Jerusalem.

But voluntary communism is not the same as forced Communism. In China, Chairman Mao was disturbed by the great rift between the few who were rich and powerful, and the many who were poor and weak. Mao imposed Communism to level the playing field. His cause was noble, but the course he pursued has brought about tremendous suffering for millions of people.

Capitalism, on the other hand, suggests that if you work hard and are talented, you ought to reap the reward of your labors. Successful people are an example for others to aspire to, and as the wealthy spend their money it trickles down throughout the economy, eventually lifting everyone’s standard of living. We value capitalism because it offers everyone a chance to better themselves. We prize the freedom to chart our own destiny.

But is capitalism morally superior to communism? Not really—not if you look at it from God’s point of view. Capitalism is based on human greed and pride. You work hard to earn money for yourself. You compete for the jobs that offer the best pay and benefits. And when you achieve success, you brag about it to other people. But what does our God say about greed? Jesus said, Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). What does Scripture say about pride? Solomon writes, Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). What does God have to say about rich people? Jesus said, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). What does the Lord say about our attitude towards the poor? Jesus told a rich man, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Matthew 19:21). Capitalism works because it embraces sinful behavior as normal and praiseworthy—it rewards those who lust after money, and are willing to do whatever it takes—even stab others in the back—in order to come out on top.

If it is lived voluntarily, communism is a way of life that honors God’s teachings about love. In communism, no one is needy because those who have share with those who don’t. Paul writes, God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). In communism, people treat each other as equals, which nicely reflects how Christians ought to treat each other. Galatians chapter 3: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. In communism, no one “lords it” over anyone else, something Jesus emphasized to His disciples in Matthew chapter ten: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. As a pattern for society, communism has much to recommend it.

But if communism is so good, and the early Church embraced it as a way of life, what happened? Why did communism fail? It’s actually quite simple—communism cannot work when the people involved are sinners. Communism wants everyone to share and share alike, but sin makes you greedy and selfish. Communism wants us to treat each other as equals, but sin demands that you take charge, either because you know best or because you are the most deserving. Communism expects each of us to treat others with respect, but sin provokes arguments and gossiping and lying. Communism would work if people were perfect—but we’re not. That’s why men like Chairman Mao and Fidel Castro had to enforce Communism with tight governmental control.

We need Christ. We need His Law to show us how unloving we are, and how desperately we need to change. We need His forgiveness so that we can be freed from past mistakes and start each day with renewed energy. We need His guidance so that we can make decisions that benefit more people than just ourselves. We need His strength so that we can reach out to others, even when they don’t deserve our care. We need His promise of everlasting life, so that we don’t feel as if we have to amass a pile of goods now in order to feel happy later.

Only Christ can make communism work successfully. Only He can guide us in living humbly and kindly and unselfishly. Only He can make the system work by forgiving our greed and arrogance and ruthless ambition. Only He can give us hearts that are willing to share and forgive and respect. As it is practiced today, Communism is doomed to failure. Governments that want Communism to work shoot themselves in the foot by trying to get rid of Christianity. They reject the only Person who can take away sin and build a better society.

So what can we learn from the early Christians described in the second chapter of Acts? First of all, they did not hoard money or property; they sold everything that was not essential and distributed to everyone according to their needs. Second, they devoted themselves to God by studying His teachings and worshiping together on a daily basis—without the distraction of excess money and goods, they could focus their attention on what was truly important in their lives. And we see that God was pleased with their behavior; they enjoyed the favor of everyone who knew them, and God added to their membership on a daily basis. Motivated by the love of Christ, they stepped away from the need for money and success. Instead, they were filled with love for God and each other.

Given the nature of our world, we cannot live as the early Christians did, selling everything and living as a commune—it’s just not practical. But we can be guided by their Christ-inspired example. We can be more generous with our money and property, sharing with those who are in need. We can focus less on working and shopping, and more on church and family. We can stop being so competitive and treat each other more like equals, remembering that God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34). We can choose to level the playing field between each other, so that no one has reason to feel inferior or disadvantaged. With Christ’s forgiveness, guidance and strength, we can love as He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Thursday, April 12, 2012


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 (1 Peter 1:3).

Winter is an exhausting time of the year. There is snow that needs to be shoveled. There are windshields that must be scraped. You have to walk carefully lest you slip on the ice and take a hard fall. Bitterly cold winds make you bundle up before going outside for any length of time. The long nights and barren fields can take a toll on your outlook.

Winter makes us appreciate the spring. We look forward to having more hours of sunshine each day. We are excited when trees start to bud, and green shoots poke out of the ground. We can hardly wait to put away our winter coats and go outside wearing nothing heavier than a jacket.

Sadly, we spend much of our lives feeling as if it’s winter, without the hope of an early spring. We all have times when nothing is going right. People we thought were friends are too preoccupied to spend time with us. Work gets boring, or the boss makes each day a trial to get through. A sports team can go through a long string of back-to-back losses. We can fall victim to chronic health problems, or have to deal with a constant stream of bills because things keep breaking down or need replacement.

When troubles come at us one after another, it can get depressing. Novelist John Steinbeck named such times “the winter of our discontent.” When life gets frustrating and there seems to be no hope for relief, it can feel like we’re trapped in the dead of winter.

Thankfully, spring is coming. The winter of our discontent will come to an end. Jesus rose from the grave that our sins put Him in, to bring us the promise of new life, exciting life, joyous life that will never end. No matter how sad or aggravating or hopeless things might look now, the Son of God assures us that decay and death will be supplanted with vigorous, joyful life. Winters come and winters go; but every winter gives way to spring. Our troubles are sometimes worse, sometimes not so bad—but they will not truly end until death finally claims us. Thankfully, death doesn’t have to be a tragedy—when you are a friend of Christ, the end of life is the end of your winter and the beginning of an eternal spring in paradise.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jesus lives!

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (John 10:17-18).

He is risen! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has proven His power over sin, death and Satan! Our Savior lives, and the victory is His!

Jesus has proven His power over death. Christ raised several people back to life during the years of His earthly ministry—a grieving father’s little girl, a poor widow’s only son, and Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha. Raising others from the dead is incredible enough—but God enabled His prophet Elisha to do the same. It’s another matter entirely to raise yourself from the dead—how can someone who has died do anything to revive himself? Yet Jesus did—and by doing so, He proved without all doubt that He has the power to rescue us from our graves as well.

Jesus has proven His power over the devil. During the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry, Satan tried hard to get our Lord to sin, but Jesus withstood every temptation. When our Savior was dying on the cross, the devil tried to goad Jesus into saving Himself by walking away from Calvary; but Jesus knew that the only way we could be saved from hell was for the Lord of Life to suffer the punishment for our sins, so He stayed on the cross and died. Then the Son of God went to visit the devil and proclaimed His victory over the prince of darkness. Jesus became the only person to ever visit hell and leave.

Jesus has proven His power over sin. When our Lord suffered alone on that bloody cross, He was enduring the punishment from God that our sins deserved. When Jesus finally died, He said it is finished (John 19:30). Some people thought that Jesus meant His life was over. But that is not the message Jesus wanted us to hear. When He said it is finished, He meant that His work of salvation was finished—every sin had been atoned for. Anyone who wants forgiveness can receive mercy from God instead of judgment. Jesus’ resurrection proves that His work was complete—if Christ had failed to complete God’s plan for our salvation, His Father would not have given Jesus permission to return to life.

Jesus lives and He is victorious over sin, death, and Satan. And praise God that the Lord of Life shares the benefits of His victory with everyone who loves Him!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Death overcome!

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: `I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'

Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact (Acts 2:22-32).

Our world is fascinated with death. When you are a child, most department stores offer to sell you a toy gun or an army of plastic soldiers, tanks and warplanes. As you get older, you can play video games that let you shoot people, blow them up, or run them over. By the time you approach adulthood, getting a real gun of your own is easy, and some states even encourage you to carry a concealed weapon to ensure your personal safety.

But the fascination with death does not stop there. We make scores of movies about teenagers being brutally killed by monsters or serial killers. Most cop and lawyer shows do more than just solve the crime—they also reenact each murder for the television audience to watch. As if that were not enough, killers are often portrayed as cool and tough; who doesn’t want to be like Dirt Harry or James Bond? Is it any wonder that so many disturbed people take up a gun in order to ‘solve’ their problems?

Some people are curious about death. They are fascinated with individuals who claim that they can speak with the dead. Others look at death as a friend. When life is painful, either physically or emotionally, death looks like a way to escape from suffering. And many use death to solve a problem in their lives—like ending an unwanted pregnancy, or to get out of paying alimony to an ex.

But death is not exciting. Death is not fascinating. Death is not an escape from life’s problems, and it is certainly not your friend! Death is the enemy. It breaks up loving relationships. It puts an end to long-range plans. It changes lives so dramatically that they will never be the same again. In his sermon to the people of Jerusalem, Peter refers to it as the agony of death.

Death is not a good thing. Death is God’s curse on sin. In Romans chapter six Paul writes, the wages of sin is death. Sin earns God’s anger and the payoff is death, because death is the only thing that finally puts an end to our habitual sinning.

We have a lot of enemies in life. There’s the school yard bully who always pushes you around. There’s the popular kid in high school who always makes fun of your looks, your brains, or you lack of athletic ability. There’s the parent of the person you’re dating who absolutely hates you. There’s the co-worker at the office that is friendly to your face but constantly stabs you in the back. We all have enemies who make our lives miserable.

Thankfully, our worst enemy has been defeated. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Victory over death—that’s what Easter is all about. Jesus rose victorious from the grave! And death is not the only enemy that lies defeated. Death is the result of sin; in order to defeat death, Jesus had to defeat sin as well. This He did on the cross, as He suffered all of God’s anger at our sin. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus has paid off our terrible debt in full. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is proof that God the Father is well pleased; He has rewarded the Son of God with everlasting life, and the right to judge or forgive every human being. It is only through Jesus that we can receive the blessings of forgiveness and everlasting life.

The mind is a very creative thing. The human mind has dreamed of flight and invented airplanes; it has designed nuclear reactors, antibiotics and computers. But there are limits to what we can imagine. Have you ever thought about your own death? Can you imagine a point in time when you no longer exist? I can’t; I can’t wrap my head around the idea that someday there won’t be a me anymore. It’s impossible to imagine.

Of course, there’s a reason for this. God did not create us to die—death was never part of the plan. There are a lot of folks who go on and on about the ‘cycle of life’, of how death is a natural part of existence. But it just isn’t so! People who say such things don’t know Christ; they are trying to make peace with death by denying that it is an enemy they cannot defeat. No, Adam and Eve were created to live forever—sin changed God’s plan by cursing life with death. That’s why we cannot imagine our lives ending—we’re trying to grasp a situation God never intended us to face. This is why tears are always shed at a funeral—because no matter how hard we try to sugarcoat death, we instinctively know that it’s just not right.

Another thing we can’t imagine is heaven. Think about it—every time the Bible speaks about the afterlife, it’s always described in terms of earthly things. Heaven is like a wedding banquet that never ends. Heaven is like a palace where everyone has a personalized suite of magnificent rooms. In 2nd Corinthians chapter 12, Paul speaks of a time when God permitted him a glimpse of heaven, yet all he could say of the experience was that he heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. Even Paul, as smart as he was, could find no words to describe the place where spirits dwell.

This should not surprise us; if we were never meant to die, we were never intended to live as spirits in heaven. Earth was to be our home for always; no wonder then, that the only way God can describe paradise to us is by picturing it in terms of earthly things that we are familiar with.

The human soul is created by God to live in a body. There are no pre-born souls waiting in heaven for couple to get pregnant; when a child is conceived, the God of life creates a soul and binds it to that tiny bundle of DNA. In Psalm 139 David writes, you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. And yet, this wonderful creation is immediately made flawed by sin; we inherit it from our parents like a birth defect—David also writes, without a doubt I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalm 51). God creates us to live forever, but so long as children are born to sinful parents, death is the curse that brings an end to God’s gift of life.

Death and its consequences are unthinkable; thankfully, in Christ we have a solution. In Romans chapter six Paul writes, by baptism, we died and were buried with Christ. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was…when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin.

Easter is about getting a future that we can understand and appreciate. On the last day, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. All who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28-29). Then, when the evil have been sent away to hell, God will create a new earth for us to live on, an earth that is nothing short of paradise. On that perfect world we will know the kind of happiness that God always planned for us to have.

When we rise from the dead, we will get our bodies back, and they will work as they did before. After Jesus rose, His disciples still recognized Him when He came and stood among them. When they thought He was a ghost, He ate some of their dinner to prove that He was physically alive. So it will be with us. But our bodies will different in some respects. We will be ageless, never growing weak with the passing of years. Nor will there be any birth defects or any other kind of bodily flaw; for the first time we will look and feel the way God intended us to. Even the bad memories caused by sin will fade away—the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind (Isaiah 65:17).

The earth we live on will also be a place we can understand—a world of trees and fields, animals and streams. But it will be a planet unscarred by sin—no pollution, no severe weather, no dangerous wildlife or accidents waiting to happen. Isaiah says, The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. In Revelation, God’s angel tells us what our new lives will be like: Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Imagine it—life with purpose, but without stress. Life filled with love, but with no disappointment. Life surrounded by beauty, but with nothing to worry about. There will be no need for guns or soldiers or police. There will be no need for hospitals or pharmacies or funeral homes. You won’t waste time fretting about disease or your diet or the state of the economy. Jesus guarantees this world with His resurrection; He has ended the curse of sin so it will never again be a problem, and He has demonstrated His power to give you life on that new world, a joyful life that will never end.

Death is not your friend; death is God’s curse on sin. But give thanks to God, for His Son has defeated the enemy, guaranteeing us life and happiness in spite of death. May your life be filled with joy and hope, because you are confident in the blessings that the living Christ has promised you.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

He changed the world

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice…"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:45-46)

When Jesus died on the cross, He changed the world forever. Prior to His suffering, mankind lived in fear of God. People feared His anger, people feared His judgment. Some resented God for demanding that we be perfect in order to please Him. Many chose to live without God or to worship deities of their own invention, because there was no way that a sinner could live up to God’s lofty expectations.

On the cross, Jesus changed all that. In Christ, God reached out to sinful humanity with love in His nail-scarred hands. Jesus shed His lifeblood to make atonement for our sins; as a result, we don’t need to fear God anymore! With our sins forgiven, God’s anger subsides. With our sins forgiven, we don’t have to worry that He will punish us for making mistakes.

Jesus lived a perfect life, and He gave that life for us. We don’t have to be perfect, because Jesus has satisfied all of God’s requirements for us. There is no reason to waste time on any other religion or philosophy, because Jesus offers us welcome into the kingdom of God with no requirement except that we place all our trust in Him.

Sadly, Jesus paid a terribly high price to change the world. He was deprived of His rights. He was shown callous disrespect. His body was tortured with unimaginable pain. But worst of all, Jesus suffered the anger and punishment that God Almighty would have inflicted on each of us for being disobedient sinners. Never before had the Son of God been on the receiving end of His Father’s terrible anger. Our Lord suffered body and soul as He hung dying on the cross.

Jesus’ agony was so great that the world reflected His suffering. From noon until three that afternoon, the sun stopped shining. A supernatural gloom settled over Calvary, echoing the awful darkness that had descended on Christ. When the Lord of Life finally died, there was a massive earthquake, and many believers who were dead returned to life and left their shattered graves. That dark and dramatic day has since become known as Good Friday, because on it Jesus changed our world radically for the better.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

The most precious resource that you have is your time. Time to hold your lovers’ hand. Time to bounce a child on your knee and make him giggle. Time to earn money to feed your family. Time to find pleasure in a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

How sad that time is so often wasted. Time wasted in line at the checkout. Time wasted while sitting in a waiting room. Time wasted in slow moving traffic. Life’s problems constantly pluck the minutes away from us. But we are guilty of wasting much time on our own. Mindlessly flipping channels looking for something to watch. Being a part of meetings that get nothing accomplished. Putting things off until they become major, time consuming problems. How many hours have you wasted just in past seven days?

It’s all a matter of priorities. Do you let trivial stuff eat up time that would be better spent on something else? Do the demands of work steal too much time from your family? Does being disorganized make you spend too much time running from one thing to the next instead of getting things done?

To use time well, set your priorities. What are the most important things in your day? Time with God should come in first—after all, He is the one who gave you this day. He is the one who will forgive you for making mistakes. He is the one who lends you His wisdom in making tough decisions. He is the one who gives you strength and patience to endure hardship. Every day should include some time for prayer and reading from His Book.

Your next highest priority has to be your family. Without the investment of time, relationships wither and die. It is better to have a home filled with love and only a few dollars in your wallet, than to be comfortably well off and alone with your success.

Once you have established your priorities, plan each day around them. The important things should never be shoehorned into your schedule. Time is precious; don’t let it be used up on things that have no lasting value. Your God and your family—nothing is more important. They are an investment of time that you will not regret making.

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