Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hungering to be with Jesus

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." "We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered.

"Bring them here to me," he said.  And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children
(Matthew 14:13-21).

In this Gospel lesson, we see again one of Jesus’ most famous miracles—the feeding of the five thousand from five loaves of bread and two fish.  During the hours covered in these verses, a lot of important things went on, things that we don’t usually notice because the miraculous dinner overshadows everything else.  So today I’d like to point your attention to eight things that we can learn from these few hours in Jesus’ life.

Our text begins with the words, When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.  The news He had received was terrible.  John the baptist, Jesus’ older cousin, had recently died.  He had been arrested for criticizing the morals of the royal family, and they had him put to death.  To add insult to injury, John’s head was put on a serving tray and shown to the king’s party guests like a trophy.  When Jesus got word of this tragedy, he got on a boat with His disciples and went away to grieve in private.

What can we learn from this?  It reminds us that Jesus feels the same way about death that we do—it is a sad thing that should not happen.  We cry at funerals.  Jesus has the power to raise the dead, yet He cries over death as well.  Death separates loved ones.  Death ends a life that should have gone on indefinitely.  God intended that Adam and Eve should live forever, along with all of their descendants.  But when our first parents ignored God to do what they wanted, sin entered the world and brought with it the curse of death.  Death is the penalty for sin; death is the only thing that stops a person from sinning once and for all.  Sin makes death necessary, but it still grieves the Lord of Life.  And even though we trust in the promise of resurrection, it is still appropriate for us to grieve the death of loved ones.  Grief reminds us how terrible sin really is.

But although Jesus went to a remote location, word got out, and over five thousand people set out on foot to go spend time with Him.  Think about that—they walked where He sailed by boat.  Obviously, these people were short on cash—no one rented a boat or a mule or a wagon.  Yet time with Jesus was so important that they were willing to several miles to be close to Him.

Most of us are not walkers.  We don’t even use bicycles very much.  We go everywhere by car or truck.  We grumble about detours caused by road construction.  We grumble about icy roads in winter.  And now we grumble about the high cost of gas and diesel.  It’s tempting to skip church and save on fuel.  But we can learn from the five thousand who followed Jesus on foot—they prized time with Him over their own comfort or convenience.

It was not an east trip for some of the crowd—many of them were suffering from poor health.  Matthew says that Jesus had compassion on them and healed their sick.  When we get sick, it’s easy to become negative.  You might ask, “why is God letting me suffer like this?”  You wonder what you did to make God angry at you.  If you really get desperate you might even bargain with God, promising Him any number of things in exchange for getting well.

When you are sick or in pain, it’s important to remember this—God is not punishing you for your sins.  If you got what you deserved, you would have been reduced to a little pile of ashes a long time ago.  But God does not punish you or me for our sins—He punished Jesus for our sins on the cross.  Not just some of our sins, but all of them.  Peter writes, Christ died for sins once for all (1 Peter 3:18).  Paul says, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, then you have nothing to fear from God.

Sometimes God does lean on us, but it is always for our good.  Hebrews chapter 12 says, Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?…Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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.  It’s easy to ignore God when things are going well; sometimes it takes hardship to make us remember how much we need the Lord in our lives.  Then we start thinking like those sick people who came to Jesus; they traveled a long way on foot because they had hope that He would heal them.  And Jesus showed compassion for those who trusted in His love; He cured them of their ailments.

After a long journey on foot and a day spent listening to Jesus, supper time came and there was nothing to eat.  The people had come too far to return home for a meal, so the disciples suggested sending them to nearby villages where they could buy some food.  But Jesus nixed that idea; He told the disciples to organize a meal. 

Jesus was pleased with the crowd’s devotion—they were like Mary, who listened at Jesus’ feet while Martha fussed with dinner (Luke chapter ten).  When Martha complained that Mary should be helping in the kitchen, Jesus praised Mary for having her priorities in the right order.  I’m sure that you remember these words of Christ: do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?'  For the unbelievers chase after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33).  Jesus proved the truth of this statement by feeding the crowd that had devoted their day to Him.

Jesus had everyone sit down on the grass.  Then before the food was distributed, He looked up to heaven and gave thanks.  This was Jesus’ habit—He gave God thanks before eating a meal.  This should be our habit as well.  Without food and drink, we’d be dead in short order.  And food doesn’t come from a grocery store.  Food isn’t made by farmers or ranchers or fishermen.  God makes seeds sprout and grow.  God enables birds, animals and fish to give birth and raise young.  All food comes from the Lord; it is appropriate that we thank Him at every meal for keeping us alive through His generous bounty. 

The disciples had seen Jesus perform a lot of miracles, but they were still blinded by limited thinking.  When Jesus said, “they do not need to go away. You give them something to eat”, the disciples panicked. “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”, they answered.  Yet by God’s power, that small amount of ordinary fare was able to feed well over five thousand people, and every stomach was filled. 

So often in life, we look at what we have and are dissatisfied.  Our car is too old, our clothes are out of style, we can’t afford a bigger apartment.  We don’t make the kind of money that we’d like to, and we get tired of eating cheap food at home while our friends are always dining out.  But you know what?  God keeps you alive.  He feeds and clothes you.  Fish and bread are nothing fancy—they were common food for common people doing common work—agriculture and fishing.  But the crowd didn’t mind—after hours of teaching and healing, Jesus capped off the day with a miracle—He filled their bellies with enough to eat.  It wasn’t fancy food, but it was nutritious.  They went home satisfied, both spiritually and physically.

The apostle John also records the events of this day (chapter six), but in his Gospel He preserves a few words of Jesus that Matthew did not.  John writes, When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted."  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten

I could never work in a restaurant.  The amount of food thrown away each day would haunt me all night.  Jesus tells us to not waste food, yet we make more than we can eat and throw leftovers away instead of finishing them later.  Because of government regulation, restaurants cannot even donate surplus food to the needy.  We whine about the rising cost of food, but how much would we save if we heeded Jesus’ command, let nothing be wasted

There’s one final point that I’d like to make.  Why did both Matthew and John make note that there were twelve basketfuls of leftovers?  They wouldn’t mention this detail if it weren’t significant.  Well, how many disciples were there, who served the food that Jesus provided?  There were twelve—the Lord made sure that after the people ate, there was enough left over to feed all twelve disciples as well.

It’s subtle, but Jesus was making a point.  When ministers work for Him, they feed the children of God with His word.  Remember that Scripture says, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deuteronomy 8:3).  Jesus said, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).  When we celebrate Communion, the pastor serves you Jesus’ body and blood as food and drink for the soul.

God gives all that we need to stay alive so that we can serve Him.  But He gives you more than the minimum necessary; He gives you enough so there are leftovers.  These leftovers are not to be wasted; they are to be gathered for the support of God’s pastors and missionaries.  Paul writes, don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).  The Lord gives you enough to support the church financially--that’s provided that you aren’t wasteful with His gifts.

Life and death, sin and salvation—Jesus changes our lives now so that we can have a future worth living for.  That message drew a huge crowd, people who wanted to be close to Jesus, not for just an hour in the morning but for an entire day.  Travel was an inconvenience, but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make.  Their devotion to Christ resulted in blessings—relief from suffering, joy for the soul, and nourishment for the body, so they could go home and serve the Lord with gladness.  May you value time with Jesus as much as those five thousand people did.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Surgery.  Hearing that word can provoke strong emotion.  Hope for relief from a serious health problem.  Fear of something going terribly wrong while you are unconscious.  Concern for how long it will take to recover afterwards. Worry over how such an expensive procedure will be paid for. 

Surgery is nothing to take lightly.  Even minor surgery can traumatize the body.  Anesthesia puts a strain on your health.  No matter how well trained a surgeon is, humans make mistakes.  No matter how sterile an operating theater is, hospitals are filled with patients that are infected with bacteria and viruses.  In general, health professionals would prefer fixing a problem with medication or some non-invasive therapy rather than cut someone open.  Surgery is reserved for crisis situations and for those times when no other treatment will provide relief. 

You and I have a shared health problem—we are infected with an aggressive cancer named sin.  It is so deadly a problem that only radical surgery can provide effective relief.  If the tumor of sin is not cut away, it will eat us up from the inside.  It will destroy our ability to think clearly, it will destroy our sense of morality, and it will cause us pain that even death cannot end.

Jesus is our surgeon.  He is an expert at using the sharpest scalpel in all of creation—the Word of Truth.  He cuts away the lies we use to hide from reality.  He cuts away the pride and arrogance that makes us deny our need for help.  He cuts away the passion for unhealthy things that make the cancer of sin spread within us even faster.  He cuts away guilt that weighs us down and weakens our resistance.  He cuts away the rebellious attitude that resists God and makes us His enemies.

Surgery is a radical procedure.  It hurts terribly and is incredibly expensive.  Thankfully, Jesus endured most of the pain Himself on the cross—the discomfort of our treatment pales in comparison.  And on that terrible cross, our Great Physician did one thing more—He paid the price for our treatment in its entirety.  Thanks to Jesus your eternal health is assured, and at no cost to you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Love hurts

God is love (1 John 4:8).

Love hurts.  Just ask Romeo and Juliet—they committed suicide because the pain of living apart from each other was just too much to bear.  Love hurts.  Just ask the mother who works three jobs to feed her children and make sure they can have medical care when they get sick.  Love hurts.  Just ask the man who swallows his pride and takes his wife back after she admits to cheating on him with the man who was his oldest friend.

Love shouldn’t hurt.  Love should be promises kept and dreams fulfilled.  Love should be days in the sunshine and nights spent at ease.  Love should be pleasant conversations and warm embraces.  Love shouldn’t be marred with harsh words and secrets betrayed.  Love shouldn’t be darkened with selfishness or pride.  Love should not be interrupted by misplaced priorities or the separation of death.  Love shouldn’t hurt.

The only reason that love hurts is because we are flawed.  We don’t love as we should because we are lazy, impulsive, greedy, and lack self-control.  We don’t experience love as we should because we are selfish and self-absorbed, we have cravings that are dark and sick that no one should be expected to put up with.  We have a twisted idea of what relationships should be, putting unreasonable pressure on others to make us happy.  Because we are corrupt, God had to put a limit on our ability to inflict harm—every sinful life eventually ends in death.

God is love.  He created us to love as He first loved us.  But since we are failures at loving as we should, the Lord God Almighty sent His Son to show us the full extent of His love.  Jesus is God’s love cast in human form, a love that came to earth where He reshaped our relationships with God and each other. 

Love should not hurt—yet the Son of God was hurt terribly because of His love for us.  On the cross He suffered for every time we betrayed a trust, told a lie, or broke a promise.  As He died, the Savior paid for every time we caused pain or fear or anger instead of showing kindness.  But when it was all over, Christ rose from the dead to guide us in a new way of living life and relating to each other.  He offers us love that doesn’t hurt, love that warms the heart forever.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon answered, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.  Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.  So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.  So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be"
(1 Kings 3:5-12).

When a Christian thinks of wisdom, thoughts immediately turn to Solomon.  Solomon was the son of King David, the greatest warrior and ruler of ancient Israel.  But David was also a passionate believer in God, and an accomplished musician—most of the Psalms in the Bible were composed by David.

It seems natural that such a gifted man would have an equally gifted son.  When Solomon ascended his father’s throne, he showed that he was already a cut above the ordinary.  God spoke to Solomon in a dream, and offered a blessing to the young man as he assumed control of a very wealthy and influential country.  Solomon’s response showed his inner maturity; he acknowledged his need for God’s help in order to be a good ruler.  What he wanted most was the blessing of God’s wisdom.  The Lord was pleased with this request, and made Solomon the wisest man in all of human history.  Solomon contributed several new books to the Bible—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.  It’s no wonder that when we think of wisdom, we immediately think of Solomon.

What we don’t often remember, however, is Solomon’s fall from grace.  Solomon loved the benefits that came with being a king—he loved wealth and he loved women.  Solomon married 700 women and spent time with an additional 300 mistresses.  This lust for earthly things had a terrible effect on the king; the Bible tells us, As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.  He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.  So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done (1 Kings 11:4-6).  Although Solomon was the wisest man alive, he did something very foolish.  He thought that he could have it both ways—be a servant of God, and yet ignore God whenever it suited him. 

Solomon’s mistake is one that we make too.  We honor God on Sunday morning.  We pray to Him at mealtime.  We read a devotion in the morning or before going to bed.  But what about the rest of the time?  At work, do you ask the Holy Spirit for guidance before making an important decision?  When someone makes you mad, do you ask Jesus to forgive that person?  When you get a pleasant surprise, do you thank God for His generosity? 

Most of the time, we ignore God—we only think about Him on our schedule.  That way, the rest of our time is ours to do with as we please.  When you don’t think about God, it is easy to yell at your parents, tell mean jokes, have an affair, cheat on tests, stretch the truth, and spend money foolishly.  We treat God like He’s in a closet; if we close the door on Him and turn off the light, He won’t see what we’re doing. 

Of course, such thinking is ridiculous.  God knows our every thought, word, and deed.  And He knows that a divided heart can only lead to trouble.  Jesus said, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24)

Solomon should have realized this—after all, he was the wisest man of all time.  Yet if you read Ecclesiastes, you see the thoughts of an old man who realizes how foolish he has been.  Listen to how the book starts: "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."  For page after page, Solomon despairs over the wasted years of human life.  It is not until the very end of the book that he puts it all into perspective: here is the conclusion of the matter--fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Pretty bleak wisdom, to be sure.  Shouldn’t wisdom make us happy?  Let’s see what we can find out about wisdom from looking at God’s gift to Solomon.

Solomon asked for wisdom in order to become a good ruler for God’s people.  Obviously, the young king was already a wise man—he was concerned with treating others fairly and improving their lives.  He did not ask for long life or riches or the death of his enemies, and God praised him for that.   Foolish people are obsessed with personal comfort and safety; wise people find happiness by cultivating it in others.

Solomon knew his limitations; like each of us, he needed God’s help to make good decisions.  The events of our world swirl in murky grayness; it’s like everything is shrouded in fog at sunset.  Churches are like street lamps, shining with the light of God; but Satan fills the areas in-between with shadows and confusion. 

Wisdom cuts through the fog and pushes back the dark.  Wisdom sees the difference between right and wrong.  Wisdom separates truth from half-truths and outright lies.  Wisdom enables you to consider all the angles and ask the right questions.  Wisdom looks at the big picture but does not miss any important details.  Wisdom learns from the past, plans for a better tomorrow, but does not ignore the needs of today.  Wisdom shows us the best path forward through the murky fog.

As king of Israel, Solomon would often be called on to act as judge for the people.  Solomon wanted to be a good judge—fair, but compassionate.  Wisdom is the ability to temper justice with mercy.  This is exactly what Jesus does for us.  When Christ calls us to stand before Him, He has one decision to make—accept us into heaven, or reject us to hell.  Because we are sinners who ignore God’s rules, justice demands eternal punishment.  But Jesus tempers holy justice with loving compassion.  Love took Him to the cross where Christ suffered the punishment for our sins.  Now He offers the benefits of His death to all who trust in Him.  When we stand before the Son of God in judgment, He will look into our hearts to see if we love and trust Him; if we do, we will be joyfully welcomed into paradise.  Jesus is the wisdom of God made flesh, and He is the perfect judge of all.

Such wisdom understands the human heart.  It understands that our inner nature is corrupt, but that God loves us despite our faults.  Wisdom enables us to nurture the good while dealing aggressively with the bad.  Wisdom helps us to forgive each other, support each other, and grow together.

But having wisdom does not guarantee good behavior—something that Solomon found out the hard way.  He had the God-given wisdom to see the right thing to do, but more and more often he chose a different direction, one which took him away from God. 

There are lots of smart people in our world—smart people who don’t believe in Jesus.  They earn doctorates, teach at universities, and publish books.  They believe that they are wise, yet their wisdom leads away from God, not towards Him.  In 1st Corinthians chapter one, Paul makes fun of such human wisdom: Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  The world, through its wisdom, did not know him, so God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Solomon demonstrates that wisdom and humility go hand-in-hand.  The young king would not have asked for such a gift if he were confident in his own abilities.  People who are proud and arrogant don’t ask God for wisdom; in their minds, they already know the best way to proceed.  They don’t consult with advisors; they surround themselves with ‘yes men’ to pat them on the back for always being clever. 

Wisdom is not always valued by others—it tells us uncomfortable things about ourselves.  Consider this case brought before Solomon: two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him.  One of them said, "My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me.  The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.  During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him.  So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast.  The next morning, I got up to nurse my son--and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn't the son I had borne."  The other woman said, "No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

…Then the king said, "Bring me a sword." So they brought a sword for the king.  He then gave an order: "Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other." The woman, whose son was alive, was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!"  But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!" Then the king gave his ruling: "Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother."  When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice
(1 Kings chapter three).

Solomon had great wisdom—but I doubt that the losing woman had much good to say about him.  The darkness in her heart had been exposed for all to see.  It is the same with Christ and us.  Through the Bible, God’s wisdom clarifies what is good and what is evil.  When confronted with the truth about themselves, some experience a change of heart, repent their sins, and cling to Jesus in love.  But others don’t want to change their ways; they resent being described as a sinner.  Such people get angry at Jesus and angry at His followers.  It was this kind of rage that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.  It is this kind of resentment that has pulled the Bible from our schools and the 10 Commandments from our courthouses.

And yet wisdom is both respected and desirable.  The queen of Sheba came to learn from Solomon and offered him many expensive gifts for the experience.  The words of Solomon are preserved in no less than five books of the Bible, and even unbelievers are impressed with his understanding of human nature.  Wisdom is magnetic; it draws us in and makes us hungry to learn.  And wisdom is useful—it makes clear what is otherwise confusing.

Wisdom can be yours.  The Holy Spirit has preserved much wisdom in the Bible, and offers to help you understand it.  But just remember this—wisdom does not guarantee good decisions.  The wise person lets Jesus lead, and humbly follows behind.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Taking heat for wrongdoing

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

Have you ever taken heat for doing something wrong? You were playing recklessly and broke something around the house.  You got caught cheating on a test.  The person you were dating caught you in a lie.  Someone at work told the boss how you were misusing company property.  So you were punished.  You might have gotten a stern lecture; you might have been given an ultimatum to shape up or else.  You might have lost your privileges.  You might have lost a relationship or your place on the team.

Have you ever taken heat for something that wasn’t your fault? Your whole class got punished for staying silent when the teacher demanded “who did that?” Mom blamed you for something your brother did and wouldn’t take your word over his.  You lost your best friend because she wrongly believed you were the one who betrayed her confidence. 

You understand the need for justice. You want the guilty to be punished and the innocent to be spared.  But when you do something wrong and know that you’re guilty, justice loses its’ appeal.   You don’t want the hammer to fall; you shrink away from punishment. 

We’ve all suffered retribution for doing wrong.  But none of us has gotten what we truly deserve; to this point, we’ve all gotten off easy.  Every time we misbehave, we anger God because we’ve broken His law. The penalty for sin is hell—a pit of darkness and pain, a place of loneliness and regret, a prison with no hope of escape or parole.  That terrible punishment awaits each of us when life finally comes to an end.

As much as we dislike punishment, the pain seems even worse when we suffer for being falsely accused.  None of us like taking the heat for another person’s mistakes.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus suffered when He was sentenced to die at Calvary.  He was the perfect Son of God come to earth in the body of a man—a sinless man who obeyed God perfectly in thought, word and deed.  On the cross, our Savior accepted God’s punishment for your sins and mine—He took the heat for us, the terrible heat of hell itself.  Jesus suffered unfairly because He loves you and wanted to spare you from the place of everlasting fire.  If you love Him in return, you won’t get what you deserve.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Old stuff

His loving concern never fails.  His great love is new every morning. Lord, how faithful you are! (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Things get old and worn out.  Toys unwrapped on Christmas Eve lose their appeal.  Clothes that were trendy last year get shoved to the back of the closet.  The car that you purchased new develops rust spots and doesn’t get washed as often as it used to.  Old things get boring.  Old things don’t work as well as they used to.  Old things aren’t on the cutting edge.  When something gets old, we are less likely to see it as valuable and more likely to view it as clutter.

But value is not always diminished by age.  Antiques are both old and expensive—their value increases with time.  New wine doesn’t have the quality of a bottle that is well aged.  When a master painter hangs up his brush in death, the works of art that he leaves behind are now unique and irreplaceable. 

We live in a disposable age.  People are more likely to buy new clothes instead of repairing a split seam or replacing a broken zipper.  It is cheaper to purchase a new toaster than to fix a broken one.  No one will give you money for an old computer.  We are fixated on new stuff, leaving old things unappreciated and neglected.

Nothing is older than God.  He predates everything in the universe—in fact, the universe is His creation.  God is the source of some very old ideas—love, truth, justice, service, faithfulness, and personal responsibility.  God gave us religion, religion filled with quaint notions like forgiveness, patience, the value of hard work, and honoring one’s word.  God gave us the old fashioned idea that we need Him and we need each other—no man is a self-sufficient island, no woman can do as she pleases without considering the repercussions of her behavior, no child can thrive without the guidance of authority. 

God is old, but age has not diminished Him.  God is old, but the things He stands for are eternal.  God is old, but He is not old fashioned.  Every day, He keeps our weak and corrupted world from dissolving into utter chaos.  Every day, He forgives sinners who beg Him to set aside His anger at their conduct and embrace them with His love. Nothing in our lives is more valuable than God—time will never reduce how much we need Him.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dealing with enemies

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? …When my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall…Though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me…Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior…

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD while in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD
(Psalm 27:1-7, 9, 13-14).

Enemies.  We all have them.  There are terrorists who want to make us cower in fear.  There are spies who want to steal our country’s secrets.  There are corrupt politicians who write laws that favor their cronies.  There are activist judges who change our laws from the bench. 

But not all enemies are so far away.  We’ve all experienced mean teachers and unstable bosses.  We’ve all been the victim of gossip.  There are bullies at school and bullies on the Internet. We get emails from strangers who want to scam us out of money.  We have to deal with sales reps who will promise you the moon in order to close a deal. 

Sadly, some enemies live right in your own home.  Adults who are verbally or physically abusive.  Children who fight with each other and treat their parents with disrespect.  Some family members tell lies and steal from others who are living under the same roof.

But the worst enemies of all are those who attack our faith in Jesus.  They file lawsuits in protest of the Christian message; they don’t want to see manger scenes or crosses in public, they want references to God removed from the pledge of allegiance, all government buildings and schools, and from the money in our wallets.  Others write books that insult Jesus by claiming that He was just a man like us, a wise man who said good things but never performed any miracles and is still buried in a grave somewhere.  Some make movies about stories from the Bible, but they change the truth to make it more entertaining.  And there are plenty of college professors teaching our youth that religion is just a crutch for people that are unable to think for themselves.

King David had enemies too.  Israel was surrounded by kings who frequently brought war to its borders.  Within his own family, David had a son who tried to seize the throne for himself through revolution.  There were times when David didn’t know who he could trust—it seemed like he was surrounded by enemies that were hungry to pull him down.

How do you deal with enemies?  How do you escape the fear, and sleep peacefully at night?  How do you get out of the bed each morning and start the day with a positive attitude?  For the answer, let’s look to David’s words recorded in Psalm 27.

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? …When my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall…Though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.  David is confident that God will oppose his enemies and cause their plans to fail.  God is the Creator of the universe; no one has the power to successfully oppose Him.  David knew that God had a plan for his life, just as God has plans for each of us.  Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  David was confident that his enemies would not stop him from carrying out the work he was born to do.

David speaks of God as my light.  So much of the time, our world is murky and dark.  It can be hard to separate truth from lies, or see the right thing to do in a confusing situation.  Thankfully, God sent His Son Jesus to show us the light of truth.  Jesus said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness (John 8:12).  When Jesus speaks, His words push back the darkness and replace confusion with clarity.  When we spend time with the Bible, it becomes easier to see what God would have us do.

David also described God as my salvation.  Salvation refers to the act of being saved from life-threatening danger.  One example is that of a lifeguard at the beach or the swimming pool.  When someone is in danger of drowning, the lifeguard risks his own life to keep them alive.  So it is with God.  He sent Jesus to be our lifeguard.  We were drowning in sin, until He gave up His life on the cross to breathe new life into each of us. 

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.  David wants comfort during his time of trouble, and he knows just where to go—God’s holy Temple.  God’s house of worship is a sanctuary, a refuge from the problems of life.  In a world where ugliness seems to be everywhere, David wants to see the beauty of the Lord.  David describes the Church as a place of safety, built on a rock so high that his enemies cannot attack him there.

That rock, of course, is Christ.  Jesus said, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock (Matthew 7:24-26).  I’m reminded of an old painting; it shows a rock sticking out of stormy water.  There is a cross on the top of the rock, and people are clinging to it desperately.  Although the sky is dark and the wind is howling, these people are safe; so long as they embrace the cross on the rock, they will not drown in sin.

At his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.  In gratitude for sanctuary, David promises to offer sacrifices with shouts of joy.  What does God want in the way of sacrifice?  In Psalm 51, David gives us the answer: You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. David will throw away his pride and confess his sins to God; after he is forgiven and free of guilt, he will be filled with great joy.  Then David will honor God’s name with music—music that is not about David, but gives glory to God for all the wonderful things He has done.

Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; be merciful to me and answer me…Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.  David switches gears from future hope to his present circumstances.  God has helped him in the past, which gives him the courage to ask for help again with the problems he’s experiencing now.  Life doesn’t always go smoothly for us, and sometimes God seems far away.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Consider these words from Hebrews chapter 12: Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  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.  God disciplines us like parents discipline children—His goal is to shape us into better people.  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).  Times of hardship can draw us closer to God; suffering strips away worthless distractions so that we focus solely on the important things in life.  Much of the time we ignore God and His teachings because we want to do things our way; this forces God to turn our attention back to Him by whatever means are necessary.  Sometimes He drives us to our knees so we are more inclined to pray; sometimes He lays us in a hospital bed so that we spend all our waking moments looking up towards heaven.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD while in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.  David ends on a note of confidence—he will not die rejected by God, but will experience heaven’s mercy while still alive.  And so his advice to us is this—wait for the Lord; do not panic or get impatient.  Peter says that The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  God is not slow to answer our prayers; it just seems that way because we are fearful and impatient.  So trust in the Lord’s mercy; seek Him in His Church, confess your sins, praise His name, and ask for His help.  The Lord will see you through; He will give you faith, patience, endurance and love—something your enemies won’t be able to understand.  By trusting in the Lord, you are protected from the hurts they try to cause you.  You can remain calm, kind and loving, forgiving them as Jesus forgave His tormentors from the cross.  By living this way, you are a mirror for God’s love to shine on these enemies and show them the darkness in their hearts. Remember what Jesus said: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27).  It’s possible to do this, if you cling to Jesus for help and protection.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Freedom is not free

Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom (Galatians 5:1).

Freedom is not free.  I know you’ve heard that statement before, but it’s true.

America started out as a hodgepodge of European colonies.  Eventually, England became the dominant political power over American residents and commerce.  Our land was rich in natural resources and became a cash cow for businesses that were headquartered overseas.  Resentment grew over foreign rule, and when peaceful change proved impossible, Americans declared their independence from the King of England. 

The result was war.  England had the benefit of a better-equipped military, but Americans held the home field advantage.  The conflict dragged on for seven years and cost 25,000 American fighters their lives.  The struggle for freedom involved an expenditure of 150 million dollars, a war that today would cost over 3 ½ billion to finance.  And these numbers don’t take into account all the damage inflicted on cities and farmland.  America’s political freedom came at great cost, hardship, and sacrifice.

Freedom is not free.  That truth applies to your spiritual freedom as well. 

The Declaration of Independence speaks of inalienable rights and freedoms, but human beings are not naturally free.  We are born slaves—slaves to passion and impulsiveness, slaves to pride and greed, slaves to the fear of pain and death.  All people come into this world as slaves of sin, and Satan uses us to push forward his agenda. 

Thankfully, we have a freedom fighter who waged war against the forces of darkness and won—all by Himself.  God sent His Son to live with us and die for us.  The Christ of God took up the cause of freedom on our behalf.  Using righteousness as His shield and the truth as His weapon, Jesus took the fight to Satan and disarmed the enemy.  On the cross, our Lord suffered every fatal wound that evil could throw at Him.  He died, then burst out of the grave alive and victorious.  He freed us from the darkness that sin brings into our lives, but it cost Him terribly—Jesus suffered in ways we cannot begin to understand.  Freedom is not free, but Jesus paid that price for you.  Honor that sacrifice, because you can never repay it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light (Micah 7:8).

We have dates that live in infamy.  December 7th, when a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor killed more than 24 hundred people.  November 22nd, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in public on a Texas street.  September 11th, when terrorists used hijacked airliners to kill nearly 3,000 people. Many of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when these terrible acts of violence took place. Each of these tragic events changed us and our nation forever.

With people committing random acts of violence in stores, schools and movie theaters, do you feel safe?  Do you still resent people from Japan because of WWII?  Because of terrorism, do you hate or fear people of the Muslim faith?  Does it seem to you as if the world is on the brink of disaster, and at any moment something could go terribly wrong?  Anger, fear, and despair—these are the legacy of our national tragedies. 

We should not forget those who have been killed or the many who suffer from their loss.  We should remain vigilant against those who use violence to force their will on others.  But we should not wallow in grief.  We should not let hatred consume us.  We should not let fear steal our joy or dictate our behavior.  We must not let evil so cloud our lives that we lose sight of the light.

Christ Jesus is the light of heaven who banishes the darkness of sin.  He gave His life to make up for all the sins that cause grief, terrible acts that victimize us and the sins we commit that victimize others.  When His work of atonement was completed, Jesus rose from the dead, rose to help us deal with the pains of life, rose to assure us that the dead will live again at His command. 

Jesus died to forgive those who died in our national tragedies, as well as for those who caused them.  The Son of God wants you to let go of your anger and mistrust, your fear and despair.  He offers you help to forgive others as He has forgiven you; He wants to teach you how to show love and respect to everyone.  He offers you the peace of knowing that you are safe in the care of His holy angels; He comforts you with the certainty that His friends will live together forever despite the tragic interruption of death.  We have days that live in infamy, but thanks to Jesus they don’t have to drag us down.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you (Romans 12:1-3).

There’s a difference between acting stupid and being naïve.  If you know that thieves have been stealing from homes in your neighborhood, it is stupid to leave your doors unlocked at night or while you’re away at work.  If a politician is caught taking bribes, it is foolish to reelect him for another term in office.

But naïveté is different.  Being naïve just means that you haven’t experienced the worst this world has to offer.  Children trust everyone to speak the truth—until someone lies to them.  A girl believes that love will last forever—until the first time she is dumped.  A young man thinks his father is perfect—until he sees Dad make a serious error in judgment.  Each time we are hurt or let down, we lose some of our innocence—our naïveté.

Usually, calling someone naïve is an insult—it’s like saying, “you should have known better.”  As we experience life, it is assumed that we will develop personal defenses.  We will get better at spotting suspicious behavior.  We will improve our ability to detect half-truths and lies.  We will develop tough skins that can shrug off hurtful words.  If we don’t build up our defenses, some will pity us while others will look for ways to take advantage.

But a certain amount of naïveté can be a good thing.  Do you want to grow so suspicious of others that you automatically assume the worst about their motives?  I don’t want to live like that.  I don’t want to expect evil from others; I want to find and encourage the good things they can do.  That requires some amount of naïveté. 

Paul wrote, In regard to evil, be infants.  It’s good to be naïve when it comes to evil things.  Wouldn’t it be great if no one had any interest in pornography?  Imagine a world where no one got curious about illegal drugs.  Think how nice it would be if no one ever heard an ethnic joke.  Sometimes we’re better off being ignorant of hurtful things.

Sadly, everyone in the world is tainted by evil.  We do need to be on our guard, especially if we have children to protect.  But don’t overreact to evil; don’t let all of your naïveté be stripped away and replaced with paranoia. God created us to enjoy life, not to be afraid of it.

Naturally, letting our guard down can invite trouble.  There are all sorts of con artists out there, trying to make a buck off of someone’s gullibility.  Emails from overseas supposedly come from widows, lawyers, or bank managers; they claim to have money waiting for us, if we will just help finance the transaction.  There are people who have pretended to be sick and received thousands of dollars raised by community fund-raisers on their behalf.  In fact, if we are always kind, trusting, and giving, even those closest to us can start to abuse our generous nature and take us for granted.

No one likes to feel like a doormat.  No one wants to be used by others.  When people take advantage of us, it results in feels of resentment and shame—resentment at being treated so badly, shame at letting it happen to me.  It would be easy to throw up barriers that say “keep away!  Don’t bother me with your problems.”  The thing is, human beings need each other.  We need each other for help in solving problems.  We need each other for mutual protection.  We need each other for companionship and love.  We cannot thrive if we push other people away; relationships can only grow if we are willing to reach out and support each other in times of need.

God commands us to care for each other; Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:19).  If someone needs help, we are expected to give it.  We have ears that can hear words of pain, frustration, and fear.  We have mouths that can offer solace and encouragement.  We have hands and feet and money that can be used to aid those who are in need. 

Of course, there are some who would take advantage of Christian generosity.  They constantly beg for help but don’t try to stand on their own.  They take what we offer and waste it on frivolous things.  There are even some who just pretend to be in need because they think that Christians are easily fooled.  Jesus told His followers, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).  We need to watch out for scam artists who pretend to be something that they’re not.  At the same time, however, we cannot let evil squash our desire to do good. 

It is tempting to help others on a quid pro quo basis—“you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”  But that’s not the way Jesus thinks—He died to forgive us, never expecting that we could pay Him back for what He suffered.  We are to show love the same way.  Families exchange gifts at Christmas, but no parent expects a child to spend like an adult can.  We are all different; we cannot expect that those who are in need will be able to repay us for our generosity, nor can we assume that everyone will use what we give them in a responsible way or show us proper gratitude.  The truth is, none of us treat God’s gifts like we should, or show proper gratitude towards the Lord; yet that does not stop Him from seeing to our needs each and every day.

It all comes down to self-esteem—how much or how little we think of ourselves.  Self-esteem gives us the confidence to deal with others as equals, instead of always feeling like a victim.  Guidance counselors evaluate high school kids, looking for healthy self-esteem.  Confidence is needed to set goals and achieve them.  People with poor self-esteem rarely achieve their full potential.

But healthy self-esteem is a hard thing to achieve.  Some people think so highly of themselves that they become proud, while others think so little of themselves that they become depressed. 

Too much self-esteem is dangerous.  When confidence becomes arrogance, you stop listening to advice; after all, you know all the answers.  Proud folks can be insufferable big mouths or tiresome know-it-alls; they can also be dangerous risk takers who won’t accept help no matter how badly it is needed.

Too little self-esteem can also be dangerous.  When confidence hits rock bottom, you stop trying to make friends; after all, why would anyone want to spend time with a loser like you?  You are likely to settle for dead-end jobs and dead-end relationships, because you don’t believe that you’re capable of anything better.  You might even think about suicide.

Healthy self-esteem starts with the Lord.  You know that you’re valuable because God made you personally—a unique and special person unlike anyone else anywhere in the world.  You also know that you are deeply flawed because of sin; you don’t love God or your fellow human beings the way that you should.  You are wasteful with time and money; you break promises and say hurtful things.  But you also know this: God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you, so that you could be forgiven and restored to God’s family.  And you know that with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can do things in life that honor God and show love for the people around you.

That’s healthy self-esteem—it is held in tension between your personal shortcomings and God’s amazing love for you.  Although you fail God and your loved ones every day, you don’t give in to despair; Jesus loves you and He forgives you.  Being weak is no disgrace; Paul wrote I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  When you think that you are strong, it’s easy to ignore God’s help as unnecessary.  But when you realize how weak you are, you also recognize the need for God’s power in your life.  When you are weak you start depending on God’s strength, not your own.  It is only when God works within you that you can be truly strong.

When you have healthy self-esteem, you don’t brag about your achievements.  You know that whatever successes you have were only possible because God gave you the skills and the help to succeed.  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).  When things turn out well, it’s only because God designed you to be successful at that task.  You are like a work glove worn on God’s mighty hand; can the glove brag about the work it has done?

Healthy self-esteem is a tricky balancing act between thinking too little of yourself and being over-confident.  Paul advises, do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  There is the key—healthy self-esteem grows from a relationship with Christ.  You don’t find worth looking within yourself; worth comes from God’s love for you.  That’s the source of our confidence; as Jeremiah said, Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him (17:7).

Thursday, September 06, 2012

God the Holy Trinity

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:22).

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit—three Persons, one God.  How can we understand this amazing and mysterious Being?  Why is He so important in our lives?

Trying to understand the Triune God is an exercise in futility.  The LORD is eternal—He stands outside of time, untouched by it. We who are bound by time cannot understand a being that has no beginning and no end.  The Mighty One has unlimited power—we who rely on tools and science cannot imagine a being that can do anything just by speaking His will.  Our God is everywhere and knows everything that’s going on—this amazes us, because we struggle to get hold of what’s going on just in our immediate vicinity.  In so many ways, the Lord of Hosts is beyond what we can imagine—being one God in three Persons is just one more aspect of His magnificence that we cannot truly comprehend.

What we do understand is family.  We know the importance of relationships.  And one thing that is clear about our Triune God is this—He is the God of relationships, the source of family.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit—they have always existed in a unity that we can scarcely grasp.  God has never experienced loneliness.  He did not create us because He needed companionship; the Triune God made people simply to spread His love further. 

Tragically, sin got in the way.  Sin makes each person look inward rather than outward.  Sin urges us to put ourselves first, at the expense of everyone else.  Sin destroys relationships through selfishness.  Thankfully, the LORD did not give up on us.  Although He doesn’t need our companionship, Jesus was sent to fix the relationships that were broken off by sin.  The Son of God experienced something on the cross He never had before—complete isolation from His Father and the Spirit.  That hellish separation had a wonderful effect—it restored our fellowship with God. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three Persons, one God.  We might not understand how that works, but so what?  One thing we can definitely appreciate is the love of family which is ours through Him.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

God the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

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

Everyone wrestles with personal limitations.  Some of us have a hard time losing weight or giving up smoking.  You might not have the skills needed to successfully find your way through a difficult situation.  Sooner or later, most of us face relationship problems that seem impossible to solve.  We all let people down and disappoint ourselves.  Life is endlessly demanding, and we often find ourselves in need of help.

So we look for good advice from people that we trust.  We purchase self-help books and spend time with professional counselors.  We hire specialists to fix those things we cannot deal with on our own.  We ask loved ones to comfort and support us lest we fall victim to despair and lose hope, or grow bitter and give up.  We need to know that we are not alone with our problems, that help is always close at hand.

The Spirit of God is your helper, your counselor, your strong bedrock of support.  He understands your limitations and works with you to overcome them.  He offers encouragement when you feel pressured by temptation.  He holds you up when you are too exhausted to go on.  He guides you through difficult challenges, closing some doors and opening better ones.  He uses the Bible to give you wisdom, the ability to look at a situation from God’s perspective and react appropriately.  He shows you how to build good relationships and mend them when you fail. The Spirit of God encourages an outlook on life that is positive and focused on showing love to others.  He comforts you when tragedy strikes.  When you feel overwhelmed, He helps you to pause, take a deep breath, and regain your bearings.  He is always with you.

Best of all, the Holy Spirit gives you faith—the ability to believe in Jesus and rely on His promises.  When you trust Jesus to forgive your wrongdoing, you can be free of the guilt which drags you down.  When you cling securely to His promise of everlasting life, death loses its power to ruin your days with despair and hopelessness.  Of all the blessings that the Spirit gives you, nothing tops the wonderful gift of belief in Christ. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012


Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:12-14).

I wonder if you can relate to Jim.  Jim is filled with a lot of anger.  He was mistreated as a child.  When he got to be a teenager, he ran away from home.  Jim lived on his own; he had to fight for everything he had.  He fell in love with a great woman, but her family did not approve of him and the relationship died.  He entered military service and was always the first to volunteer for hazardous duty.  Although he learned discipline, Jim still seems like a powder keg waiting to explode; he is slow to make friends, gets offended easily, and generally assumes the worst about people.

There are a lot of people like Jim.  They are mad at the world.  They have been insulted, abused, and taken advantage of.  They have learned to be constantly on guard, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation.  Strangers are assumed to be the enemy unless they prove themselves otherwise.  Surrounded by nothing but potential threats and hurt, life is lonely and bitter.  But the worst part is self-hatred.  Deep down inside, there’s a part of Jim that wonders “what did I do to deserve this?  I must be a very bad boy to be treated this way.”  This nagging doubt has grown into destructive self-loathing.  Now he looks at compliments and friendly gestures with suspicion, wondering what the giver wants from him in return.  He walks away from people that care about him because he doesn’t believe that he deserves to be loved.   He does reckless things like driving too fast because he secretly hopes that he might get killed.  Jim hates life, and he hates himself most of all.

No one is immune from suffering.  We’ve all been taken advantage of, pushed around, and laughed at.  It’s easy to get angry.  We get angry at those who cause us pain, and we get angry at ourselves for being a victim.  Why did I let that happen to me?  Why didn’t I stand up for myself?   Such anger can blind us to the possibility of love and cripples our ability to show affection.

But you are loved.  God loves you.  He said, I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).  His love caused you to be born, and His love resulted in Jesus’ death on a cross to atone for your sins—you are that precious to Him.  Many people hated God’s Son and mistreated Him; some even laughed as He was humiliated and put to death.  Picture it: Jesus hanging on the cross, suspended by nails through His hands and feet.  His body covered with blood from the nails, the whipping, the crown of thorns jammed on His head.  Stripped of His clothing, stripped of His dignity.  Yet in spite of the pain, in spite of the insults, Jesus did not respond in anger.  Instead, our suffering Savior lifted His eyes to heaven and prayed Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing (Luke 23:34).

That’s the only way to be free from hate and resentment; ask the Lord to help you with forgiveness.  Jesus died to forgive you.   Jesus also died to forgive those people who have hurt you.  Ask for His help so that you can do the same.  Make prayer your daily habit; every morning, ask the Lord to do two things.  First, ask Him to forgive you for holding a grudge.  Then ask Him to also forgive the person who has made you angry.  Only through forgiveness can you be freed from bitter anger, and gain the blessings of peace and heart-warming love.

Jesus wants us to be united with each other through bonds of mutual respect and loving concern.  He said, A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).  This command leaves no room for holding grudges.  But resentment over hurt isn’t the only wall the separates us from each other.  We cannot love as Jesus commands when there is no trust.  Sadly, our relationships with others are frequently undermined as a result of betrayal.

Everyone experiences betrayal.  It starts when you’re little.  You invite a friend into your house and he steals a toy.  You promise to be best friends forever, then a few days later your pal is busy playing with someone else. 

The betrayals continue as you get older.  You get stood up for a date.  Your friends gossip about you behind your back.  The boss promises you a promotion, then gives it to someone else.  The person you married files for divorce. 

Betrayal is everywhere.  Politicians go back on campaign promises.  Courts overturn initiated measures.  Companies fail to keep your private information secure.  Sales reps make false claims about their products.  It seems as if everyone lies or breaks their promises.

Trust grows over time; as you get to know other people, you find out how dependable they are.  But since everyone lets you down from time to time, how much can trust grow?  Hurt by lies and broken promises, it is easy to become bitter and keep people at arm’s length.

Thanks to Jesus, there is a way to replace suspicion and isolation with trust and companionship.  That method is forgiveness.  When you forgive someone, it’s like wiping the whiteboard clean—all record of past mistakes is gone.  When you forgive someone, you choose to start trusting them again—not just a little bit, but completely. 

I know this sounds scary; why open yourself up to more hurt in the future?  There are two reasons.  First of all, is life really better when you hide in your shell like a turtle?  Isn’t sharing love and affection with others worth the risk of occasional letdowns?  And what about you?  How many lies have you told?  How many promises have you broken?  How much betrayal are you responsible for?  I’m sure that you feel terrible for hurting others.  I’m sure that you want them to give you another chance.  The Golden Rule says do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).  If you want others to forgive you and trust you again, you know what you need to do.  Call on Jesus; He will help you to forgive and trust others the way that you want to be forgiven and trusted.

Admittedly, forgiveness is hard—very hard.  When you forgive someone, you are promising to bury the hurt and never bring it up again.  When you forgive someone, you are promising to trust them and rely on them just as if they had never let you down.  Of all the difficult things in life, forgiveness is the hardest.

Forgiveness is hard because you don’t want to be a chump.  There’s an old saying that goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  If someone has betrayed your trust, isn’t it asking for trouble to go back and trust them again?  Yet that’s the nature of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is hard because we want revenge.  When someone hurts us, we want to return that pain with interest.  But forgiveness denies us that satisfaction; forgiveness lets the other person off the hook without suffering punishment.  That’s the nature of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard because we want to have the upper hand.  When someone has wronged us and wants to get back on our good side, we’re in the driver’s seat.  We can make them work hard to please us.  But forgiveness acts differently.  When you forgive someone, the relationship is restored immediately.  Forgiveness is not earned; that’s the nature of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard—it’s the hardest thing in the universe.  Just look at Jesus for the proof.  The Son of God had to suffer and die to make our sins forgivable.  Thankfully, He did not stay dead; Jesus rose from the grave to bless us with His forgiveness. 

When we beg Him for mercy, He forgets our sins as if they had never happened.  He does not bring them up again or look at us suspiciously, waiting for our next slip up. 

When Jesus forgives us, He does so without hesitation.  He has no desire to punish us in hell; in fact, He suffered hell for us while on the cross—Jesus forgives us because He loves us. 

And when Jesus forgives us, He does so unconditionally.  He doesn’t expect us to earn His favor or repay Him for His generosity. 

Paul writes, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  This is hard, especially when the other person makes the same mistakes over and over again.  Peter once asked Jesus, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?  Peter thought that he was being exceedingly generous with his offer to forgive a person up to seven times, but Jesus shocks both Peter and us with His reply: I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew chapter 18).  Our Lord doesn’t keep track of how often He forgives us, and it’s a good thing, too—we sin against God far more than seven times, each and every day!  When Paul says Forgive as the Lord forgave you, he means that we are to forgive without keeping count. 

Impossible you say?  Let me quote Jesus to you: with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  Jesus also said, Everything is possible for him who believes (Mark 9:23).  Are you angry?  Are you afraid to trust?  Bring these problems to Jesus and lay them at His feet.  Ask Him to forgive your weakness and give you a strong faith that can do the impossible—offer forgiveness and start trusting again.  Through Jesus, we experience forgiveness in all its beauty and wonder; with His help, offer that forgiveness to everyone in your life who needs it.

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