Thursday, May 31, 2012

Conventional 'wisdom'

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings (Hebrews 13:9).

There’s a lot of advice out in the world—some of it is even good advice.  But many things that you’ve heard don’t come from God, or they twist His words to mean something different.

God helps those who help themselves.  This advice urges us to not be passive or lazy, waiting for God to take care of our problems; when something needs to happen we should get on it, confident that the Lord will bless our efforts and give us His aid.  But these words are not from the Bible, and you should be cautious in applying them.  Our thoughts are corrupted by sin, with the result that much of the time our priorities are out of whack and our goals are not pleasing to God.  The LORD is not going to bless any project that is headed in the wrong direction.  Before getting started, you’re better off taking the time to examine your goals in light of God’s expectations for our lives as His children, and spend considerable time in prayer humbly asking for His guidance.  A better adage would be, God helps those who seek to do His will.

He who hesitates is lost.  This advice urges us to not let golden opportunities slip away because we are too timid to take a chance and go for it.  Again, these words do not come from the Bible and you should be cautious acting on them.  It’s true—sometimes opportunities come and go with little notice, and procrastination can be your downfall.  But more often than not, hasty decisions don’t turn out well.  This is because our first inclination is usually motivated by sinful desire.  We want a fast and easy solution to a problem.  We want to satisfy a craving or desire without having to worry about the consequences.  When a great opportunity presents itself, the first thing you should do is pray for wisdom and enough time to make a good decision.  Any decision made without prayer is extremely risky, because you are relying solely on yourself to get it right. 

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.  This advice urges us to stop worrying and enjoy the moment.  These words are from the Bible, but they should not be taken as advice—they were given as an illustration of foolish thinking!  God gives us many things to enjoy, but they should never distract us from the eternal life that Jesus died to offer us.  God wants us to be happy, but good times should never become the focus of our lives.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What makes Mankind special?

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

What makes mankind special?  Many people put us on the same footing with animals.  Teach children about heaven, and they ask if a favorite pet will go there when it dies.  Believers in evolution teach that humankind is just another species of animal, albeit a sophisticated one.  Animal rights activists want legislation passed that guarantees various species rights similar to human beings.  Eco-terrorists see mankind as a plague on the world, a dangerous enemy of the environment. 

When God created the universe, mankind was singled out for special treatment.  The Bible says that the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).  No other living creature was made this way; man was special, unique.  The creation of the first woman reinforces that point: the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man…But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.  Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib (Genesis 2:19-22).  Then God told the first family, be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Genesis 1:28).  God made a world full of wonderful living beings, but mankind stood above them all.

What makes us special?  The soul that gives us spiritual awareness.  Animals don’t compose poetry.  Animals don’t wrestle with questions of morality.  Animals don’t think about the afterlife.  Animals can be nurturing and courageous when it comes to their families, but they don’t have souls.   The Bible says God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).  God designed humanity to share His values and priorities, to love generously and rejoice in goodness.  Sadly, that image of God was horrible distorted by human sin, ruined so completely that God’s Son had to visit earth and give up His life to restore our damaged souls.  And that’s the other way mankind is different from animals—Jesus did not come to save dogs or cats from being punished for doing wrong, He came to save you and me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

God's Spirit and finger pointing

Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?'  Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned (John 16:5-11).

When you’re a little kid and Mom and Dad are being tough on you, where do you go for a hug and words of encouragement?  Probably you run to Grandma or Grandpa, or maybe a favorite aunt or uncle.  No one likes to be worked hard or be disciplined when they’ve done something wrong; at such times, we look for someone who will be nice to us.

Of course, children don’t understand that there were times when Grandpa and Grandma also had to be strict.  When you love someone, you can’t always be the nice guy.  Children don’t always listen to good advice; sometimes stern measures are necessary to get the point across and make it stick.  This kind of teaching can result in tears or anger, but it may be the only way to shape that child into a better person.  Scripture says, No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).  Parents, teachers, bosses, pastors and policemen—from time to time, each of them is compelled by loving concern to say and do things that make other people upset or unhappy.  When a parent causes tears, the child runs to Grandma.  When a teacher causes frustration, the teen complains to Dad.  When the boss hands out a bad performance appraisal, the employee goes job hunting.  When the policeman issues a citation, the driver calls some friends for moral support.  When the pastor says something that sounds too harsh, the parishioner joins another church.  When someone makes your life uncomfortable, you want to find another person who loves you just the way you are.

We treat God this way too.  Some think of God the Father as a crotchety old man in heaven, who’s always mad that we are messing up His lawn.  Jesus is thought of as our friend who gets His Father to settle down and forgive us.  Others picture God the Father as a kindly Granddad.  In the Old Testament He used to get angry a lot, punishing all sorts of people with plagues, wars and terrible curses; but these days He’s mellowed out—since He punished Jesus for every one of our sins, all the anger He felt about sin is gone.  And some people think of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Peace, who only gives us wonderful gifts like inner strength, peace and love. 

When we think of God in these ways, we do Him a grave disservice.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God—they share the same passions and priorities.  God the Father hates sin; so does His Son and the Holy Spirit.  God the Father loves us—Jesus and the Spirit feel the same way.  God the Father wants us to love Him whole-heartedly and to turn our backs on sin; Jesus and the Spirit strongly agree.  Grandpa and Grandma value good behavior just as much as your parents do; the same agreement exists between Father, Son and Spirit.

I bring this up because in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus paints a rather frightening image of the Holy Spirit.  Usually when we think of the Spirit, we think of the many nice things He’s responsible for: causing the Bible to be written, giving us faith, and helping us to be patient, kind and generous.  But like any loving parent, teacher or boss, the Spirit also calls us on our bad behavior.  Listen to Jesus’ words: he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.  Pointing the finger of Law—this is not the way we usually think of God’s Spirit working in our lives.

Convict—that’s a pretty strong word.  We’re not talking about the Spirit as a motivational speaker, urging us to achieve our highest potential.  We’re not talking about the Spirit as a doctor, who diagnoses a problem and recommends treatment to make us feel better.  We’re talking about the Spirit as a lawyer, who presents an open-and-shut case against us in the court of God’s Law.  Prosecuted by the Spirit, we are convicted on three counts—in regard to sin, in regard to righteousness, and in regard to judgment.

The first count the Spirit brings has to do with sin.  There are many kinds of sin, but none are worse than the one which Jesus singles out—men do not believe in me.  In Hebrews chapter 11, we read the following words: without faith it is impossible to please God.  This is because we are all sinners by nature and inclination.  Sin is what we know and what we’re used to.  God is sinless; as such, He is completely alien to us.  We cannot understand Him or share His priorities.  The only way out of this impossible situation was for God to send His Son into the world and fix the problem of sin.  He did this by obeying God’s Laws perfectly in every way, offering God the perfect life that was expected of us.  Then Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, sparing us from the judgment that we had coming. 

Jesus has dealt with sin, but His achievement does us no good if we don’t believe in Him.  Imagine that you are deeply in debt.  A stranger comes up to you and offers to pay off everything you owe.  He writes a personal check for the full amount and places it in your hand.  But you’re not sure you like the looks of this fellow—who is he, and what might he want in return?  Does he even have the money to make this check good, or is it all just a scam?  If you don’t have faith in the stranger, you won’t accept his check and your debt remains. 

So it is with Jesus.  He offers to pay off your debt of sin.  He asks for nothing in return except your loyalty and your love.  But if you don’t have faith, you won’t accept His offer and your debt of sin remains.  Without faith in Jesus, we stand convicted as sinners.

The second count the Spirit brings has to do with righteousness.  Righteousness describes how we relate to God, and how He relates to us.  Parents and educators teach us that good behavior is rewarded.  You get smiles, hugs and words of praise for working hard and being nice.  Companies promote the best employees and give them special perks.  It seems only natural that we could also earn God’s favor by working really hard at obeying His laws.  But there are two problems with this line of thought.  First, no one is capable of obeying God’s laws perfectly; Scripture says all have sinned and fall short of God’s glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  Second, people who think this way become easy victims of pride; they think that God owes them something for all their hard work, even though Scripture says that God opposes the proud but gives undeserved love to the humble (James 4:6).

The Bible makes it clear that we cannot achieve righteousness on our own—a God-pleasing relationship with the Almighty has its origins in heaven and has nothing to do with our efforts to be holy.  Paul writes, in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from beginning to end…This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans chapter one).  This is one of the reasons why Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven; now that He has returned to the Father, He has been given authority to dispense God’s righteousness to us.  People who think they can earn God’s favor on their own merits, do nothing but snub Jesus and all that He went through on our behalf.

The third count the Spirit brings has to do with God’s judgment on Satan.  The devil is called the prince of this world; he has earned this title because more people follow Satan than follow Christ.  Of course, most people don’t realize that they honor the devil with their lives.  Satan’s followers include men of integrity and women who love their children.  The devil leads people who are patriots, dedicated public servants, and supporters of charity.  How can I say that Satan has so many outstanding citizens in his corner?  Because anyone who does not follow Christ is a helpless pawn of the devil.  Without Jesus’ influence, they accept Satan’s lies as truth.  His lies include statements like these:  “It doesn’t matter what you believe.”  “You are nothing but an evolved ape.”  “Family is about loving relationships, so there’s nothing wrong with gay and lesbian marriage.”  “If a person doesn’t have quality of life, there is no reason for them to go on living.”  “If you’re not getting what you need from marriage, file for divorce.”  “If it feels good, do it.”  “Religion is for people who can’t think for themselves.”  These are just some of the lies that Satan tells his followers.  He uses such lies to encourage behavior that is selfish, irresponsible, addictive, wasteful, and destructive.  Without Jesus’ words of wisdom to reveal falsehood for what it is, these lies can seem like the indisputable truth.

But the prince of this world has been condemned.  When Jesus died on the cross, He completed a life that avoided each and every temptation to do wrong.  When Jesus died on the cross, He robbed Satan of followers by releasing us from the sin that leads to hell.  When Jesus died, He walked right through Satan’s front door and announced His victory over sin, death, and the devil’s power.  Then Jesus rose from the dead, proving that God’s power trumps anything Satan can do.  Those who follow Jesus will find everlasting life and happiness.  Those who follow the devil will only share his punishment. 

Harsh stuff.  No one likes to be told they’re guilty of doing wrong, yet that’s exactly what God’s Spirit does when He points the convicting finger at each and every one of us.  But the Spirit does not convict us out of malice or spite.  The Spirit of God is not a cold-hearted prosecutor intent on getting the death penalty.  God’s Holy Spirit is a life-giving Spirit.  He was present at the creation of the world.  He descended on Jesus like a dove and stayed with Him as the Lord worked out our salvation.  The Spirit came to the apostles on Pentecost, giving them a gift of words so that they could share the life-saving message of Jesus with people from every nation.  The Spirit comes through baptism, and He speaks to you through God’s word every time you read or hear it.  The Holy Spirit wants you to live—live forever in paradise with God. 

For that reason, the Spirit of Life calls you on your sins.  He points out your failures like a loving parent, not to make you feel bad but to bring you to your knees in prayer, asking for God’s mercy offered through Christ.  When the Spirit convicts you, His hope is that you will take responsibility for your sin, let go of your pride, and ask for help in resisting the devil’s temptations.  In response, God’s Spirit is happy to bless you with all sorts of spiritual gifts—growing faith, toughness in the face of hardship, and the ability to look at every situation in a positive way.  Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit loves you, and He’ll do whatever it takes to end your love of sin. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pain and pleasure

Love does not delight in evil (1 Corinthians 13:6).

Why do we like to see people hurt? 

Think of the crime dramas on television.  The producers don’t have to show the crime—the violence could happen off camera.  But in most cases, either you are shown the crime as it happens, or you see glimpses of it through flashbacks. 

Take professional sports as another example.  Fans get excited when a fight breaks out.  Sportscasters praise football players who make a bone-jarring tackle.  Boxing and pro wrestling are all about violent conflict.

Pain and humiliation are everywhere on the Internet.  There are all sorts of videos that show accidents in progress—kids falling at dance recitals, teens crashing while trying a crazy stunt, adults drunkenly stumbling into walls.  We laugh at clips showing children who are fighting over a Christmas present, or college kids pulling scary pranks on unsuspecting roommates.  Pain and abuse even feature in some forms of pornography.

What’s the fascination?  Why do we find pleasure in another person’s discomfort?  I think that it’s about power.  When someone is scared or hurt, they are weak and helpless—this makes us feel strong and in control.  You don’t identify with the victim, because then you would share that person’s pain and terror.  No, you see yourself in the powerful individual who looks down in triumph on the vanquished.  You see yourself as the casual observer who has the power to rush in and save the helpless.  Seeing a victim makes us feel powerful—that, I believe, is why we are fascinated by human misery.

How different we are from Jesus!  The Son of God has unlimited power, yet He takes no pleasure in looking on human suffering.  He came into our world to save us, but not in order to feel superior.  No, the Christ of God came among us as a man so that He could sympathize with our weaknesses.  He saw our pain and humiliation, and it grieved Him so deeply that He took our suffering upon Himself.  The only place Jesus finds pleasure is in loving, respectful relationships.  He died and rose to make such relationships possible for us.  Thanks to Jesus, we don’t need pain in order to find pleasure.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The great conspiracy

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world (Ephesians 6:12).

People love a good conspiracy theory.  Here are a few that I’ve heard throughout the years.  Jesus was married and had children; the Church covered this up because it proves he was just a man, not the Son of God.  For centuries, the Masonic Order has been placing key men into positions of power in order to rule the world.  A UFO crashed in Roswell New Mexico, and our government has been secretly analyzing technology taken from the wreckage.  John F. Kennedy was murdered by agents of the government, who set up Lee Harvey Oswald as a patsy.  All the lunar landings were faked in a secret film studio.  Right wing government officials allowed the 9/11 terrorist attack to happen, in order to convince Americans to support war in the Middle East.  Barack Obama is not an American citizen; his supporters are covering up birth records that would prove he is not eligible to be president. These theories just represent a fraction of what’s out there. 

What do all these theories have in common?  Fear, mistrust, and unbelief.  The Masonic lodge has private meetings and secret rituals; this prompts fear among those who are excluded.  People who mistrust governmental power constantly look for anything that hints of corruption and cover-up.  Some individuals can’t accept incredible things as true—therefore NASA must have lied about men walking in the moon, and the Bible must be lying when it says that Jesus walked on water and rose from the dead.

Satan loves a good conspiracy theory.  He wants us looking at each other with suspicion.  He wants us to jump to conclusions and spread rumors as if they are the truth.  He wants us to feel afraid, powerless, isolated.  He doesn’t want us to notice the one conspiracy that is really going on.  There are enemy agents everywhere, hidden but active.  They are masters of falsehood and manipulation.  They work together in a vast network, undermining peace and stability.  They are the angels who fell from God’s grace; they are demons and Satan is their general.

I doubt that most conspiracy theories are true, but there is no doubt in my mind that the forces of darkness, though invisible, are all too real and feverishly active.  Thank God for Christ Jesus—with Him on our side, we are safe and have no reason to live in fear.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers
(Acts 1:8-14).

America is a country that was built on ‘good-byes’. 

Back in the early days of our country, a trip across the Atlantic Ocean took months and was very expensive.  Unless you were a professional sailor, traveling to America was probably a one-way trip.  If a relative got on a ship heading to the 13 colonies, most European families never expected to see them again.

By the 1800s, transatlantic travel was common, although by no means cheap.  Still, many people in Europe said goodbye to family and friends and made a one-way trip to the United States.  People came here from England because they needed jobs.  People came here from Germany because the farm economy had collapsed.  People came here from Ireland because a potato blight had reduced the country to starvation.  Thousands upon thousands of people tearfully said good-bye to friends and family as they boarded ships in search of a new and better life.

The good-byes have continued right up through today.  During the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, countless families lost their homes and had to move cross country in search of work.  Parents and lovers said goodbye as our youth shipped out to fight against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan, against North Korea and North Vietnam, against Afghanistan and Iraq.  Once the Interstate highway system was established in the 1950s, family members began to move hundreds if not thousands of miles away from each other, looking for the best colleges, jobs, and places to live.  These days, half of all married couples file for divorce, resulting in children who are constantly waving farewell to someone.  Saying good-bye has become a part of the American lifestyle.

It’s tough to say good-bye.  How many tears have been shed at airports, train stations, bus terminals, or the gangway of a ship?  How many times have you clutched someone in a final desperate hug, before they got into a car or van and pulled out of the driveway?  How many times have you waved to someone, wondering how long it might be before you see them again?

Long distance relationships are hard.  Sure, it is easy to keep in touch using email, cell phones and text messaging.  But communicating electronically can never take the place of walking on the beach hand in hand, or sitting on the porch together and watching a sunset.  There is no substitute for being with another person—smelling their hair, feeling the calluses on their hands, working side by side in the garden or around the house.  Even with modern communication, being apart is hard.  Because of that, it’s never easy to say good-bye.

The hardest farewells happen when no further communication is possible or likely.  Funerals are like that; although we know that we will meet again at Jesus’ side in heaven, it’s painful to know that it will be years, maybe even decades, before we’ll be able to speak again.  It can also happen when someone moves away.  Although they claim that they will keep in touch, you know how busy life can get.  You say good-bye, fearing that you will never hear from them again. 

There’s an old saying that goes, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’  The more time that passes, the more eagerly we look forward to a reunion.  But that is not always true.  How many soldiers have come home from deployment, only to find that their lover has taken up with somebody else while they were gone?  How many friends from high school or college have you lost touch with since graduation?  The sad truth of the matter is that time apart can weaken our relationships.

Jesus has ascended into heaven.  Our Lord has gone to a place where we cannot see Him, touch Him or hear Him.  And it’s hard to stay in contact.  You know how many dead spots there are, where your cell phone doesn’t get a signal?  Our entire world is like that—because of sin, we have no reception, no way to call heaven and speak to our Savior.  Sin has severed every link between God’s home and ours—there’s no mail delivery, no Internet connection, no interstate highway. 

So how do you keep a relationship alive and healthy when communication is limited?  You do what our ancestors did.  150 years ago, there were no communication satellites, no transatlantic phone cables.  Even letters that were sent between Europe and America took several months to be delivered, if they got delivered at all.  So when people did receive letters, they treasured them.  They would keep each and every one, reading them over and over again until they almost had them memorized.  Memories slowly fade, but letters can speak to us clearly across the years. 

Our Lord has sent us letters.  From time to time, God has caused His words to be written down and preserved so that our relationship with Him can remain strong.   Those letters are collected between the covers of your Bible.  For thousands of years, Christians like you have been reading these letters over and over again, treasuring God’s words and committing them to memory.  They give us a look into the mind of God.  They tell us what His priorities are, along with His plans for the future.  They tell us what angers Him and what makes Him feel disappointed.  They speak of His love for us and his commitment to our welfare.  They tell us of many people who have been important to Him, and they warn us of the danger that His enemies represent.  God’s letters reveal His heart to us, and stir our hearts to love Him in return.

Of course, we know that Jesus is still with us—it’s just that we can’t converse with Him face to face like the disciples did.  But Jesus is present with us when we worship—He said, where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them (Matthew 18:20).  Our Lord touches each of us personally through the bread and wine of Holy Communion. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28). King David understood that God is with us everywhere; in Psalm 139 he wrote, O LORD…You know when I sit down or stand up…You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do…You go before me and follow me…I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.

We hear our Lord speak whenever we read His letters, and He always listens when we open our hearts to Him in prayer.  Through the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 29), God gives this promise: call upon me, and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And there is no problem with time lag; in Isaiah chapter 65 our Lord says, Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  It may not be as reassuring as talking with someone on the phone, but God does speak to us and listens when we pray.

Although Jesus has gone where we cannot see Him, He fills our lives with evidence of His love.  Have you ever been surprised by a little gift from a secret pal?  Christ fills our lives with such gifts—it’s just that much of the time we don’t notice them.  A puff of breeze carrying the scent of flowers when you’re hot and sweaty from cutting the grass.  A card or email that lifts your spirits on a day when you were feeling sorry for yourself.  Miraculously staying upright when your feet slip on a patch of ice.  The unexpected smile of a stranger.  Finding money in your wallet that you didn’t think you had.  In all sorts of little ways, Christ shows you His love and care.  Although He is in heaven, Jesus touches your life every single day.

Jesus ascended into heaven because He has important work to do there.  From heaven, Jesus sends us the gift of the Holy Spirit, as we read in Acts chapter 2: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.  Jesus has been given authority over all creation, so that He can protect and care for those who follow Him: God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the sake of the church (Ephesians 1:22).  While He was on earth, access to Jesus was limited by the crowds who gathered around Him; now that He’s in heaven, everyone has free and easy access to Christ through prayer. 

Jesus is busy in heaven—busy because of our sins.  Every day we anger God by ignoring His laws and acting as if no one else matters.  Our behavior is worthy of death and hell.  But Jesus suffered God’s anger in our place so that we could be spared His awful punishment.  Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven, where He represents us every time we cry out for mercy.  Job says (chapter 16), Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.  In Romans 8:34 Paul writes, Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  And in 1 John chapter two the apostle tells us, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  Jesus speaks in our defense because He loves us—loves us so much that He was willing to die rather than see any of us condemned.  Because of His efforts, heaven is open to us.  Jesus said, There are many rooms in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me (John 14:2-3)

Jesus went into heaven, but He is coming back.  When the disciples said good-bye, He rose into the sky until clouds hid Him from their sight.  But Jesus will return as He left—the clouds will part and reveal His majesty.  Jesus said, At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens (Mark 13:26-27).  Paul adds, After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Remember how great it feels when distant loved ones come home for a holiday, a family reunion, a wedding or an anniversary?  Remember how the whole community rejoices when a military unit returns home at the end of a long deployment?  These moments can make people break down with tears of joy—but those tears also carry a bit of sadness, knowing that the reunion cannot last indefinitely.  But when Jesus returns, it will be different.  We won’t have to say good-bye ever again—not to Jesus, and not to each other.  When Jesus comes back, our joy will be complete.  He will lead us to a new home, one better than any immigrant could ever hope for.  There will be no more good-bye hugs, no more tears, no more looking in the mailbox for a letter or gazing at the horizon wondering how they’re doing.  Christ will make us one happy family, living in a perfect homeland, where no one will ever have to leave.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Predicting the future

My times are in your hands (Psalm 31:15).

Forecasting the weather is hardly an exact science.  Meteorologists go to college for specialized training.  There are satellites in orbit and data collection stations scattered over the landscape.  There are powerful computers equipped with sophisticated programming.  Yet despite all of our advances, predictions for the weather over the next 24 hours is sometimes wrong, three-day forecasts often miss the target, and looking more than a week into the future is usually a waste of time.

Some years ago, scientists concluded that accurate weather prediction would always be impossible.  This is because the weather is influenced by more things than any computer or forecasting model can fully take into account.  Weather patterns are affected by wind-blocking hills, the temperature of lake water, snow on the ground and pollution in the wind, zones of differing air pressure, the radiant heat given off by a city or industrial complex, as well as many other things.  All these elements combine in unpredictable ways, meaning that only general trends can be forecast, and only a short ways into the future.

The same is true when it comes to predicting the financial market.  Prices fluctuate based on fear and confidence, supply and demand.  Just one piece of bad news can quickly cause a drop in the stock market.  Who can predict when an oil refinery might go off-line because of a terrorist attack, pushing up gas prices?  How can you anticipate the amount of business revenue lost due to a major winter storm or a hurricane that makes landfall?  As with meteorology, economics will always be an inexact science where predictions are often little more than educated guesses.

It would be nice to know what the future holds.  Accurate weather forecasts can save lives.  Good economic predictions could protect livelihoods.  But there is simply too much chaos at play in the world to permit accurate forecasting.  Thankfully, the future is in God’s hands.  He knows what’s going to happen.  He offers you the safe haven of His mighty arms so you don’t have to know the future in order to feel secure. And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

He does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10).

Have you ever had problems with customer service?  You order something online, but when it doesn’t show up you can’t get a response to your emails.  You make an expensive purchase, but when a defect reveals itself you have problems with the warranty. 

Bad customer service is a deal breaker for me.  There aren’t many times when a great sale price is worth the risk of a no return policy.  I don’t have the skills to replace a faulty sensor in my car or replace a defective zipper in my clothing.  When I spend money on a product, I expect the seller to back his merchandise.

A lot of people get mad at God because they don’t like His customer service.  They pray for health, but the cancer doesn’t go away.  They go to church regularly, but their marriage still ends in divorce.  They read the Bible every day, but bullies keep picking on them.  They start to grumble about God’s care for them.

The problem is that our attitude is wrong.  God doesn’t owe us anything.  We did not purchase our life from Him.  We did not pay Him for a spouse.  He does not view our Sunday morning offerings as a bribe to keep us safe.  We often approach God as if we are customers and He is a service provider.  This attitude turns our relationship with God upside down.  God is our king; He made the universe and everything in it.  As king, He sets the standards for our conduct—love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

When it comes to being kind, generous and loving, we do a pretty haphazard job.  We don’t begin to serve the LORD with the kind of devotion that He deserves.  We don’t warrant any of the kindness that He shows us.  Yet amazingly, God sent His Son to serve us anyway—He said, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).  Jesus offered His life on the cross to erase the guilt of our selfish and foolish behavior.  Thanks to Him, your future happiness is guaranteed—eternity in His perfect kingdom.

If you are tempted to complain that God isn’t treating you fairly, you’re right—He has been much nicer to you than you deserve!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Ears are a wonderful gift from the Lord.  Ears let us hear the beauty of music and the joyous sound of singing birds.  Ears let us be soothed by the patter of gentle rain or the gurgling of a stream.  Ears make our hearts grow warm when we listen to the laughter of children or catch whispered words of love.  Ears remind us that we’re not alone when mother’s voice eases our fears, or we are reassured by listening to the Word of God.

But although we have ears, we don’t always use them.  Most children have the skill of ‘selective listening’—they can tune out things they don’t want to hear.  When deep in thought or involved with a project, there are many times when we don’t hear what’s going on around us.  And sometimes we hear what other people are saying, but it just doesn’t penetrate—it doesn’t make sense to us, or we don’t want to accept the message.

One noteworthy example is Judas.  In exchange for money, he had agreed to betray Jesus to church leaders who were unhappy with Christ’s earthly ministry.  Our Lord was very popular, and the church leaders feared a riot if they arrested Him in public.  So Judas agreed to notify them when Jesus could be taken in relative secrecy.  The time came on Thursday of Passover Week; after eating dinner, Jesus and His small group of disciples were going out to a quiet garden for an evening of prayer. 

As Judas ate with the group, he decided that this would be the night—in just a little while, he would slip away and lead the Temple guard to their target.  The other disciples had no idea what Judas had in mind—but Jesus was not fooled.  The Son of God can see every thought that passes through our minds.  He was fully aware that Judas had become Satan’s tool.  But our Lord loved Judas—He had personally selected the man to be one of His disciples.  So as they sat down for this final meal, Jesus used the opportunity to try and turn Judas away from his despicable plan.  First, Jesus washed everyone’s feet.  When He had finished, He said “you are clean, though not every one of you."  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean (John 13:10-11).  Judas should have felt concern at that remark, but he did not.  So after Jesus resumed His place at the table, He said the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.  The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him (Luke 22:21-22).  At this point, Judas had to have realized that Jesus knew what he was planning.  But Judas still did not change His mind, so the Lord reached out to him a third time: His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant…"Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot (John 13:22-26).  Sadly, Judas rejected this last offer to change his mind—he left the fellowship and went off to arrange the betrayal.

Three times, Jesus warned Judas that he was making a terrible decision, one that would lead him to eternal punishment in hell.  If Judas had been willing to listen, he could have changed his mind and Jesus would have forgiven his treasonous thoughts.  But for Judas, the jingling of coins drowned out everything else.

Noise can be distracting.  It’s hard to pray when the TV is on.  It’s hard to read the Bible when the phone keeps on ringing.  It’s hard to hear Jesus’ words when people fill our ears with talk of money and alcohol and sex.  When you go to a noisy party, it’s hard to catch what’s being said.  Either we listen to whoever is loudest, or we gravitate towards the most interesting conversation.  But people don’t talk loudly about good things, and the most fascinating conversations are full of sinful gossip. 

God knows that we have trouble with our ears.  Through Isaiah the Lord said, your ears are open, but you hear nothing (Isaiah 42:20).  Jeremiah got frustrated with so many people ignoring God’s message: To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10).

The sad truth is, we hear what we want to hear.  No one wants to be a pitiful charity case, so when God says that we are saved exclusively through Jesus’ sacrifice, we don’t like the message.  We’d rather hear someone tell us that while Jesus opened heaven to us, it is our job to believe and do good works so that we are worthy of entering.  Talk of hell makes us uncomfortable; we all know nice people who are not Christians.  When Jesus says that He is the only way to heaven, we would rather hear someone tell us that all good people are welcome in paradise, regardless of what they believe.  Paul had it right when he warned, the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

When we apply selective listening to God’s word, we make Him angry.  Zechariah wrote, they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears.  They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry (Zechariah 7:11-12). Making God mad is not a smart thing to do—not if we want Him to listen to our cries for help: If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable (Proverbs 28:9).  Nor do we dare turn a deaf ear to others in their time of need: Scripture says if a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered (Proverbs 21:13)

Jesus said, "He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). When our Lord speaks, He expects us to pay careful attention.  Hearing involves more than just listening to words—it also requires that you think about what’s being said.  Proverbs 23:12 says, apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.  Listening to God’s word is critically important; the Lord says Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live (Isaiah 55:3).  God’s words are forgiveness and they are life; without them, sin will make us miserable and land us in hell.

Listening requires concentration, and listening requires patience.  Yet so often when we listen, our mind wanders to other things.  When we get into discussions, we invest so much thought into what we want to say that we miss what other people are trying to communicate.  We act like our opinion is the most important one in the room.  The trouble is, our opinions are always flawed by sin.  We don’t have all the facts; we don’t consider every option; we can’t accurately predict how a decision will turn out.  We need to evaluate everything we hear in light of God’s word.  As a friend of Job observed, the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food (Job 34:3).  If something tastes bad, you spit it out to avoid getting sick; we should be careful listening to sinful ideas in the same way.  Before making a decision, we should first listen to what God has to say.  We should pray with confidence, as David did: I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer (Psalm 17:6).  The Lord has promised, Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear (Isaiah 65:24)

God hears everything. The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry (Psalm 34:15).  You can be confident that He is listening when you pray, O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy (Psalm 130:2).  By the same token, it is foolish to think that we can keep any shameful words secret; Jesus said There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops (Luke 12:2-3). Insults, nasty gossip, racial slurs, curse words—Jesus has heard every bad thing that you’ve said. 

During His 33 years walking the earth, Jesus heard all sorts of ugly things directed His way.  People lied about Him and twisted His words.  They gossiped about Him and insulted Him.  They made demands of Him and made fun of Him.  They boasted about themselves, as if He should be impressed or feel humbled.  Jesus listened to it all with incredible patience.  Sometimes He offered correction, other times He answered them not a word.  Jesus showed how patient He is when we open our mouths without engaging the brain.

The Lord wants us to listen so that He can bless us through His words.  Proverbs 18:15 says, The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.  We are to listen as Isaiah did: The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back (Isaiah 50:5).  God said some things that Isaiah did not really want to hear.  God spoke about human sin and the judgment that sin demands.  God also spoke of how the Savior would be made to suffer and die to free us from God’s judgment.  All this talk of evil and suffering was unpleasant to hear and unpleasant to pass along, but Isaiah did not rebel against God’s words or pull away from them.  The truth sometimes hurts, but to avoid truth is to embrace falsehood.  We need to know about our sin and God’s forgiveness offered through Jesus’ blood. 

Doctors tell us that when a person is dying, their sense of hearing stays active right up to the end.  All over this sick world, people are dying because they don’t know Jesus.  Their bodies may be young or old, healthy or failing—but in every case, their souls are black, shriveled things that are rotten with decay.  They need the light of life than only Christ can give them.  Although they are dying, their ears still work.  So we must heed Jesus’ command to take His words with us wherever we go: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the rooftops (Matthew 10:27). We have Good News to share, words that the dying need to hear so they might live eternally.  Him who has ears, let him hear.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Love letters

I am the LORD, your God…you are precious…I love you (Isaiah 43).

An encyclopedia is a compilation of articles that provides an overview of a variety of subjects.  Young people use encyclopedias when doing research for a school project.  Adults sometimes refer to encyclopedias when writing a speech or readying a presentation.  You use an encyclopedia when you want to find out about a topic without having to wade through excessive detail.

A textbook is designed to give you in-depth knowledge about a particular subject.  Schools use textbooks to present a field of study in a thorough and organized manner.  Outside of the classroom, however, textbooks don’t get much use—the detailed information contained by a textbook quickly grows outdated.

An editorial is written to persuade.  The author has a strong opinion on some topic and wants others to agree with him.  He might want his readers to support or reject a piece of legislation; he might want others to give up bad habits or embrace a healthier lifestyle.  Most people read editorials for one of two reasons—either they aren’t sure what to think about a confusing issue and want to see how others look at it, or they feel like their opinion is in the minority and want to be reassured that someone else agrees with them.

What kind of literature is the Bible?  Some think of it like an encyclopedia—you can flip through its pages to find nuggets of wisdom when you’re dealing with some problem.  Others regard the Bible as a textbook, something to be studied carefully and applied to every aspect of life.  And many regard the Bible as an editorial, a series of opinion pieces designed to shape our opinions and influence our behavior.

The Bible does provide wisdom and moral training; the Bible does advocate a certain world-view and code of conduct.  But the Bible is, first and foremost, a letter sent from God to you.  Letters are written to build relationships.  A good letter is kept in a safe place to be read over and over again because its words are filled with love and tenderness.  Letters are used to speak heart to heart—that’s what makes them different from any other kind of writing.  More than any other reason, God caused the Good Book to be written so you can read of His love for you.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Time is short (1 Corinthians 7:29).

Deadlines—we hate them.  There never seems to be enough time to get everything done.  There never seems to be enough time to get things ‘just right.’  It always seems as if the clock is rushing us, dictating our priorities.  For many of us, vacation and retirement look appealing simply for the freedom to live without deadlines.

Yet many people thrive under deadlines.  The pressure of a ticking clock fills them with excitement and mental clarity.  Having a deadline gives you an excuse to shove everything else to the side and focus all your attention on a single goal.  As the deadline looms ever closer, you can stop trying to juggle multiple projects or worry about office politics.  Having a deadline also engages your competitive nature, makes project completion a win or lose proposition.

The simple fact of the matter is that we need deadlines.  We need deadlines to stop us from putting off things we don’t feel like doing.  We need deadlines to keep us honed in on doing important stuff instead of getting distracted by trivialities.  We need deadlines even though they often drive us crazy.

There’s a big deadline coming up that everyone shares in common.  That deadline is your death.  All of us are operating under a strict time limit.  There is no way to negotiate an extension.  And the stakes are high—at the moment when life ends, God will render a decision—either you join Him in heaven for the biggest victory party ever, or you wind up with all the other losers in the pain-filled darkness of hell.

Life’s great deadline should give you the passion and single-mindedness to get your priorities right.  God won’t reward a life that was devoted to bad habits and selfish behavior.  The King of the universe focuses on your relationship with Him.  He sent His Son to make that relationship possible; Jesus took responsibility for every bit of your bad behavior, and suffered the punishment that you had coming.  When death puts an end to your years of work, God will look at what it all amounts to.  He will judge that your work was poorly done, rushed in places, and incomplete.  But if you have Jesus standing at your side, God will forgive what is lacking and welcome you into eternal rest.  Time spent now on your relationship with Jesus will ought be your highest priority.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


“Eyes are the window to the soul.”  So goes the saying.  But when you study the Bible, you realize how true that saying is.  Today, we’re going to spend time considering what God’s word tells us about sight—our sight and God’s sight.

Your eyes let you see a lot of things—they allow you to enjoy color, they make it easy for you to read, they give you warning of approaching danger, and they enable you to pick up on emotions by studying facial expressions.  But there are lots of things that your eyes cannot see. Many wavelengths are invisible to the human eye—for example, you cannot see the rays coming from the sun that burn your skin.  Some things like molecules and germs are too small to see with the naked eye. Even though you can feel it brushing your skin, you cannot see the gentle breeze. 

Human sight is limited, but God’s sight is not.  Children play games of hide and seek.  Teens use darkness to keep what they’re doing secret from their parents.  Criminals use disguises to avoid getting caught.  But God’s eyes see us wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.  Solomon tells us, The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good (Proverbs 15:3).  Job says (chapter 34), His eyes are on the ways of men; He sees their every step. There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide.   But this scary truth can also reassure us; the Bible says that the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (1 Chronicles 16:9).

Human beings depend heavily on sight—more heavily than any other sense.  We get scared of the dark because it blinds us.  We have a hard time believing in things that are invisible.  With advanced computer graphics, we question whether a photograph of something unusual is real or faked.  To believe in something out of the ordinary, we want to see it up close and personal.  When the Queen of Sheba got reports of Solomon’s great wisdom, she went to visit him.  After spending time in the palace at Jerusalem, she admitted: I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes (1 Kings 10:7)

We want to see before we believe.  When Jesus rose from the dead, Thomas was unconvinced—he wanted to see the Lord with his own two eyes.  This desire for visual proof led Jesus to say, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).  But Jesus knows that blind faith is hard for us.  That is why He performed miracles to prove His identity as God’s own Son.  That’s why He gives us Baptism and Communion, sacraments that let us see His grace visibly at work in our lives.

Sadly, your eyes can be deceived.  You’ve seen optical illusions—drawings and pictures designed to fool the eye.  Your eyes can also miss important details—you can become so tightly focused on something interesting that you fail to notice surrounding details.  On top of all that, your vision can be affected by drugs, exhaustion, and a tendency to see what you want or expect to see. 

Sin tricks our vision, distorts how we see things.  Sin blinds us spiritually so that we cannot see the difference between right and wrong.  When our eyes see something fascinating, we want it.  Proverbs chapter 27 says Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.  But lusting after worldly things is ultimately pointless.  In Ecclesiastes chapter five we are told, As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?  The desire for earthly goods just creates a gap between the wealthy and the poor: If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.  The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9).  Jesus warns us against love of material things; 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).  For that reason, our Lord gave the following advice: If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:29).

Eyes also play an important role in communication.  Whether we want them to or not, our eyes reveal what’s going on inside of us.  Eyes can communicate anger, as we read in Job chapter 15: why do your eyes flash, so that you vent your rage against God and pour out such words from your mouth?  Eyes can reveal envy; 1 Samuel 18:9 tells us that Saul kept a jealous eye on David.  Your eyes show when pride has taken control of your heart; Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! (2 Kings 19:12) Your eyes can sparkle with joy; Jonathan said See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey (1 Samuel 14:9). And eyes can be dulled with grief—David wrote, My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes (Psalm 38:10).  Eyes can be hard with judgment or soft with compassion. 

What do Jesus’ eyes reveal about Him?  They flashed in anger when merchants used the Temple to make a profit from God’s worshipers.  They narrowed with anger when the teachers of the Law twisted God’s words to make themselves look good.  But Jesus’ eyes were soft when people came to him begging for help.  His eyes were gentle when He forgave their sins and cured their diseases.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, He looked up to heaven—not to call down curses on His tormentors, but to ask His Father to forgive them.

Eyes are the window to the soul—they reveal our inner emotional state.  But eyes also let things in—images that can brighten the soul or turn it black.  Jesus said, The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!  (Matthew 6:22-23)
We must be careful what we look at—go ahead and drink in what is good, but turn away from anything twisted and evil.  Jesus should be our primary focus; Paul says we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).  Scripture also says, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).  We look to God for our daily needs; Psalm 145 says the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. We also look to God for security; Psalm 141 says my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign LORD; in you I take refuge. But it is easy to get distracted; we need to pray the words of Psalm 119: turn my eyes away from worthless things.

Sin affects our eyes, making us cry.  We cry when other people hurt us.  We cry when we make costly mistakes.  But how often do we shed tears because God’s will is ignored?  The man who wrote Psalm 119 said, Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed. If God’s law was obeyed by everyone, there would be no reason for tears.  But we are all sinners, and the pain we cause ourselves and each other grieves the Son of God.  Jesus wept on more than one occasion.  He wept over Jerusalem, which rejected His love.  He wept at a grave, sharing the grief that we all feel at a funeral.  His grief over sin and death led Jesus to the cross, where He suffered and died so that we might be forgiven and live eternally.  Looking to the future, John saw what Christ has accomplished for all believers: He will wipe 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 (Revelation 21:4).

Tears can result in blessing.  When our grief over sin makes our eyes well up, Jesus is there to give us comfort.  Job said (chapter 16), My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.  Jesus keeps a close eye on all who follow Him: the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive (Psalm 33)

With God’s help, we can look at things in a whole new way.  God is at work all around us, but most people never see it.  Just one example: the prophet Elisha lived out in the country; on one occasion, a large detachment of hostile soldiers surrounded the house.  Elisha’s servant thought they were hopelessly outnumbered, but Elisha knew better. Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:17).  Without God’s help, we don’t notice the angels at work around us. 

Without God’s help, our perspective on things is faulty.  It is easy to be critical of others; this prompted Jesus to say: Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matthew 7:3-5).  Our Lord exaggerates for effect, but how often do we minimize our own faults and exaggerate the faults of others?  We need God’s eyes to keep things in proper perspective.

When God’s Spirit opens our eyes, the world looks incredible.  There are so many things that fill us with awe, prompting us to say the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:17).  But most beautiful of all are these words of the Bible: The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.  The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes (Psalm 19:8)

Eyes appreciate beauty and are captured by compelling sights. But we need God to see true beauty.  Nothing would be grander than to see Him face to face.  Sadly, that is not possible—while we live on earth, contaminated with sin, we cannot see God.  But Jesus has atoned for our sins and opened heaven to us;  when He takes you to join Him forever, you’ll see beauty that you never imagined.

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness (Psalm 5:8).

What makes a good leader?

A good leader needs to have courage.  As soon as you advocate some course of action, voices will be raised in protest.  There will be critics and prophets of doom.  There will be people who hate change, and will do whatever it takes to slow things down.  A leader needs courage to face opposition and make sure that the job gets done.

A good leader needs to be patient and understanding.  When a committee gathers together in meeting, there are a lot of different opinions.  A good leader takes the time to listen. A good leader works with each committee member personally.  A good leader wins respect by how he treats the people that follow him.

Most importantly, a good leader needs to inspire.  A good leader needs to have big ideas.  A good leader needs to convince others that nothing worth achieving is impossible.  President Kennedy inspired a moon landing.  Dr. Martin Luther King inspired the Civil Rights Movement.  Great leaders dream big, and sweep us along in their vision for the future.  Great leaders need great words. 

The greatest leader of all was a man like no other.  He did not back down when the religious leaders criticized Him or when a corrupt politician threatened Him.  He had the courage to face Satan and death to achieve His goals.  This leader showed great patience in dealing with His followers.  He took the time to listen whenever someone came to Him for help.  This great man had a dream like no other, the goal of changing every corrupt sinner into a forgiven child of God.  He has inspired billions of people over thousands of years with His vision for a better world.

I’m speaking, of course, about Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man.  His great courage ended the power of Satan to drag you screaming into hell.  He is patient with each and every one of us, more patient than we deserve.  He speaks the very words of God, words that have the power to change lives forever.  More than anyone, He is worth following.

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