Thursday, August 30, 2012

God the Son

Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:49-50).

What does it mean to have God the Son in your life?

Most of us have siblings—one or more brothers or sisters who we grew up with.  Siblings can be a challenge.  Tagalongs can get in the way of our having fun—older siblings often resent being given the responsibility for a younger child.  Sisters might borrow clothes without asking; brothers might break a favorite toy.  Rivalry between siblings can lead to fighting—some brothers and sisters go through life hardly ever speaking to each other.

But close relationships between siblings can be a wonderful experience.  Brothers and sisters who are tight with each other can talk about deeply personal things that even husbands and wives are hesitant to share with their spouses.  In difficult situations, no one has your back like family—especially a brother or sister.  No one knows you better than the sibling who has shared your life from the start.

God is our Father in heaven, and He is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That makes Jesus our brother—our big brother, because He is far older than any of us.  As our big brother, Jesus has the responsibility to look out for us.  When that big bully Satan comes to harass us, Jesus chases him away.  When we do something stupid and get hurt, Jesus is right there picking us up and comforting us with His love.  When we get lost or scared, our big brother takes us by the hand and we are reassured by His confident leadership.

Jesus is the perfect sibling.  He has known you since you were little, from the very moment that you came into this world.  No one knows you better than God’s Son.  You can tell Him anything, even stuff you would never speak of with another human being.  He will listen, He will keep your secrets, and He will give you great advice. He will always be honest and up front with you.  And if you get yourself into trouble, He will forgive you and bring you back into our Father’s home.  His concern for you moved Him to take responsibility for your sins and be punished in your place, shielding you from the Father’s anger at your misbehavior—no one ever had a better big brother.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

God the Father

I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

What does it mean to have God the Father in your life?

Everyone has a father, a man who joined with Mom to give them life.  Sadly, many children don’t know their fathers—in some cases the man wanted nothing to do with being a parent, while other times the mother chose to exclude him from being part of the family that she was raising.  There are some children who hate or fear their dad—he might be physically abusive, overly demanding, or emotionally distant.  And there are many who lost Dad far too soon—to war, to disease, or to accidental death.

No father is perfect, but a good one is a treasure.  The best fathers are a strong center for their families, providing stability in a chaotic and confusing world.  They provide a sense of security, from putting food on the table to providing wise leadership.  A good father balances love for his children with an expectation for good conduct and personal responsibility.  The best dads lead by example and earn the respect of everyone in the home.

God our Father is the ultimate expression of all these virtues.  He is our Father because He caused each and every one of us to be conceived in our mothers’ wombs.  He is the Father every child craves—interested in our lives, concerned for our well being, supportive of our development.  He has expectations for our behavior—He will brook no disrespect, and He will apply corrective measures when necessary to shape us into the best people that we can be.  He defends us from evil and comforts us with His strength when life seems overwhelming. 

But God is not just our Father—He is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And it is His relationship with the Savior that demonstrates the depth of His love for us.  God loves His Son more deeply than any human can fully appreciate, yet He sent Jesus to the cross.  On Calvary, God punished His beloved Son for all the terrible things you and I have done.  He did this so that our sins might no longer separate us from His love.  God the Father wants to have a close, personal relationship with you today and always. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I trust in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God." My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.

Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave. Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues.

Praise be to the LORD, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city. In my alarm I said, "I am cut off from your sight!" Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.

Love the LORD, all his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD
(Psalm 31).

The older I get, the more I find that I dislike time.  Time is a thief—it steals things that were precious to me.  Time has taken away my father and my grandparents.  Time has stolen some of my energy.  And time is selective—it has stolen my dark hair, but has left me with the gray!

Time also gives me things that I don’t want.  It has given me eyeglasses.  It has given me aching joints.  Time has given me year after year of bad news seen on TV, read in the paper, and heard over the phone.  Time steals your joys and replaces them with disappointments.

Have you ever noticed how unfair time is?  When you are sick with the flu, time slows to a crawl—a minute feels like an hour.  When you are lying in bed afraid of a storm, the clock hardly seems to move.  When you are lonely, the phone never seems to ring.  When you are bored, everything around you slows to a crawl.

But time can go by very quickly when you don’t want it to.  When you have a deadline at work, the clock seems to speed up.  When you’re having a good time with friends, it’s amazing how fast time gets away from you.  When you’re enjoying a carnival ride or an ice cream cone, the pleasure is over before you are satisfied.  Periods of comfortable relaxation never seem to last for very long before they are interrupted by a phone call or something that needs to be done.

Time: it takes what we don’t want to lose, it gives what we don’t want to receive, it drags through times of misery and dashes by when we’re having fun.  It’s no wonder that I don’t like time very much.

But maybe I’m being too negative.  After all, time can be our friend, too.  Time allows you to watch your children grow up; time also lets you meet and enjoy your grandchildren.  Time lets you see the payoff of gardening, as you set the dinner table with cut flowers and serve the produce that you raised.  Time gives you the satisfaction of seeing goals achieved and projects completed.  Time gives you the ability to put the problems of life into perspective.  It gives you comfort by letting old pains fade away.  Time gives you the opportunity to grow closer to your loved ones, deepening the bonds of trust and understanding.  Time lets love grow.  So maybe time isn’t all bad, after all.

Then again, time brings with it two things that are absolutely terrifying—death and eternal judgment.  Every year that passes brings us closer to the end of life.  A day is coming when you will leave all of your loved ones behind.  There will be books you didn’t get to finish, projects that you will never bring to completion.  There will be no more chances to make up with someone that you’ve hurt.  There will be places you wanted to visit that you’ll never get to see. 

As sad as death is, what comes after is truly terrifying.  Your soul will stand before God for judgment.  You won’t even be able to look at Him, because His glory is absolutely blinding.  He will open the book of your life, a detailed record of your thoughts, words and deeds.  He will review this account of every opportunity you wasted, every evil thought that’s crossed your mind, every hurtful word that’s come from your mouth.  Then He will look into your heart for a compelling reason to let you into heaven.  If He doesn’t find what He’s looking for, you will be thrown into hell, a place of suffering with no hope of relief, of loneliness with no trace of love. 

Time leads to death and judgment—no wonder people try everything they can think of to slow the passage of years.

But thanks to God, time can be our friend.  God gives us time to admit our sins and ask Jesus for His forgiveness.  God gives us time to serve Him.  God sends us His Spirit to give us wisdom and patience so we can use our time productively, honoring God and showing His love to our neighbors.  God fills our lives with good things great and small, so that every day we might find times of pleasure and contentment. 

It all comes down to trust.  If we trust in Christ as our Savior and Friend, we don’t have to fear the ticking of the clock.  When we trust God, we are confident that He is in charge of time.  He set the date and place you were born; Paul says, From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live (Acts 17:26).  God can and does reach into this world and suspends the laws of nature to take care of you—we call these intrusions ‘miracles.’  During a prolonged battle with the Amorites, God stopped the sun from moving through the sky until Joshua finally won the battle.  When king Hezekiah begged God to spare him from an early death, the Lord added 15 years to his life and showed proof of His power over time by causing the shadows cast by the sun to move backwards.  God created time and He is its undisputed master.

The most terrifying aspect of time is the death and judgment that it brings.  But God has power over these things too.  We use up much of our time on things that are wasteful and harmful.  Our thoughts are preoccupied with selfish desires and hostility towards others.  Our words tear down more often than they build up.  We squander opportunities to show love, placing our comfort (and need for enjoyment) as of first importance.  And so we anger God and deserve His wrath, because He created us to love Him and each other with all that we are and have. 

Since God is love, He sent His Son Jesus to suffer for our sins—suffer all the punishment that our dark ways deserved.  Jesus’ suffering resulted in the unthinkable—God’s own Son died and was buried!  But Christ did not spend much time in the grave—not even three full days.  On the third day He rose from the dead, never to die again.  He spent 40 more days with His disciples, completing their training—then He returned to heaven.

Because of Christ, we don’t have to fear the day when time brings life to an end.  Since Jesus rose from the grave, we know that death is only a temporary thing.  Jesus said that a time is coming when 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)

Because of Jesus, we don’t have to fear standing before God in judgment.  Because He died for you, Jesus has earned the authority to forgive your sins.  All you have to do is throw yourself at His feet, own up to your mistakes, and ask Him for the gift of mercy.  John writes, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)

For God, forgiving is forgetting.  In Psalm 103 we are told, He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  Through Jeremiah God promised, I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (chapter 31).

When you stand before God for judgment, He will open the record book of your life.  If you have been forgiven by Jesus, many of those pages will be blank.  Every record of sin will be erased, leaving only good things recorded.  Then the Lord will look into your heart, searching for a compelling reason to bring you into heaven.  If you are a Christian, He will find what He is looking for—faith that trusts in Jesus.  Hebrews chapter 11 says, without faith, it is impossible to please God.  With faith in your heart and your sins erased by Jesus, God will throw open the gates of paradise and welcome you into His marvelous kingdom.

Heaven is a place where time does not exist.  I’ve often wondered what that could be like.  Let me share a couple of thoughts.  Have you ever been in a zone where you were so focused on something that you weren’t aware of time going by?  Maybe eternity is like that.  Have you ever been relaxing under the sun or in bed, perfectly content and comfortable, with no thoughts of the past or what needs to be done in the next few hours?  I wonder if eternity is like that, an endless “now” that isn’t spoiled by feelings of guilt or worries about the future. 

Our Lord is the master of time—He says, I am the A and the Z, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13).  Our times are in His hands.  So there’s no point in worrying about the passage of time; Jesus said, who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27) Time doesn’t have to be our enemy.  If you trust that Jesus is in control, then time can be your friend.  Embrace each new day as a gift from God, and do your best to look for the good in it. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God the Holy Spirit

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5).

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all equal in power and one in purpose.  We know that God the Father is the Creator of all things.  We know that His Son became a man to suffer and die for our sins.  But what does the Holy Spirit do for us?  What activities mark Him as distinct from the Father and the Son?

The most important role the Spirit has is being our faith-giver.  No one chooses to believe in God—our sinful nature makes such a decision impossible.  Paul writes, Some people don't have the Holy Spirit. They don't accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. Things like that are foolish to them. They can't understand them. In fact, such things can't be understood without the Spirit's help (1 Corinthians 2:14). This means that faith is a miracle—a miracle worked in us by the Holy Spirit.  This is why Paul says, God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Spirit of God also changes how we think about the important things in life.  He adjusts our perspective and our priorities to steer us towards happiness, inner peace, and a productive use of our time that is motivated by loving concern for others.  In Galatians chapter five, Paul lists an assortment of these gifts: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

The Holy Spirit takes an active hand in our daily affairs.  He reminds us of Jesus’ teachings so we can spot evil and avoid it.  He provides wisdom and guidance when we are faced with problems that seem insurmountable.  And He is the Comforter that we desperately need in times of sadness and regret. When we make mistakes, He comforts us with the words of Jesus: take heart…your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2).  When tragedy comes into our lives, He comforts us with the Father’s promise I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).  When death steals away a loved one, He comforts us with hope that comes from Christ’s own lips: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies (John 11:25).  It is through the Holy Spirit that our lives are touched by the divine; the glorious light of heaven shines on us through Him.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Into your hands I commit my spirit (Psalm 31:5).

Since a spirit doesn’t have a body, what can it do exactly?  To answer that question, we need to consider three types of spirits.

The spirit you were born with was designed to work in tandem with a body.  When a person dies, the spirit that survives has no ability to influence this world any longer—it goes immediately to heaven for peace and rest, or to hell for righteous punishment. 

God also created spirits that would never have bodies.  These angels, along with their fallen counterparts, were given abilities that our spirits don’t need since we have bodies.  Spirits of heaven and demons of hell can make themselves visible and audible if they wish.  They can whisper to a human mind without uttering a sound, and they can have a tangible impact on our world.  In fact, these beings of pure spirit are far more powerful than we are.  We are right to fear what a demon can do; we can take comfort in being protected by angels who are assigned to us by God.

The Spirit of God, however, is in a class by Himself.  The Holy Spirit is God—all knowing, eternal, all-powerful, and everywhere present.  He is equal to the Father and the Son in every way.  Unlike created spirits, He is pure and incorruptible. 

But despite their differences, all spirits have this in common—each has a personality, a distinct identity unique in all creation.  Every spirit has emotions.  Every spirit has a moral outlook on issues of right and wrong.  Every spirit has memories.  Every spirit longs for loving relationships.  This is true for us, for angels, even for the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps most comforting of all, every spirit is immortal.  Bodies die, but the soul lives forever.  There will never be a time when you cease to exist—death does not obliterate who you are.  Of course, eternal life is not a blessing for everyone.  Those sent to hell because they lived apart from Christ?  They will go on forever too—alone in the darkness, wracked with pain and regret and hopelessness.  Only Jesus offers the kind of eternal life that takes away our fear of death.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

How often do you feel weary or burdened?  How many mornings do you pull the covers over your head and wish that you could stay in bed?  How many nights do you toss and turn, unable to sleep because your mind is in turmoil?  How often do you feel overworked and unappreciated? 

We need rest from all kinds of things.  We need rest from all the bad news on TV that makes us worry about things beyond our control.  We need rest from high prices for everyday necessities.  We need rest from people who spread gossip about us.  We need rest from people who push us around.  We need rest from fights at work and fights at home. 

We’re tired of being the butt of jokes.  We’re tired of people using us to get what they want.  We’re tired of being pressured to dress and act like everyone else in order to be accepted.  We’re tired of being ignored by people who are too busy to notice us.

We all have burdens.  Some are addicted to painkillers, methamphetamines, or sleeping pills.  Others are victims of chronic pain or disability.  Some people live in constant fear.  Other people wander through life, wondering if their days on earth serve any purpose.  Many have their plans spoiled by tragedy.  There are a lot of folks who try and try and try, but never seem to get ahead.  And every one of us faces temptation.  We are tempted to duck responsibility, say and do things that we know are wrong, and take shortcuts instead of doing the job right.   Resisting temptation is hard, and it often puts us at odds with our friends.

We all need rest from our burdens.  And the world offers lots of things to try.  If you can afford the treatment, you can visit with a psychologist.  You can go see a motivational speaker or buy his CDs.  There are all sorts of self-help books for you to choose from.  But maybe you don’t want to tackle your burdens head on; maybe you’d rather ignore them instead.  You can distract yourself by going shopping.  You can drown your sorrows in booze.  You can throw yourself into your work or a hobby.  You can spend every night partying with friends. 

Unfortunately, these worldly solutions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  Psychologists rely on you being honest with them; they can’t help if you’re unwilling to open up and share the truth.  Motivational speakers can make you feel good, but that glow fades after the presentation ends.  Self-help books put even more of a burden on you—if your life doesn’t get better after reading the book, it’s your fault for not following the author’s advice. 

It’s pointless to ignore your burdens—pretending they aren’t there won‘t make them go away.  Throwing yourself into distractions only compounds the problem.  Time spent shopping just wastes money.  Time spent drinking ruins your health.  Burying yourself in work or a hobby only lets problems grow worse because you are ignoring them. 

Conventional wisdom says that happiness comes from having a successful career, achieving your personal goals, having enough money to buy what you want, being popular, or having control over your life.  But these things are hard to attain and even harder to hang on to.  How do you define a successful career, and what happens when you are forced to retire?  How many people are ever content with their income?  If you achieve your personal goals, then what?  And if you don’t reach your goals, does that mean you’re a failure?  How long can you hang on to your good looks?  What if you were never good looking to start with?  And who really has control over their life?  Can you make everyone do what you want, all the time?   Can you even control yourself, or do you forget things, overestimate your abilities, make critical mistakes?

There are many burdens in life, and the world doesn’t do a very good job of giving us relief.  So our ears perk up when we hear Jesus say, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Christ offers us true rest.  Only the Son of God can ease our burdens in a substantial, lasting way.

Jesus gives us rest from the burden of suffering.  Jesus knows how it feels to suffer; when He was punished for our sins, He was betrayed, humiliated, and laughed at.  People told lies about Him, spit in His face, beat Him bloody, then put Him to death slowly and painfully.  Worst of all, God abandoned His Son during those terrible hours on the cross; Jesus suffered the hell of being cut off from God’s love.  Because of what He went through, Jesus knows suffering better than any of us.  When we suffer, Jesus knows what we’re going through.  He feels our pain.  When we pray for relief, His heart goes out to us.  Sometimes He reaches into our lives and provides a miracle; all of a sudden, things change for the better.  Other times our Lord helps us deal with the burden by giving us wisdom, lending us strength, or giving us patience.  Christ does not always bail us out of suffering, because bad times can be good for us.  Paul writes, suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:3-5).  When problems weigh us down, we are reminded how much we need God in our lives.  Through suffering, Jesus gives us rest by drawing us closer to God for help.

Jesus gives us rest from the burden of Satan’s attacks.  The devil may be invisible, but the pressure He puts on us every day is unbearably real.  We’re constantly exposed to his lies.  To some he says, “you’re worthless, why don’t you just give up?”  To others he says, “you’re the most important person in the world, so act like it.”  He tells scientists that it’s okay to experiment on embryos, because humans are just an accident of evolution.  He tells college students that there is no such thing as right or wrong, all that matters is reaching your dreams.  He tells atheists that religion is just a crutch for weak-minded fools who can’t think for themselves.  And he tells Christians to go ahead and do whatever they want, because God will forgive them anyway.

Constant lies and distortions of the truth can wear you down.  Thankfully, Jesus gives us rest.  In His Bible, the truth is spelled out for all to see.  In addition, Christ gives us pastors and teachers to make clear what Satan tries to confuse.  Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32). 

Jesus gives us rest from the burden of sin.  Every night when you go to bed, you’ve ended another day of broken promises, stupid mistakes, misplaced anger and selfish laziness.  As the years go by, the heap of pain and sorrow we are responsible for creating grows ever larger.  Carrying that guilt around can suck all the joy out of life.  Thankfully, Jesus loves us.  He wants to spare us from the burden of guilt.  That’s why He suffered and died on the cross; Jesus shed His holy blood in recompense for all the hurt that we’ve caused.  Jesus died to forgive our sins, and because of His mighty act of love we are free of sin’s burden!  When we ask the Lord to forgive us, our sins are gone—just like that!  Psalm 103 says, he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  Freed from the burden of guilt, we can get out of bed each morning with a positive attitude, rejoicing in the gift of a new day that is bright with possibilities!

Jesus gives us rest from the burden of death.  Nothing is more terrifying or sorrowful than the prospect of dying.  It takes away our loved ones.  It makes us question what our efforts in life amount to.  It makes us afraid of getting old.  It keeps us from visiting friends in hospitals or nursing homes.  And death terrifies us with the ultimate question: what will happen to me after I die?

This is why it is so comforting to know that Jesus rose from the dead to live forever.  He has proven that death is not permanent, only temporary.  He has opened the gates of heaven for us, and has promised a reunion with every loved one who died a believer in Christ.  In heaven our souls will be bathed in the light of God’s love as we enjoy the gift of rest, and on the Last Day we will rise like Jesus did, with perfect bodies that will never sicken, age, or die.  Those who trust in Jesus have no reason to fear death.

Jesus gives us rest through Word and Sacrament.  You don’t have to go through life on your own.  Jesus sends the Spirit of God to live in us and with us, just as the Spirit rested on Jesus while He walked the earth.  The Holy Spirit comes through God’s Word; Paul writes, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).  Whenever you hear God’s Word or read the Bible, the Holy Spirit works within you, building your faith and blessing you with patience, strength, and kindness.  Through baptism, Christ uses the water and His Word to remove your sin and adopt you into God’s family.  In communion, Jesus gives you Himself through the medium of bread and wine, allowing you to touch and benefit from His body and blood that was sacrificed on the cross to make you His.  When you hear God’s Word and are blessed by His sacraments, the peace of God eases your burdens like nothing else can.

And Jesus gives us rest through service. After a hard day’s work, it is easy to fall asleep and get a good night’s rest.  That’s the way it is when we are working for the Lord; at the end of the day, sleep is deep and peaceful. When you serve the Lord, you don’t have to worry that your life is meaningless or that your days on earth are wasted. Paul told the believers in Corinth, Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).  God has placed us where we are with the skills we have for a purpose.  Paul writes, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Jesus gives us rest through labor that is meaningful and productive.

Jesus also said, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  If you are doing work that you love, the time flies by.  If you are passionate about what you do, you hardly notice the aches and pains that crop up while you are busy.  So it is with serving Christ.  When we work for Him gladly, the burden is hardly noticeable, because our focus is on the positive, not the negative.  And although we cannot see Him, Jesus Himself is there at our side, sharing the burden so that we are not overwhelmed.  Working with Jesus is not hard; working without Him, now that’s hard!

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Jesus gives you rest from suffering, relief from Satan, release from guilt, and freedom from death.   He gives you rest from fear, depression, and loneliness.  Jesus gives you rest through His suffering and death, His rising from the grave, and the gift of His Spirit sent down from heaven.  He gives you rest through Word and Sacrament, by sprinkling your life with His strength and His miracles, and by filling your days with satisfying work.  Jesus may be gentle and humble in heart, but the rest He offers is backed by the almighty strength and immeasurable love of God Himself.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Three kinds of life

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

When God created the universe, He filled it with three types of life.  He created living beings with no spirit inside them.  He created spirits that have no physical bodies.  And He created beings that are composed of bodies and souls that are entwined as one.

The lowest form of life consists of bodies that have no spirit, no soul.  They eat, drink and grow, they reproduce and eventually die.  Some have rudimentary intelligence—they might communicate some information to each other, or bond with a mate for life.  Some can be trained for work.  But they don’t have souls; they don’t lose sleep over matters of right and wrong, and nothing of them lingers on after death.  These lowest forms of life are plants and insects, birds and fish and animals. 

A higher form of life are the spirits with no bodies.  For the most part they are invisible, although they have the power to show themselves when they wish to.  These spirits are immortal—although made by God long ago, they are immune to the prospect of death.  Some of these spirits are beneficial—they work for God as His agents and messengers.  Others have rejected God’s authority and dedicate every moment to causing pain and destroying relationships.  The good spirits are angels; the evil spirits are demons.

The highest form of life combines spirit and body as one.  At the moment of conception, each embryo receives the gift of a soul from the God of life.  According to the Lord’s plan, these beings were intended to live forever; this design was corrupted when Satan convinced the first couple to ignore God’s authority so they could do what they wanted.  This rebellion is sin, and it condemned humanity to the curse of death—the painful separation of body from soul that never should have happened.

To address the problem of sin that results in death, the Son of God became like us—body and soul united as one.  But the spirit in Jesus’ body was not like us—He was perfect, sinless, completely obedient to God.  Through His death, Christ paid in full the penalty for our sins; when Jesus rose from the grave alive, His resurrection guaranteed a future where we will live again, body and soul united forever. Jesus did not give His life for plants or animals, angels or demons—He gave His life for us, the most precious beings in all creation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit

The Spirit of God lives in you (Romans 8:9).

When I was a kid I learned about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  But as time passed, one of those names changed.  These days it is more common to speak of the Holy Spirit than the Holy Ghost.  Why has this change come about?

It’s not that the Bible has changed.  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ruach refers to an invisible power.  In Genesis chapter one we read that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters; in this verse the word for spirit is ruach.  In Job chapter 33, the patriarch says the breath of the Almighty has given me life; the word for breath is the same word used for spirit—ruach.  And Ecclesiastes uses ruach in reference to wind: I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. The same is true of the New Testament, which was written in Greek—there, the word used is pneuma, from which we get the words pneumatic and pneumonia.  In Holy Scripture, wind and breath and spirit are all related ideas.

The Bible has not changed, but the English language has.  At one time, the words ghost and spirit could be used interchangeably.  Either way, people understood that you were speaking about an invisible life force that has no physical body.  But popular culture has changed our perception of what a ghost is.  To the modern listener, a ghost is what remains alive after the body has died.  A ghost is often imagined as a frightening monster that haunts the living.  Or a ghost might be what a psychic calls on when a grieving loved one is seeking closure.

The Spirit of God is none of those things.  The Holy Spirit never had a body that died—that is only true of Jesus.  The Spirit of God is not a scary monster that haunts anyone; Jesus referred to Him as the Counselor who brings us wisdom, strength and comfort.  And the Holy Spirit never speaks through seances or ouija boards; He works exclusively through the words of Holy Scripture which He caused to be written for our learning.

Many in the Church have stopped using the term Holy Ghost; calling the third Person of the Trinity the Holy Spirit avoids giving any wrong impressions. The Spirit of God has not changed; although invisible, He is the power of God that touches your heart.

Friday, August 10, 2012

God's card game

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen
(1 Peter 5:5-11).

When I was little, many people believed that card games were sinful.  At best they were a waste of time that could be better spent on other things.  Often times card games were an excuse for people to sit down and trade gossip.  Worst of all was gambling; games like poker could be addictive and ruin someone financially.

I’ve played card games all my life, although I’m no gambler.  And I’m not strongly competitive—I play for fun, although winning is nice.  I know that card games have gotten some people into trouble, especially when cheating is suspected.  But I’m not going to debate the merits of card games.  Instead, I want to examine what card games can teach us about our Savior and ourselves.

When you are dealt five cards that go in numerical order with no breaks, it is called a straight.   This is what God expects of us.  He wants us to be straight, not crooked.  He wants everything to be in the proper order with no gaps or omissions.  God’s law is like a chain; if just one link is missing, the chain has become broken.  James writes (chapter two), whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  You cannot have a straight if there’s a gap in the sequence of numbers; in the same way, you cannot claim to be a law-abiding Christian if you skip over even one of God’s commands. 

If you are not straight, you are crooked.  Crooked is another word for being a criminal.  A criminal deserves to be punished for breaking the law.  We are all criminals because we have all stepped off from God’s straight path and gone where we should not—this is called trespassing.  Because of our trespasses (our crooked behavior) we have provoked God’s anger and deserve a jail sentence in hell.

People who play cards often gamble; they calculate the odds, put something valuable on the table as a wager, and hope to come out a winner.  We do the same thing with God.  We look at what we have in life, and we aren’t satisfied that we have enough—enough money, enough popularity, enough fun.  So we calculate the odds; we try to figure out how far we can bend God’s rules before we’ll get into trouble.  And then we ante up something valuable—we put at risk our career, our marriage, our reputation, our retirement nest egg.  Most dangerous of all, when we try to push God’s limits we gamble with our very souls. 

What gives us the courage to gamble with God?  We are betting on His loving nature.  We are banking on God’s mercy as David describes it in Psalm 103: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  But in our rush to abuse God’s generosity, we forget that Jesus warned do not put the Lord your God to the test (Matthew 4:7)

To win at gambling, you must be able to bluff.  But God cannot be bluffed.  The Lord knows when you are truly sorry for angering Him and want to be forgiven; He also knows when you’re just blowing smoke.  Paul warns, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8)

When we play the game of life, it often seems as if Satan has the winning hand.  He tricks us into making foolish wagers, then snatches away the victory we thought was ours.  Satan is a cunning player; He out-bluffs us every time.  And He has a lot of partners playing with him as well.  Some of them are easy to spot; they make fun of us, they throw fits when they don’t get their way, they use intimidation to get what they want.  But some of the devil’s partners are harder to identify.  They pretend to be your friend until they suddenly betray you.  They say nice things to your face, but gossip about you when you’re out of the room.  They act friendly as long as you are useful to them, but are quick to abandon you when someone better comes along. 

It’s hard to be successful when Satan and his buddies are playing against you.  But many times you become your own worst enemy.  You impulsively up the ante when you should stand pat.  You get nervous and fold when you should have stuck it out a little longer.  You gamble with things that should never be put on the table.  You get distracted and lose your concentration.  So many times in life, you mess up big time and it’s no one’s fault but your own.

Thankfully, you don’t have to play against these card sharks by yourself.  You have three very important people helping you through the card game of life—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  God the Father deals the cards.  Jesus is your partner at the table.  And the Holy Spirit looks over your shoulder and whispers suggestions about strategy.

Card players know that you have to play the hand you’re dealt.  Some hands are better than others.  Some Christians are wealthy, others are not.  Some of God’s people are blessed with wonderful health while others struggle with chronic disease.  Some believers hold positions of great responsibility while others serve in humbler ways.  Some followers of Christ are filled with vigorous faith while others struggle with doubt.  God deals each of us a different hand, but He’s completely fair—He doesn’t deal from the bottom of the deck, nor does He short anyone a card.  God the Father loves us all, and He treats each of us accordingly.

We also have Jesus as our partner.  He is an expert on the rules—after all, His Father wrote them.  He is patient and wise, where we are impulsive and foolish.  He invites us to settle down and follow His lead.  He asks us to trust Him in making the right play at the best possible time.  Sometimes it seems as if the game is going poorly; at such times we wonder if Jesus knows what He is doing.  It’s hard to follow His lead when we don’t know what card He’s going to play next and what He’s holding in reserve. But our Lord simply asks us to trust Him and to follow His lead.

Satan gets on our nerves, saying that we might as well fold because he holds the winning hand.  Thankfully, God’s Spirit is looking over our shoulder at the cards we’re holding.  Sometimes it is unclear how we should proceed—what card does Jesus want us to play?  If we ask for guidance, the Spirit whispers suggestions in our ears.  But it certainly helps to be familiar with all the rules.  Be sure to use game breaks to study the Bible; God’s Word tells us about the players in the game, the rules, and the kind of strategy that makes winning easier.  The better we understand these things, the better the advice that God’s Spirit can offer us.

Of course, we still make bone-headed plays.  We up the ante when we should stand pat.  We fold when we should raise.  We get tricked into tipping our hand.  We get involved in table-talk and accidentally reveal a weakness.  We put at risk things far too precious to ever gamble with.  Then the devil or his partners show their hands and we realize how stupid we have been.

But no card game is won based on a single hand.  Some games last a couple of hours, others can go all night.  So it is with life; some of us only have a few years while others can live and laugh for a century.  Some can have decades of winning hands, then lose it all suddenly at the end.  Others have their ups and downs, experiencing both wins and losses, but never really getting ahead.  In the final analysis, however, the last hand is the most important—it settles once and for all who wins and who loses.  And it is there, at the last hand, that we can lay down our cards with complete confidence, if Jesus is our partner.

You see, Jesus holds the trump card.  The trump card is more powerful than any other card in the game.  When our life comes to an end, that last hand is winner take all.  Either Satan and his partners win, or we win with Jesus.  When we draw our last breath, when the last card is played, Jesus lays down His trump, winning the game for us decisively.  At that moment, Satan has lost—he has no more cards to play.  We walk away from the game free and clear of any debt, because Jesus our partner has swept the table.

What is the trump card that Jesus played?  It is His death on the cross at Calvary, where He died so that we might live.  The blood of Christ is the very power of life over death, of love defeating evil.  Jesus is trump over sin, death, and Satan; no matter how well the enemy plays, no matter how badly we play, Jesus gives us the victory hands down.  Jesus is our ace in the hole.

There are two other card terms I haven’t mentioned yet—a flush and a full house.  A flush is when every card in your hand is the same suit.  This describes what we will be like when the trump has been played and we get up from the table to go home.  In this life, our cards are always a mixture of black and red—the black of sin and the red of Jesus’ forgiving blood.  But when the game is won, there will be no more sin within us—our hands will be flush in pure red, the color of Jesus’ love for us

Which brings us to the full house.  Our Lord has always wanted a full house.  God’s home is large and magnificent, but it is far too quiet—God wants His home filled with the sounds of laughter and music and happy conversation.  This is why He tells us to invite others to join His card club.  God wants a full house, and He has plenty of room to spare. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The church (part four)

He brought peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20).

No feature of a Christian church is more iconic than the cross.  You will see a cross on the outside of the building, sometimes high up on a steeple.  You will see a cross on the altar or the front wall of the worship space.  You will see a cross on baptismal fonts, communion ware and banners.  Many clergy leading worship wear a cross as a pendant.

It’s amazing what Christ did.  The Son of God rehabilitated the cross, making something that was ugly and disgusting into something new which is utterly beautiful.  The cross had been a method of execution reserved for the worst scum of the earth.  It was designed to provide a slow, excruciating way to die, a terribly shameful way to meet your end.  But when Jesus died on the cross, He turned that awful construction of wood into a blessing for all humanity.  On the cross, our sin was put to death in Jesus’ body.  Because He suffered the punishment we deserve for angering God, we can look at a cross and see God’s love for us.

The cross represents love.  On the cross, Jesus demonstrated what love is capable of, what true love is willing to do.  Love will do whatever is necessary to provide another person with happiness, security and peace.  Because of sin, we were under God’s curse of death and hell; the Son of God suffered unimaginably to make things different for us.  Because of Jesus, the cross now represents love in its purest form.

The cross also represents forgiveness. Relationships fail because of sin.  Our selfishness, our thoughtlessness, our willingness to be cruel is always hurting others and pushing them away.  Without forgiveness, healthy and lasting relationships are just not possible—not with God, and not with each other.  But on the cross, Jesus suffered and died so your life can be blessed with forgiveness.  In Christ, you are reconciled to God and welcomed as a member of His precious family.  With the Savior’s help, you can forgive those who’ve hurt you and rebuild any damaged relationship with a new-found love. 

This is why the cross features so prominently in every Christian church.  On the cross, love overpowered sin.  On the cross, broken relationships were revitalized through forgiveness.  Thanks to Christ, the image of the cross has been rehabilitated into something lovely—our Lord offers that same rehabilitation to you.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The church (part three)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10).

A feature of virtually all Christian churches is the altar.  Altars are descended from the oldest places of worship.  From the earliest days of history, sin has been a problem that has plagued humanity.  Altars were used for offering sacrifices to God.  On the altar, animals bled out their lives and God accepted that blood in place of our own.  Those early altars prepared God’s people to understand what Jesus would do on the cross—shed His blood so that we can be forgiven.  Modern altars are no longer a place of death—when Christ gave His life for sinners, the blood of God’s own Son ended the need for any further sacrifices.  Now the altar is a symbol that represents God’s mercy towards repentant sinners. 

In most churches, the altar is located in a smaller area at the front of the worship space.  This alcove is reminiscent of the Tabernacle designed by God during the time of the Exodus. The Ark of the Covenant sat in a small, screened off area, known as the Most Holy Place.  The lid of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat, and it was here that God would appear in majestic glory to speak with Moses.  In modern churches, the altar has taken over the purpose of the Ark of the Covenant, the place of mercy where God converses with His people.  Our prayers are directed to God at the altar, and it is from this special area that Holy Scripture is read to the congregation.  We come before the altar to confess our sins, and from the Mercy Seat we hear the blessed words of forgiveness.  The altar and its environs are the place where God and His people speak to each other—this is why it is customary to bow when approaching the altar.

The altar serves one more related function—it is the place from which Communion is served.  Jesus instituted the Holy Supper at a dinner table; today He uses church altars all over the world to give us His body and blood through sacramental bread and wine.  When used in this way, the altar can properly be referred to as the Lord’s Table. 

The church altar has a long and important history, and it deserves our respectful conduct when approaching it.  It represents our connection to God, which has been made possible through the atoning death of His Son who is also our Savior.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Sex and relationships

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.  Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?  So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery"
(Matthew 19:1-9).

This week polygamy has been mentioned in the news.  Polygamy is the practice of one man having several wives, all at the same time. 

In the United States, polygamy is practiced in secret, because having multiple wives is against the law.  Some people have been polygamists without knowing it—they are victims of a man who gets married in several different states, and keeps each marriage secret from his other wives.  But others go into multiple marriages with their eyes wide open.  Not very long ago there was even a cable TV series that dramatized such a family arrangement.

Most people who practice polygamy do so on religious grounds—they believe that God approves this style of marriage.  They will point to examples from the Old Testament, especially men like King David and King Solomon.  But how does God really feel about such marriages?

When God created Adam, He said it is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  But God did not create Ellen and Edie and Eloise, He only created Eve.  By God’s original plan, one woman was more than enough to complete a marriage with a man.  Consider also the life of Abraham.  When Sarah could not get pregnant, she urged her husband to have a child by their servant Hagar.  Yet this situation resulted in so much domestic strife that Abraham eventually had to send Hagar and her son away, and their descendants became enemies of the Israelites.  One man with two bed partners did not work out well at all. 

God sometimes permits things to go on that He does not approve of.  For example, He gave Moses rules by which the Israelites could divorce each other, even though God hates divorce.  When asked about this, Jesus said Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  God did bless David and Solomon during their lives, but it was in spite of their polygamous ways.  A careful reading of Scripture shows that neither man enjoyed a peaceful, God-pleasing home life.  God’s plan for marriage has always been one man, one woman.  Anything else opposes God’s design for the family.

Which brings us to the topic of homosexuality.  Same-sex love has been around for a very long time.  It is mentioned in God’s laws given through Moses some thirty-five hundred years ago.  In ancient Greece, men were thought of as superior to women, so naturally the love between men was regarded as superior to the lesser kind of desire a man might feel for a woman.  Over the course of centuries, some civilizations have embraced gay and lesbian sexuality as normal and natural.

These past few decades, there has been a push in America to embrace homosexuality as just another way for two people to express love.  There are efforts to give legal status to gay and lesbian unions, according them the same benefits traditionally attached to marriage.  Same-sex couples want tax breaks and the right to adopt children.  And in some places there is already a need for laws to help sort out the mess when such couples dissolve their domestic partnerships. 

God does not view gay and lesbian unions as marriage.  Through the Bible, He repeatedly tells us to avoid this kind of behavior.  For example, in the Old Testament God said If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done something detestable (Leviticus 20:13).  In the New Testament, Paul has this to say: They exchanged the truth of God for a lie…Because of this, God let shameful lusts take hold of them. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion (Romans 1:26-27).

God has two purposes for sex.  One of these purposes is stated in Genesis 1:22 when God told Adam and Eve, Be fruitful and increase in number.  Same-sex couples cannot honor God’s design for marriage by conceiving children. 

The other purpose for sex is also stated in Genesis, and reinforced later by Jesus: a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  God designed sex to be a glue that unites a man and a woman as one in marriage.  Yet this purpose is routinely ignored and abused by the majority of people living today.

About half of all marriages end in divorce.  Divorce is painful—it tears apart two lives that were being woven together into one.  It causes economic hardship and tears down self-esteem.  It undermines your trust that other people will keep their promises.  Perhaps worst of all, divorce inflicts terrible trauma on the children of the household. 

In an effort to avoid the problems caused by divorce, many people live together instead of getting married.  They look at co-habitation as a test drive for marriage, to see if the relationship has legs for the long haul.  Of course, avoiding divorce isn’t the only reason people move in together.  Some just want a sexual relationship with no strings attached—a ‘friend with benefits.’ 

God designed the sexual act to help bind a man and woman together as partners for a lifetime.  Sexual activity achieves that purpose whether you intend it to or not.  Why do you think so many people blurt out the words “I love you” when in the throes of passion?  When sexually active couples break up, the pain of separation is just as deep as if they were going through a divorce.  Not only that, but there are legal ramifications as well—many who have lived together end up in court to settle disputes over money, property, and child custody.

God intended sex to be a glue that unites a man and a woman for life.  Jesus says, they will become one flesh.  That being the case, we break God’s rules when we share the gift of sex with more than one person.  Sex is a wonderful, precious thing—it gives us joy, it strengthens our commitment to another person, and God uses it to bestow the miracle of new life.  We cheapen this wonderful gift when we tell crude sexual jokes, gaze at pornography, or use sex just to make ourselves feel good.  We weaken its power to unite people in love when we have casual sex, cheat on a spouse, or have multiple marriage partners.  It’s no wonder that God permits sexually transmitted diseases to exist—they discourage us from treating God’s gift of sex casually.

Sex is one of the best gifts that God gives to married couples.  Treat it with respect, for the sake of the God who gave it.  Use it as God intended, because we put our marriages through all sorts of stress and strain; they need all the strength that we can give them.

“You always hurt the one you love.”  It sounds nonsensical, yet it’s very often true.  The people we hurt the most deeply tend to be those we feel the closest to.

Every human being is, by nature, selfish.  We want our needs to be met, we want things to be done our way.  In order to get along with other people, we learn the art of compromise.  We also learn to keep secrets, especially when in competition with others. 

But when we get close to someone, we open up emotionally.  We start sharing our wants and needs, our hopes and dreams.  As the barriers come down, we relax—and that is when trouble starts.  The people we are intimate with are allowed to see what we try to hide from everyone else, things about us that are better off kept hidden.

Selfishness doesn’t like compromise.  Selfishness demands whatever action is necessary to get what it wants.  If you feel close enough to another person to let it all hang out, things can get ugly.  If your husband won’t give in to your demands, withhold sex from him.  If your wife won’t do what you want, hit her.  If your boyfriend doesn’t agree with you, make fun of his looks, brains, or toughness.  If your girlfriend doesn’t make enough time for you, cheat on her.  Selfishness wants to take advantage of any relationship where the barriers are down and the other person has become vulnerable to you.

Relationships are endangered when we treat each other disrespectfully.  You need three skills to keep a partnership strong.  First, you need to compromise; Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).  No one can get their own way all the time, and no one wants to feel like a doormat—you have to negotiate so that both partners feel respected.  Second, you need to keep private any thoughts and desires that will only hurt the other person if revealed.  Most of all, you need to master the art of forgiveness.  Sooner or later, every one of us hurts a loved one by letting them down, saying something mean, or being stubborn at the wrong time.  When hurts are inflicted, go to Jesus in prayer.  If you caused the hurt, ask the Lord to forgive you and to help you take responsibility for your mistake.  If you are the victim, ask Jesus to forgive your partner and help you let go of the hurt.  Love cannot survive without respect, self-control, and forgiveness.

We are all sinners; thankfully, Jesus loves every one of us and died for all our sins.  He died to forgive you and your spouse; He died to forgive your parents and grandparents, your brothers and sisters, your children and your friends.  He died forgive polygamists, gays and lesbians, and people who enjoy sex but avoid marriage.  He died for those who have divorced and for those who mistreat the people that they love.   Jesus loves us all, and His dying blood makes right all that we make wrong.  But Christ did not save us so that we can continue living in sin as if nothing has changed; our Lord has called you to abandon love for sin and seek the ways of righteousness.  Jesus does not want anyone living as polygamists or participating in homosexual behavior.  He does not want us giving up on marriage or sharing its intimate pleasures with others.  He does not want us to mistreat anyone, especially those most precious to us.  If we want to please Jesus, these kinds of behavior have to stop.  Pray for His help, that you might follow where He leads.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The church (part two)

I will sing; I will make music to the LORD (Judges 5:3).

A feature of most churches is music.  It might be an organ; it might be a praise band.  There might be one or more choirs; there is almost certainly a hymnbook. 

Why is music such an integral part of Christian worship?  To start with, we have these words from Saint Paul: Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:19-20). How do you unite people in giving the Lord joyful thanks?  The easiest way is through song.  Music has the power to lift our hearts even when we’re feeling down in the dumps; songs that are sung together have the power to unite our hearts as one for a time.

Spiritual songs can offer another benefit as well.  A good hymn is a little sermon unto itself.  Hymn writers usually base their verses on passages from Holy Scripture, presenting God’s message in the form of poetry.  This serves two valuable purposes.  First of all, a well-written hymn teaches the singer Biblical truths.  Your attention might wander during the sermon, but when you join in singing a hymn you are almost preaching to yourself.  Secondly, a well-designed hymn can help you remember God’s message.  We learn more readily when words are attached to music—that’s why we teach children their ABCs through song.  A good hymn sticks in your memory, providing God’s wisdom and comfort whenever you sing it to yourself outside of church.

No portion of the Bible is longer than the book of Psalms.  These masterworks of poetry were composed to be sung; sadly, no one living today knows what kind of music first accompanied them.  King David wrote most of the Psalms, though, and we know the kinds of instruments he favored: harps and lyres, tambourines and cymbals, horns and trumpets.  In modern terms, David praised God with strings, percussion, and wind—the whole range of musical invention.

Music is an important accompaniment to worship.  Used properly, it can reinforce what God speaks to us through the Bible.  But music by itself cannot offer what our weak and hungry souls desperately need; salvation only comes through the gracious words of God.

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