Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why do you go to church? (part two)

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Why do you go to church?

Some people go to church for answers. Life is confusing and they need help making sense of things.  How did the universe come to be?  Why is there chaos and evil in the world?  Does their life have a purpose?  What happens when death puts an end to things?  Questions like these are troubling.

But what happens when the message of the church doesn’t make sense to human reason?  How do thinking people reconcile the Biblical account of a six-day creation with the teachings of evolutionary theory?  How can they accept Jesus as a miracle worker when everything in their lives is routine and ordinary?  After years of emotional pain and repeated disappointment, how can they believe that God has a special purpose for their existence? When the church does not answer these concerns to their satisfaction, will they abandon religion for science or philosophy?

We are rational beings.  We tend to judge the truth based on whether or not it makes sense to us.  The trouble is, our understanding of things is limited.  Human life is relatively short—no one has enough years to learn everything there is to know.  There’s also the problem of how we filter information—we interpret what we see and hear according to our values and personal history.  On top of that, some of the information we have is faulty—we accept lies as fact, we misunderstand what we see and hear.  Worst of all, our ability to make good decisions is hindered by sin; it’s hard to look at a situation objectively when you are influenced by anger, fear, or desire.  We are rational beings, but our reasoning is sabotaged by any number of factors. 

God made us rational beings.  Yet because of our limitations, the Almighty LORD has give out information in such a way that we are not overwhelmed by it.  Sadly, we take what little we know and behave is if we are smarter than God.  Time in church should help you make sense of life, but God does not connect every dot for us.  First and foremost, worship is about understanding your relationship with God’s beloved Son.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood (Romans 3:20-25).

Why do you need to be forgiven? That’s what Christians always talk about—the need to be forgiven.  But what’s the big deal? 

Part of it has to do with guilt.  Every one of us has reason to feel guilty—we break promises, we say hurtful things, we ignore people who need our attention.  Carrying guilt around can be exhausting and depressing.  Guilt can make your heart shut down, cutting you off from others.  Guilt can even drive some people to suicide.

Forgiveness takes away your guilt.  Forgiveness cuts the chains that tie you to past mistakes.  Forgiveness gives you a future that’s worth living for.

Another reason that forgiveness is necessary has to do with relationships.  We all hurt each other.  We get stubborn when we should compromise.  We use people instead of appreciating them.  When we don’t get our way, we insult others or make fun of them.  Such behavior tears down relationships, leaving us bitter and alone.

Forgiveness restores broken relationships.  Forgiveness calls a truce to hostilities so that healing can take place.  Forgiveness is a lubricant that allows people to work together without friction.

But the most important reason you need forgiveness is because you’re a sinner.  God made you and me and everyone else; He gives us food and shelter, family and friends, work and leisure.  But He does have expectations—we are to be perfect like Him.  He says be holy, because I the LORD your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:2).  God gives us rules to follow so we can know what He expects.  But we don’t obey Him, not perfectly.  We ignore His rules when following them is inconvenient.  We don’t pray to Him unless we want something.  We act as if He can’t see and hear what we’re doing.

This makes God angry.  His punishment is awful and eternal.  That’s why you need forgiveness.  When you are forgiven, God smiles on you.  When you are forgiven, God opens heaven to you.  When you are forgiven, you can have confidence because God is on your side.

How does God forgive us?  What is the process that He uses to free us from our sins? Some people think that God just waves His hand and makes sin go away.  But God doesn’t act like that.  God values justice; to let a crime go unpunished would go against His very nature.  Besides, God never breaks His promises, and He has said repeatedly that sin will be punished.  God does not make idle threats; you can always take Him at His word.

So how does God forgive sin?  Does He expect us to pay it off somehow?  No, because that is impossible.  Jesus showed how impossible this is when He asked the question, what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)  Everything we have comes from God; whatever we would offer in restitution belongs to Him already. 

Does God expect us to earn His forgiveness by working hard for it?  Again, the answer is no—such a thing is impossible.  God expects us to be holy every moment of our lives.  Each minute used to commit sin is lost forever; we cannot add extra years to our time on earth to make up for what’s been wasted.

Does God offer forgiveness when we meet certain conditions?  This too is wrong.  Paul writes, it is God who works in you, to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).  Jesus said, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).  We can only please God when He acts within us; anything good that we do is to His credit, not ours.

God forgives us by transferring our guilt to someone else.  This is why Jesus came into the world.  The Son of God became our elder brother to take responsibility for our sins.  When He suffered on the cross, Christ bore the punishment that our sins had incurred.  Despite our sins, God loves us; He does not want us suffer, even though we deserve to.  There was just one way to punish sin yet spare us at the same time—and so Jesus became our scapegoat.  This satisfied holy justice and ensured that God’s promises were kept—yet at the same time, this tremendous act of love spared us from eternal agony in hell.

God offers us forgiveness as a gift, pure and simple.  Picture it like a court of law.  You have been brought to trial; everyone knows that you’re an habitual offender.  The case is open and shut—there is no question as to your guilt.  When the judge asks if you have anything to say before announcing his verdict, you fall to your knees and beg him for mercy.  Then, to your astonishment, the judge shows leniency—he declares you not guilty and sets you free.  You are made innocent solely by the judge’s authority, because He has a merciful heart.  That’s how God forgives you.  When He speaks words of mercy, all past mistakes are forgotten.  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

Why would God show you such undeserved leniency?  It’s all because of Jesus.  Life and forgiveness and love are all linked together by Christ.  Without love, forgiveness does not exist; without forgiveness, life ends in hell. 

Life and forgiveness are connected.  Hebrews chapter nine says, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  In Romans Paul says, the wages of sin is death; it is only by sacrificing life that sin can be forgiven.  If sin is not forgiven, the result is eternal death in hell.

But who would be willing to die so that another might live?  Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends (John 15:13-14).  Paul writes, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

Love took Jesus to the cross—love that wants to keep us forever at His side.  On the cross, Jesus suffered and died so you could be forgiven and rise from the grave.  In Christ, we see love and forgiveness and life tied together in a beautiful, mysterious way.  Love, forgiveness, and life: these are God’s gifts to you; He gives them freely through the hands of His Son. 

So how important is it to believe in Jesus?  God loves everyone; He sent Jesus to die for us all.  But some people take this truth and run with it in the wrong direction.  Their reasoning goes like this: “If God loves everyone, and Jesus died for everyone, then everyone will go to heaven.”  Regrettably, that conclusion is not true.

God wants everyone to be free from sin and live with Him forever.  Jesus made this possible; He did everything needed to forgive our sins.  But our sins are not forgiven unless we ask them to be. I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32)

Jesus is the only way for sinful people to approach the holy God and be welcome.  John writes, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1).  But Jesus only speaks in defense of those who are His friends.  When asked Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? Jesus said, Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, `I don't know you' (Luke 13:23-25).

Without Jesus, heaven is closed to us.  Our Lord said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).  The apostles said, believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).  God has appointed the Savior to be our go-between with heaven; John writes this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 3:23)

Jesus said, repent and believe the Good News! (Mark 1:15)  Forgiveness is free to anyone who asks for mercy in Jesus’ name, trusting that His blood poured out in death washes away our sins and gives us new life.  There is no other requirement—just trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  He forgives your sins so you can live with Him forever in paradise.

This is what the Reformation was all about.  Martin Luther wanted to clear away all the wrong ideas that people had about forgiveness, so everyone could experience the full joy of God’s mercy.  This weekend, share the message of the Reformation with someone else.  Tell them about Jesus, who gives love, forgiveness, and life.  Share the wonderful gift that God has given to you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why do you go the church?

You will fill me with joy in your presence (Psalm 16:11).

Why do you go to church?

Some people go to church for pleasure.  They like singing familiar hymns.  They enjoy the musical offerings of praise bands, choirs and soloists.  They find pleasure in the message that Jesus loves them and will take them to heaven.  And they look forward to socializing with fellow members who they’ve known for years.

But what happens when church isn’t a ‘feel good’ experience?  How do such people react when the hymns for the day are new or unfamiliar?  Do they leave worship satisfied if the music was downbeat or played too loud?  How do they feel when the preacher criticizes something they enjoy doing as sinful?  How comfortable are they when a stranger sits next to them?  If these kinds of things happen too often, will they leave that church and seek out another?

We are emotional beings.  We tend to judge the value of things based on whether they make us feel good or bad.  It’s like the old Barbara Mandrell song—“How can it be wrong when it feels so right?”  When emotions and common sense butt heads, we usually go with our instincts; sadly, this generally gets us into trouble.  Emotions make you focus on right now when you should also be thinking about the future; emotions can make you so concerned with your own happiness that you fail to consider how others might feel. And emotions are slippery things, easy to manipulate.  A psychiatrist can medicate you into feeling good.  A charismatic politician can turn a crowd into an army that is ready to die for his cause.  But passionate emotions can change on a dime; just one wrong word can take you from the heights of ecstasy to the pit of despair, a reality that most teenagers have to deal with every single day. 

God made us emotional beings.  Regrettably, sin has made our feelings unstable and unreliable.  When emotions run the show, our relationship with God is disrupted—worship becomes about us and how we feel instead of showing honor to Christ and serving Him with our lives.  Time in church should make you feel better about your life, but it’s not a ‘happy pill’; worship is about your relationship with God’s beloved Son.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Addictive behavior

Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Ephesians 4:19).

Where is the line between just enough and just too much?  When does a love for cats turn into a home overrun with felines?  When does enjoyment of liquor turn into alcoholism?  When does playful flirting become a shameful affair? Where is the line between just enough and just too much?

We approach life using simple logic—if something makes me happy, more of it will make me even happier.  If one piece of chocolate makes me feel good, three pieces will triple my pleasure.  If a girl has one guy telling her how great she is, having two guys on a string ought to make her feel doubly special.  If a fella gets respect for driving a nice car, surely he’ll get even more respect for driving something that is really expensive.

The trouble is that human logic does not hold up.  Over-stimulation only yields diminishing returns.  Excess becomes commonplace; we find ourselves needing even more to get the same kind of emotional rush we used to experience. Stronger drinks.  More frequent cigarette breaks. Larger bets at the casino.   Riskier sexual behavior.  What used to satisfy no longer does.  This is the pattern of addiction to pleasure.

Where is the line between just enough and just too much? The line is where casual fun turns into obsessive behavior.  The line is where we stop thanking God for His gifts and start demanding that He bury us in excess.  The line is where pleasure becomes the reason that we live instead of being the result of a life well lived.  The line is crossed when giving pleasure to others lies forgotten in the pursuit of making ourselves feel good.

The Lord our God is generous, but He gets angry when we focus on His gifts instead of our relationship with Him.  God is love, and He hates to see us use each other for pleasure instead of treating one another with love and respect.  If it sounds as if I’m describing your life, don’t despair—Jesus is ready and willing to forgive you.  If you listen to His words, the Son of God will help you find the kind of pleasure that is not selfish or addictive, the pleasure of healthy relationships and a life well lived.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jesus' Church versus the powers of hell

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ
(Matthew 16:13-20).

How old is the Church?  When was it founded?

In one sense, the Church began on the slopes of Mount Sinai.  When God gave Moses the Book of the Covenant, it included more than the Ten Commandments.  God provided the design for a place of worship called the Tent of Meeting.  The Lord gave rules for who could serve as priests and how they should dress while doing their work.  The Book of the Covenant explained how people could be forgiven when they broke God’s laws; the priests would sacrifice an unblemished animal and God would accept the animal’s blood as a substitute for the sinner’s blood.  At Mount Sinai, God formed the first Church—the people of Israel, a single congregation numbering in the millions.

But that first Church failed in its God-given purpose.  God created the congregation of Israel to do two things—love the Lord with all their heart and soul and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves.  But the Israelites turned away from God over and over again; they experimented with other religions, cheating on God like an unfaithful spouse who has a string of affairs. 

They also failed to love their neighbors as themselves.  The Israelites were supposed to teach unbelievers about the one true God who forgives sins and raises the dead.  But the Israelites were not good missionaries.  They were willing to do business with unbelievers, but did not use those opportunities to speak about God.  By Jesus’ time, foreigners were barely tolerated; a good Jew would never speak to an unbeliever unless there was no way to avoid it. 

The first Church, established at Mount Sinai, was a failure.   So Jesus came to start things over.  The Church as we know it began near Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus had spent a great deal of time with His disciples, teaching them about God and man, holiness and sin, Law and Gospel.  Then one day, Jesus asked His followers to tell Him what they’d learned: Who do you say I am? 

Some of the disciples might have been reluctant to speak up.  What if they said the wrong thing?  But Peter did not hesitate—he said You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This statement contained three important truths.  First, Jesus is the Christ.  Christ means ‘Anointed One,’ a person marked by God as His chosen servant.  Jesus was the Messiah spoken of in the Old Testament, the man sent by God to rescue people from their sins.  But Jesus was more than just a man; Peter called Him the Son of God.  Abraham, Moses and David were great men, but they were still sinners who needed God’s mercy.  To save mankind from sin, Christ the Messiah had to be better—He had to be pure.  All human beings are sinful from conception—we inherit sin from our fathers.  But Jesus is the Son of God—His Father is perfect, so Jesus was born without sin.  And Jesus’ Father is the living God.  He is not a statue or a carving.  He is not a life giving Mother Earth or a bunch of abstract teachings on how to find personal happiness.  God is a living being who cares about relationships.  He cares so much that He gets personally involved in earthly matters.  He cares so much that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)

Peter gave the right answer—but don’t be too quick to pat him on the back.  Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  Faith is God’s work in our hearts, a miracle sparked by His love.  Scripture speaks of this in many places.  Paul wrote, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by human effort, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Jesus said, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last (John 15:16).  The Church of God is built by the Lord Himself, through the faith that He plants within our hearts. 

Peter made a confession of faith—he spoke out loud about his most cherished beliefs.  Peter stated the truth about Christ for everyone to hear, and Jesus was quick to show how important it is to speak this truth out loud. I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.  Peter’s birth name was Simon.  But when Peter spoke with such conviction, Jesus renamed him Peter, which means ‘rock solid.’ When ancient wood becomes rock-like, we call it ‘petrified.’  Petrify and Peter both refer to something that is strong and unchangeable.

Some people believe that Jesus constructed His new Church on Peter.  But Jesus did not say "on you the rock I will build my church"—He said on this rock I will build.  For all his toughness, Peter was still a man with weaknesses.  No lasting Church could be built on such a foundation.  The rock Jesus referred to was the statement that Peter made; our Lord promised to build His Church on the confession of the true faith. 

Sharing the faith with others is essential for every Christian.  Paul writes, if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).  Jesus put it bluntly: Whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33).  Our Lord was addressing each one of us when He said go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).  As things stand today, sharing the Good News of Jesus with an unbeliever won’t even require that you leave your keyboard!

The Church established by Jesus has the same two duties as the first Church of Sinai—love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).  As a member of the Church, God expects you to reject anything that distracts from holy living.  Of course, we all fail miserably at this—the temptations of the world are very hard to ignore.  Thankfully, God has given us a way to be forgiven.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus was put to death as a sacrifice for our sins—God accepted His lifeblood in place of ours.  Through faith in Jesus, we are washed clean of guilt and are promised everlasting life in paradise.  When Jesus is part of our lives, we get the strength needed to show God’s love to others; our Messiah said, I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

Jesus promised that so long as the earth endures, His Church will be part of it: the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  ‘Hades’ is another name for hell.  Hades is the place that Satan and his demons call home.  When our Lord speaks of the gates of Hades, we picture the forces of hell charging out to wage war on God’s people.  But no matter how many demons are involved, no matter how carefully Satan lays his plans, the forces of evil will not destroy the Church—not so long was we stand on our confession of the truth.  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).  The Church only weakens when we distort the truth or keep our mouths shut.

When face to face with an unbeliever, it’s tempting to curl up into a little ball like an armadillo or retreat into a shell like a turtle.  But we are chosen to be witnesses—we are to do what Israel failed to do.  We are a confessional church; we repeat our creeds every week so you know the important things to say.  Don’t be afraid of saying something wrong; Jesus promises, I will give you words and wisdom (Luke 21:15). Yes, it can be risky to speak out.  Confessing your faith can get you snubbed and ridiculed.  You might get called names or receive nasty emails.  Some Christians become victims of lawsuits or have their churches set on fire.  Followers of Christ can even be kidnapped, beaten, or put to death.

It’s always been dangerous to follow Jesus.  Paul wrote, For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered (Romans 8:36).  In the early days of the Church, spies would ask to be baptized so they could find out where Christians gathered; then they would betray the congregation to those seeking their arrest.  Congregations soon required sponsors for each baptism, so that a member of the church could vouch for the new person’s sincerity.

In spite of persecution, God’s Church has grown steadily.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, less than 100 people openly followed Him; today, one third of the world claims to be Christian.  And yet the Church seems to be in trouble.  Worship attendance is in decline. The Ten Commandments are not welcome in our courthouses. School children aren’t allowed to pray or have Christmas parties.  There are efforts to remove God’s name from our nation’s pledge and currency. 

We shouldn’t be surprised.  When asked about the Last Days, Jesus said Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again.  If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the people God has chosen, those days will be shortened (Matthew chapter 24).  In Revelation chapter two, Jesus gives us reason to stay hopeful: Do not be afraid…Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life

We know that whatever happens, God’s Church will endure.  Jesus said that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24).  There will be preachers working for Christ right up to the Day of Judgment.  And when Jesus returns in glory, there will be people of faith waiting on earth to welcome Him.  Paul writes, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

We are the Church—you, me, and every believer who follows Jesus.  We are built on the confession first spoken by Peter—Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  God reached out and gave each of us faith in Jesus as our Messiah.  Because of God’s action, we are blessed—and we have work to do.  Peter says, you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).  We are to love the Lord our God with complete devotion, and we are to speak of Him to a world that is lost in the darkness of sin.  Some may resist that message of light and try to keep us quiet.  But we know that so long as we speak the truth, Christ will never let us fall.  We are sheltered in God’s Church, and He will never let the gates of Hades overcome it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A desire for change

You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16:11).

When summer began, the heat felt good.  It was a joy to finally go outside without having to bundle up against the cold and wind.  But by the time late summer rolled around, the heat and humidity had lost their appeal.  Cooler months without swarms of insects in the air are real appealing right now.  I’m enjoying nights when it’s pleasantly cool after the sun goes down. 

Of course, it was the same with winter.  The first snow is wonderful—barren fields and trees naked of leaves get coated in sparkling white.  Seasonal allergies disappear for a few months.  Road crews pack up for the season and let us drive without detours or construction delays.  But eventually winter loses its appeal too, and we start hungering for the return of warm weather.

Every situation has its good and its bad; with time, the good starts to lose its power to captivate us and we focus more and more on the bad, making us hungry for change.  We see this happen in marriages that end with divorce, in successful careers that suddenly change direction completely. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if something was so good that our enjoyment of it never wore out?  Wouldn’t it be nice to reach a point in your life where you were happy and content, and things would stay that way forever? There is such a thing. There is such a time.

Jesus is the Son of God.  He came down to earth from heaven to show us the way to a perfect life, a life so great that no change will ever be desired.  That life isn’t now, it’s coming in the future.  But the seeds of that life are planted now, and in due course they will mature into something utterly beautiful and completely satisfying.

Right now, life is spoiled by sin and corruption. Nothing is ever good enough—not good enough for God, not good enough for us.  So Jesus took the responsibility for all sin upon Himself and buried it in His grave when He died.  Then the Son of God rose from that grave alive, the first blossom of a new and different future.  When we die in Him, we are released from corruption. We will enter a timeless place where things are absolutely wonderful and our satisfaction will never wane.  There will only be an eternal now, and that point of absolute happiness will be the unending pinnacle of our lives.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our wonderful Father

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

The Bible says that there is one God who is the Father of us all (Romans 4:16).  He is the very first being, the father of all things. 

It’s important to notice that God is not the ‘mother’ of the universe. Our world did not form inside His body.  There is no umbilical connection between the Creator and His creation.  Our heavenly Father stands separate from His creation; our universe cannot touch Him in any way.  We are not divine beings; we are not little gods who will some day reach our full potential as the Lord’s equals.  And the squalor of our lives, the wretchedness of our world cannot spread its filth to God and taint Him with our corruption.  He is our Father, not our mother—He caused us to have life, but we are not connected to Him through any kind of birth process.

That does not mean, however, that God stands at a distance aloof and uncaring.  He made everything necessary for us to have life, and have it to the full.  The world is filled with bird songs and the soothing rhythm of falling rain.  Our eyes are thrilled with the vibrant colors of flowers and butterflies.  We live in a world where scent, taste and texture give pleasure to each day.  Such extravagances are not necessary for life, they are a gift from the hand of our loving and generous Father.

God the Father made invisible things as well.  He gave us minds that are able to dream up useful tools and beautiful poetry.  He filled us with emotions to give our lives meaning.  He provides intangibles like peace and hope, security and joy.  And He created angels to look after us and bring us messages from His lips.

This almighty God can do anything.  He has suspended the laws of nature on numerous occasions when His people were in desperate need.  He can fix any problem, cure any disease, even raise the dead back to life.  But there is one thing the Almighty is unwilling to do—force us to love and respect Him.  God wants to be our Father through a mutual sharing of affection.  If we reject His fatherly care, we are on our own and the outcome cannot be good.  But if we accept a place in His family, our Father will prove that in Him we have everything we need.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Canaanite woman and Jesus

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."  He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."

The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour
(Matthew 15:21-28).

The word “Gospel” means “Good News.”  But today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t sound much like Good News.  Jesus seems cold and harsh, almost like He was talked into doing a miracle against His better judgment.  So let’s take some time to look at this incident in Jesus’ life and discover the Gospel that it contains.

Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  These were two coastal cities along the Mediterranean Sea.  The area was outside of Galilee; it was an area that had never accepted Jewish culture or rulership.  Back when Moses died and Joshua led God’s people into Canaan, the people living there did one of three things.  Most fought the Israelites and died.  Some joined the Israelites and became followers of the true God.  And some, if they were wealthy or influential, were allowed to stay put and practice their false religions. 

God had ordered Joshua to make Canaan a place that was completely dedicated to the Lord.  Residents would be allowed to stay only if they converted.  So when the Israelites started making exceptions for people with money or connections, the Lord became angry.  The Canaanites worshiped false gods.  Some of these religions viewed sex as worship and employed prostitutes in their temples.  Others demanded that the first born child in every family be burned to death as a sacrifice.  Our Lord hated such practices and He knew that if not stamped out, these other religions would eventually corrupt God’s followers. 

By Jesus’ time, the Jews had realized the error of their ways.  They wanted nothing to do with other religions or the people who practiced them.  It must have surprised the disciples when Jesus left Galilee and entered a place where the Jewish religion was not well respected.  Was Jesus tired of the crowds hounding Him for miracles, but unwilling to believe in Him as the Son of God?  Or did the Savior have another reason for this trip?

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."  We don’t have any details on what the demon was doing to the child.  From the Bible we know that some people were blinded, others had seizures, and still others became violent.  Regardless, the child’s mother was beside herself with worry. 

This mother was not raised in the Jewish faith.  Since Alexander the Great had conquered the area 300 years earlier, she probably was raised to believe in Greek gods like Zeus, Hera, and Aphrodite.  But Tyre and Sidon were seaports for major caravan routes—routes that went through Galilee.  Apparently, she had gotten wind of Jesus and what people were saying about Him.  Jesus was a descendant of David, the greatest king of Israel.  Jesus had power over sickness, storms and demons.  And Jesus was compassionate—a great man of great authority who cared about everyone.  So when she heard that Jesus was in the area, she risked leaving her child in the care of others and rushed out to meet Him.  She honored Him with her words—Lord, son of David.  As a Canaanite, you would expect her to have no love for King David or any Jew, but that was all irrelevant now—her daughter’s need trumped everything else.

Jesus did not answer a word.  This is where things start to seem strange.  Jesus ignoring someone in need?  Jesus always responds with compassion—sometimes He even starts conversations with those who need His help.  Then why this time does Jesus hold His peace?

His disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."  The disciples are clearly annoyed by her behavior.  It sounds as if they don’t really care whether Jesus grants her wish or not, just as long as He gets rid of this woman as quickly as possible.  The disciples understood that Jesus was an important man doing important work, but they often failed to see others with the kind of compassion that fills Jesus’ heart. 

Yet that compassion seems oddly lacking here.  Our Lord doesn’t even address the mother, but instead says to the disciples "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."  Like everything else Jesus says, this is the truth.  God chose the people of Israel to be a holy nation dedicated to Him.  God had a very good reason for wanting all the Canaanites either converted or driven out of the Holy Land.  God intended Israel to be the hub for His saving work among humanity.  The people were to be like one big church congregation—united in love for God and outreach to unbelievers.  But God’s followers let some Canaanites continue living unconverted in their country, and eventually the corruption of false religion destroyed God’s people like slow spreading rot.  God allowed Israel to be conquered by Assyrians and Babylonians, the ancestors of modern day Iraqis.  Most of the people were deported for 70 years, during which time they learned to hate foreign religions. 

God permitted the exile to happen because He wanted the Jews to serve Him wholeheartedly.  Israel could not be a hub for ministry to the world if it embraced the false beliefs of the world.  In spite of everything bad they had done, the Lord wanted Jerusalem to be the capital of God’s earthly kingdom, a city on a hill that invites all people to come and worship the only true God.

But even after the exile, the Jews were not doing what God wanted.  They remained true to Him, but they had nothing but disdain for everyone else—Gentiles like the Canaanite woman, Gentiles like you and me.  God needed to change humanity by freeing us from sins like pride and prejudice and indifference to the suffering of others.  Everyone needs that kind of change, but God sent Jesus to begin this work among the Jews.  When Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel", He did not mean that His love stops with them; He simply meant that His time on earth was limited, so it would be spent among the people that God had chosen to be His first missionaries—the Jews. 

Jesus did not stray more than a handful of miles from Jewish lands.  He never went to Athens or Rome; He never traveled to Babylon or Chang’an, the capital of China.  When Jesus suffered and died it was in Jerusalem, within sight of God’s holy Temple.  Yet that suffering and death were for all people everywhere; Jesus said God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).  Referring to His death hanging on the cross, Jesus said, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself (John 12:32).

The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."  This sounds particularly callous, but you have to understand a couple of things. First, Jesus is speaking in the form of a proverb, a general statement of principle.  He is not saying that the woman or any Gentiles are dogs, He’s merely pointing out that members of the family should be fed first.  The Jews, not the Gentiles, were God’s adopted children through the Covenant at Mount Sinai.  Second, family pets are also dearly loved; I’m sure you know at least one person who treats their pet like a member of the family.  Jesus is not dismissing the mother as unworthy of His love, He’s simply pointing out that as a Canaanite, she does not the same claim on His time as do the people of Israel.

Jesus proves His love for her with these words: "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted."  This was not a concession to her persistence; Jesus praised her for the powerful faith in her heart.  Although not a Jew, she trusted in Jesus’ power and mercy.  There is only one other person who received similar praise from Jesus—a Roman centurion who was also a Gentile!  Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus ever praise a Jew for having great faith in Him.

Jesus tested the mother’s faith.  It seems like a hard test, but there is precedent for it.  In the Old Testament, God made Abraham wait a hundred years for a son; then a few years later He tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice the boy on an altar.  Testing through hardship makes people stronger, and when forced to choose between God and Isaac, Abraham’s faith in God grew stronger.  God, of course, spared Isaac’s life.  Job was also tested; he lost his wealth, his children, his standing in the community, and his health.  Again, God strengthened faith by forcing a choice—do you trust God fully, even in times of adversity, or will you curse Him as uncaring and just give up?

Jesus made the worried mother reflect on her beliefs.  When push came to shove, was she really willing to trust Jesus with her whole heart?  He was the Savior of the Jews, a group of people whose culture and religion had never been respected by her Canaanite ancestors.  Would she really abandon the gods and traditions of her people?  It’s easy to be a Christian when you need something from the Lord; how sincere was she in calling Him Lord and the Son of David?  Such words identified Jesus as God’s chosen Savior.  But by her ancestry, she had no claim on God’s covenant of grace.

The woman was not put off.  She understood that Jesus was sent to the Jews first, Gentiles second.  But she was completely confident in His love, even to someone who was not worthy of His attention.  In this she is a model for each of us.  No man or woman is worthy of Christ’s love.  None of us deserve His mercy. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  The woman passed the test; she refused to give up on Jesus just because she didn’t get an immediate answer to her plea for help, did not curse the Lord and go back to the false gods she grew up with.  She trusted Him to help her, and that is precisely what Jesus did—first He saved her soul, then He healed her daughter.

But there was another test going on here as well.  Jesus was also testing His disciples.  They were not opposed to Jesus giving this woman what she wanted; they just wanted her out of their hair.  Like most Jews, they were prejudiced against all Gentiles.  They didn’t like associating with ‘that kind of people.’  Hardly an attitude for future missionaries to have.  So Jesus tests them.  He deliberately goes into Gentile countryside.  When a Gentile woman asks for help, He says words that any Jew would automatically agree with—it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.  Would the disciples ask Jesus to show compassion to this worried mother?  Sadly, they did not.

Jesus said, salvation is from the Jews.  In Romans chapter 11, Paul talks about how the Gentiles have taken a prominent place in God’s universal Church, because the Jews continue to reject God’s Son.  But Paul reminds us to not get prideful like the disciples did; he compares the Jews to a cultivated olive plant and we Gentiles to wild shoots.  If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.  You might argue, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in."  Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either

God has adopted us into Israel, the holy nation that is to announce the Good News of salvation to a sinful, dying world.  Trust in the Lord as the Canaanite woman did, and take the message to all people as the disciples were instructed to do.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Spirit from God

God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

The Holy Spirit has a unique relationship with God the Father and God the Son, a relationship unlike anything we have experienced in our lives.  We understand the relationship of Father and Son, but the Spirit proceeds from them both.  All we really know is that when Jesus returned to heaven after He rose from the dead, He and the Father together sent the Spirit to bless our lives with His company. 

The Holy Spirit represents God in our lives.  He gave Jesus life in Mary’s womb, and He gave each of us the breath of life as well—He is the Lord and giver of life.  We praise Him for His work along with the Father and the Son; we worship all three together as the God of heaven and earth. 

We are privileged to know God thanks to the Spirit, who spoke God’s words to us through the prophets and apostles of long ago.  His words were recorded by them in the pages of Holy Scripture and serve as the foundation for the holy Christian Church.  The Church is not holy in itself; all of its members are sinners through and through.  But sinners are washed clean of their guilt by the power of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.  The Church belongs to Him, and it is He who makes it holy through forgiveness. 

Although fractured into many denominations, there is only one Church—a worldwide assembly of men, women and children who share in the fellowship of Christ through trust in His love.  That faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, planted within us and nurtured by the Word of God.  That Word gives simple water the power to wash away our guilt in holy baptism.  That Word makes us saints, believers who share the blessing of sins removed.  That Word unites us as a family, sons and daughters of God through faith in His Son.

Death frequently touches our lives, taking away people who are precious to us.  At these times of grief, the Spirit gives us comfort and hope.  We know that the dead in Christ have the blessings of joy and peace.  We look forward to the day when all the dead will rise at Jesus’ command, and we will take our first steps in a perfect new world where life will be great and never come to an end.  Life is a journey towards paradise, and the Holy Spirit is our guide along the way.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

God incarnate among us

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

The Bible teaches that Jesus was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary.  The word ‘incarnate’ means to take something intangible and give it physical form.  Turning a blueprint into a house that you can live in illustrates the principle.  Incarnation allows you to touch the untouchable.

The Son of God was a spirit, just like His father—a being with no body as we understand the term.  But to save us from being condemned as sinners, Christ became incarnate—the Holy Spirit made a virgin pregnant, and Jesus stepped out of her womb in the body of a child.  Despite the fact that Mary was a sinner like you and me, her first born son retained His eternal holiness—the righteous Son of God cannot be overpowered by sin. 

Jesus became a man because it was necessary that He suffer and die.  God hates sin and punishes it severely.  But the Lord who made us is gracious to His wayward children; Jesus came to take the responsibility for our transgressions and shoulder God’s punishment in our place.  He was sentenced to death by crucifixion at the order of Pontius Pilate, a corrupt official who held power in Judea some 2,000 years ago.  Jesus suffered and died publicly, because what He accomplished that day would change the entire world forever.  On the cross, dressed in the body of a man, God’s Son died.  And when His life ended, so did the punishment of God on human sin—your sin and mine. 

On the third day of His death, Christ rose from the grave physically alive, just as the Old Testament had predicted.  After proving that death held no power over Him, Jesus ascended into heaven, where He has the place of highest respect and honor—He is seated at the Father’s right hand.  From His throne, our Savior bestows forgiveness on all who love Him, because He has been given the Father’s own authority to be our Judge.

When Christ left us for heaven, only a chosen few were privileged to see Him go.  But the Son of God is coming back, and when He returns His glory will light up the earth.  All the dead will rise to stand before Him.  He will put an end to everything dark and corrupt, punishing evil in a place from which there is no escape.  Then the Son of God will bless the faithful with a special place in His kingdom that will never come to an end. 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Where do you see God?

There [Elijah] went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.  Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.  Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him"
(1 Kings 19:9-18).

Elijah lived in a dark and challenging time.  The king and queen of Israel had abandoned God and encouraged their people to do the same.  They worshiped Baal, a god of the Canaanites who supposedly irrigated the fields with rain and destroyed his enemies with lightning.  At a public gathering, Elijah humiliated the priests of Baal; when they prayed to their god to send fire down from heaven and consume their sacrifice, nothing happened.  But when Elijah offered a sacrifice to the Lord, he first soaked it with water; nevertheless, God sent such a hot fire that the water evaporated, the sacrifice was consumed, and the stone altar melted. 

You would think that such a display of God’s power would win Him many converts—but this was not the case.  The king and queen were enraged and put a bounty on Elijah’s head.  Elijah fled to the wilderness and hid in a cave.  His mental state was terrible.  It seemed as if no one else in the world cared about the Lord or served Him. 

It was then that God did something very unusual. The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave

Where do you see God at work?  When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, some people said that it was God’s judgment for all the wickedness that went on there.  In particular, they pointed to a gay pride event that had to be canceled because the city was flooded.  They thought that God was in the wind.

Americans aren’t the only ones who feel that way.  On December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake under the Indian Ocean created a wall of water that hit eleven countries and killed over 225,000 people.  But no Muslim nation sent aid to the devastated region; they believe that when disaster strikes, it is the punishment of God, so offering relief is not appropriate. 

Where do you see God at work?  When China was hit by an earthquake in May of 2008, 70,000 people died and over 5 million were left homeless.  Was this an act of God, punishing the Chinese for rejecting Christianity?  Was God in the earthquake?

Where do you see God at work?  In California, vast areas of woodland have burned this summer and many are homeless.  Is this God’s punishment on people who waste their riches on lavish homes, or who embrace the liberal morals of nearby San Francisco and Hollywood?  Was God in the fires?

When the wind tore through the mountains, Elijah did not go out.  When the earthquake made the ground shake, Elijah remained in the cave.  When the fire raged, Elijah did not peek outside.  He knew the Lord was not in those terrible expressions of nature’s fury.  But when the gentle whisper came, Elijah covered His face and stepped outside; he knew that God had arrived and no man dare look Him in the face.

God is not found in the destructive acts of nature.  Nature is already dangerous without God’s help.  At the time of creation, God made everything "very good".  But that goodness was lost when our first parents disobeyed God.  Their sin resulted in a curse—from that time forward, life on earth would be hard, painful, and ended by death.  Earth stopped being a paradise of easy work and comfortable living.  Now life is made hard by rust, rot, mold, drought, and swarms of insects.  Life is painful because of birth defects, disease, and debilitating old age. And it all ends with death, brought about by earthquakes, fires, severe weather, and structural failures.  God does not have to cause these things to happen—they happen on their own.  We are the sinners, yet our world bears the curse of sin along with us.  Paul writes, The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:19-22).  We look forward to the day when Christ returns and ends all suffering forever; our world hungers for that relief as well.

Of course, some disasters do happen for a reason.  From time to time, Satan gives things a push to make life extra miserable.  And sometimes God brings disaster, like He did at Sodom and Gomorrah.  But when God uses natural disasters to make a point, He always gives a warning first.  Through Noah, He gave the world warning before the Flood.  Through Moses, He gave Pharaoh warning before the ten plagues struck Egypt.  Through Lot, He gave warning to the citizens of Sodom.  Through Elijah, He warned Israel of coming famine.  God always gives warnings so that people might repent and ask for mercy.  Through Jonah, God warned the city of Nineveh that disaster was on its way; but when the people turned away from sin and pleaded for another chance, God forgave them and spared their city.

Sometimes God uses natural disasters to shake us out of our religious apathy.  Tragedies often turn people to God for help and comfort.  But you must remember this—God loves everyone.  In Lamentations chapter 3, Jeremiah says men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.  God does not like using harsh methods to get our attention, but He will do whatever it takes to keep us from blindly marching into hell.  Paul writes, God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  So God showers down blessings on everyone, as Jesus said: your Father in heaven…causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45)

God does not like to shout when a gentle whisper will do.  If you shout at a baby, you will scare it.  If you want the baby to feel reassured, you will speak softly.  But gentle whispers are easily drowned out in our noisy and hectic world.  Should God shout at us more often, show us flashy displays of His mighty power?  It hasn’t worked in the past.  God destroyed all human life in a worldwide flood, yet as soon as Noah was able to raise grapes, he passed out drunk from too much wine.  The Israelites saw Egypt decimated by ten horrible plagues, none of which touched them; they saw the Red Sea part, and walked across on a dry seabed.  Yet only a couple of months later while Moses was away, they made a golden statue of a calf that they could pray to as their god.  Dramatic miracles do not guarantee a faithful response.

God reserves His miracles for believers.  When the Pharisees wanted Jesus to prove Himself by displaying His power, He refused their demand.  When Herod wanted Jesus to entertain Him with some miracles, Jesus refused to perform like a circus act.  Our Lord said, do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs (Matthew 7:6).  Jesus only revealed His power to those who trusted in Him.  Jesus used miracles to build faith in His followers.

God doesn’t speak to us the way we expect Him to.  He spoke through Moses, a man guilty of committing murder.  He spoke through David, who fathered a child by another man’s wife.  Jesus’ words were written down for us by unschooled, ordinary men.  God’s words seem foolish to people who think themselves wise, as Paul tells us: 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 (1 Corinthians 1:21).  We expect God to be loud and dramatic, but God is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire.

Our Lord is where you don’t expect Him to be.  You don’t expect to see the Savior of mankind dying on a cross, naked, humiliated, treated like a criminal.  You don’t expect to touch the Son of God by eating common bread and drinking ordinary wine.  But on that cross, Jesus achieved a spectacular victory; He made up for everything you and I have done wrong.  Through communion bread and wine, our Savior frees us from the past by forgiving our sins, gives us hope for eternal life in paradise with Him, and lends us strength to deal with the problems confronting us today.  Our Lord does His most spectacular work in ways that we would never expect. 

God generally works in small ways that are hardly spectacular.  Do you see God at work in the rising of the morning sun—giving you and the world a new day of life?  Do you see God at work in the food that you eat, food that He made grow?  Do you see God at work when your health improves enough so that you are released from the hospital?  Do you see God at work when you are feeling down, and unexpectedly get a letter or email or phone call from a friend?  Do you see God at work when you accomplish something that you never thought you could do?  Do you see God working quietly in the small things of your life that actually mean a great deal to you?

God said, I will never leave you, I will never turn my back on you (Hebrews 13:5).  He is always around, supporting you quietly and unobtrusively.  But we don’t notice—it’s the big dramatic events that capture our attention.  Just remember this; God doesn’t want to scare you out of your wits. Yes, He wants you to respect Him and fear making Him angry, but He also wants you to call Him Father and regard Jesus as your brother.  So God talks to us gently, like a parent comforting a sick and frightened child.  Keep your eyes open and listen carefully; every day the Lord is at your side, your comforter and your friend.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Father's Son

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

During time in worship, you may have heard Jesus described as the only-begotten Son of God, begotten not made.  The word 'begotten' is an old word that has fallen out of use.  It is the male counterpart to the female process of birth.  Men don’t give birth to children, women do.  So how do you refer to a father’s role in creating children?  You use the word begit

Christ is the Son of God, and this was true long before Mary entered the picture two thousand years ago.  The Son of God did not have a mother until the first Christmas.  The Father brought forth His Son without female help—the only way we can describe this is by saying that Christ is begotten of His Father. 

Jesus was begotten, not made.  This is an important distinction.  God made the universe.  He made the angels.  He made mankind.  But nothing made by God could ever be His equal.  Christ is God’s begotten Son; He is made of the same divine stuff as His Father.  In church we say that He is of one substance with the Father, very God of very God.  The Lord Jesus is truly God in every way—like the Father, He is all-powerful and eternal, all knowing and present everywhere.  Like the Father, He is pure and holy, committed to justice and hating evil.  Like the Father, He is motivated by love and is generous with mercy.  Jesus is equal to His Father in every way.

Christ is the only begotten Son of God.  God is the Father of us all—every fetus in a mother’s womb has life and a soul thanks to God’s creative power.  But no human being stands on equal footing with Jesus; only Christ was begotten of the Father’s own essence.  We are made in the image of God, an image that is distorted by sin; Jesus is God, free of any corrupting influence. 

Christ was begotten of His Father before all worlds—He was at His Father’s side when the universe was designed, and He made everything there is according to the Father’s astounding plan.  The Lord Christ also represents God to our world; He is the light from heaven who reveals God’s brilliant glory to we who live in the darkness of sin. 

Monday, October 01, 2012


God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).

One of the great lies of our time is that chaos and brokenness can sometimes yield positive results. Let me give you a couple examples of what I mean.

It is said that even a broken clock is right twice each day. In other words, wrong opinions and unethical behavior can be good and right in rare situations. For instance, stealing might be wrong in most cases, but there might be times when stealing is the right thing to do. This argument is used to justify looting after a major disaster, or to approve the work of espionage agents in the service of counterintelligence.

Or consider this bit of human wisdom: it is said that if you fill a room with monkeys banging away at typewriters, sooner or later they will, by random chance, duplicate the works of Shakespeare. In other words, with sufficient time anything can happen, no matter how unlikely. This argument is the backbone for evolutionary theory—given enough time, complex life can arise from primal chaos. It’s all a matter of blind chance.

What are these foolish ideas appealing? I think it’s because each of us is broken and floundering in chaos. We like the idea that sooner or later, a clock which is broken can still be right; since we are damaged goods, we would like to think that in the right situation our brokenness can have value. We like the idea that good things can arise from chaos; since our lives are usually a mess, it is comforting to dream that something good can result despite our being confused and disorganized most of the time.

Sadly, chaos and brokenness do not result in good things happening. Brokenness and chaos are the result of sin, mankind’s rebellion against the God who desires order and perfection in all things. Brokenness and chaos fill our lives with stress and fear, unhappiness and pain. Thankfully, our great and wonderful God did not want us to suffer by living in a junkyard of our own creation. So He sent Jesus to restore order and repair what is broken. Thanks to His work, which was finished on the cross, we don’t have to accept brokenness as our nature, we don’t have to accept chaos as inevitable in our lives. Christ offers us a different kind of existence—wholeness in ourselves, and a valued place in His family.

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