Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Angels and demons

Surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants (Hebrews 2:16).

Many people are obsessed with angels.  They collect angel figurines and artwork.  Some of their favorite movies feature angels as characters.  They might pray to one angel or another for protection.  Some find comfort in believing that a wonderful person who recently died has now become an angel in heaven. 

Angels are spirits that have no bodies—God created them that way.  Some chose to rebel against the Lord and were cast out of heaven, never to return—we call these fallen angels demons and devils.  But no angel, good or bad, ever started life as a human being.  Although they can appear like people, they are not like us.  Some angels have appeared on earth in human form; others have been seen in visions as strange and unworldly.  Since these spirits can show themselves however they wish, it would not surprise me that some demons might trick us by appearing as ghosts of people that we long to see for just one more time.

Angels are very powerful—demons have been known to possess people, cause sickness, even trigger violent weather.  Good angels are sent by God to protect us from harm; Jesus said that every child has an angel looking out for them.  But despite their great power, angels are not to be worshiped or prayed to.  When the apostle John considered doing so, the angel before him said Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God! (Revelation 22:9) In fact, this is what Satan wants from us—our worship and praise.  He tried to get Jesus to worship him, bringing this stern rebuke from our Lord: Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only' (Matthew 4:10).

Some people have the mistaken idea that Satan is in charge of hell; they think of the devil as a warden, while his demons serve as jailers and torturers.  But that’s not what the Bible says.  Hell was created to hold and punish the fallen angels for their many crimes against God and humanity. Imagine how terrible a place must be that can even make Satan cry out in pain and despair! Praise God that we have mercy through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Christ gave His life to spare us from the punishment that our sins deserve; Jesus made our forgiveness possible, meaning that when we die, the angels who have been with us every day will gently lift our souls to heaven and bring us to our waiting Savior.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

"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.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples"
(John 15:1-8).

When you think of spring, you think of gardening.  Browsing at the store as you try to decide what to plant this year.  Planning the layout of your garden.  Tilling the ground and applying fertilizer.  All this in preparation for the day when you put seed in the ground.

But this is only the beginning of a gardener’s work.  You must make sure that the seedlings get adequate moisture.  You check each plant for bugs.  You are constantly pulling weeds.  A beautiful garden requires much care and attention.

When a farmer plants a field, he has to look at the big picture.  But when you tend a garden, each plant gets your individual attention.  You want them to grow tall and strong, and this requires pruning.  Pruning keeps a plant from growing in the wrong direction; pruning trims away things that are not productive or are diseased, things that keep the plant from achieving its potential.  Dead branches are gathered up and taken away for burning.  It only takes a glance to tell whether a garden is being tended or neglected.  Gardens that are left uncared for quickly grow wild; they are not pleasing to the eye, nor do they produce good food for the dinner table.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks of a garden planted by God.  That garden is supposed to be a thing of beauty; it’s also supposed to be productive.  You and I are plants in that garden, growing from seeds of faith planted by the Lord.  In Luke chapter eight, Jesus described that planting in a parable: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.  Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown."…His disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said…"The seed is the word of God.  Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.  Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.  The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." 

There is more to gardening than just putting seeds in the ground.  Each plant needs to be looked after—you give it water, you pull weeds, you apply pesticide.  And you prune it.  Like a gardener, God prunes us. He cuts off every branch…that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  He trims away things that keep us from growing into healthy and mature Christians.  He might arrange it so that you move to another city or state, maybe to get you away from something exerting a bad influence on you, maybe to place you where your God-given skills can be put to better use.  God might allow you to get sick, forcing you to reexamine your priorities in life.  Our heavenly Father might use severe weather, economic problems, or some other tough challenge to strip away things that are keeping you from focusing on Him like you should. 

Pruning is painful.  A plant that is pruned bleeds for a time.  When God prunes us, it hurts—sometimes it can hurt for quite a while.  But the thing that gives us hope is this—God prunes us because He cares about us.  He does not want us to grow up stunted because of our love for sin.  He does not want us enslaved by addiction.  He does not want us leading empty lives, trying to find closeness through one night stands because we’re afraid of commitment.  He wants to spare us from a lifetime of regret because we chose having fun over acting responsibly.  So God prunes us, cutting away the things we love that ultimately cause harm. 

It hurts to give up something or have it taken away, even when that change is for the best.  The only way we can make it through is by relying on Jesus.  He is the seed that our faith sprang from.  He is our strong root when the storms of life try to knock us down.  He is our source of life, and He makes it possible for us to blossom and produce something of value with our efforts. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  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

We need Jesus in order for our lives to produce anything worthwhile.  God did not give us life just so we could eat and sleep and have fun; we were created for a purpose.  Paul writes, we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  God planted us with the expectation that we would be fruitful.  No gardener will put up with a plant that doesn’t give beauty to the garden or food for the plate.  Jesus speaks of this in Luke chapter 13: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, `For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' `Sir,' the man replied, `leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'  In this parable, God the Father is the landowner who is angered that His fig tree is doing nothing productive.  The fig tree represents us, men and women blessed by God but too selfish and lazy to do anything useful with His gifts.  The gardener is Jesus; He asks the owner to be patient while He works with us, encouraging our growth and usefulness. 

Jesus is our source of life and He is our source for second chances.  We fail God constantly; we ignore His rules, we don’t pray to Him as often as we should, we don’t make time for studying His Word even though we have easy access to a Bible.  We treat our parents with disrespect, we let anger cloud our thinking, we break promises when they are inconvenient, we spread gossip and lies, we cheat on tests and take things that don’t belong to us, we whine and complain when we don’t get our way.  We deserve to be cut off from God and thrown into the fire to be burned.

Thankfully, Jesus has come to our rescue.  He obeyed God’s law down to the finest detail, living the perfect life God expects from each of us.  Jesus offered up His perfect life in place of ours; the punishment we deserve from God was heaped on Jesus instead, causing His death on the cross.  Then Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, rose to be our living vine so that by being joined to Him, we might live and bear much fruit. 

We cannot go it alone. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  We need a strong connection to the Author and Giver of Life.  That connection starts when He plants the seed of faith in us through baptism.  But that connection must be nurtured to stay alive and grow in strength.  You cannot plant a garden and then go on vacation; that garden needs constant attention.  Faith draws its nourishment from the Water of Life which flows from Jesus. Faith needs the light that shines from God’s holy Word. Faith needs the fertilizer of Jesus’ body and blood, shared with us through Holy Communion.  If we neglect our faith it will shrivel and die, and God will cast us into hell to be burned as worthless for all eternity.

When we draw our life from Christ, we have access to His almighty power.  He said, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  With these words, Jesus reveals the key to God-pleasing prayer.  Some people grumble that they pray and pray and pray, yet God never seems to be listening.  But consider these words from James chapter four: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  God is not interested in supporting your bad habits; prayers for such things are a waste of breath.  The kind of prayers God values are those that seek help to do His will.  When we ask God to forgive our sins and the sins of those who have trespassed against us; when we ask God for wisdom to teach our children the ways of righteousness; when we ask God to restore our health so we can serve Him better—when we ask for such things in the name of Christ, we can be sure that God listens and will bless us. 

Everyone enjoys a gardener’s work.  We love to gaze at a beautiful garden that is well maintained and artfully designed.  We enjoy fresh garden produce and appreciate the spices that can make even bland food taste good.  But those gardens take a lot of work.  You take a lot of work.  God planted you as a part of His garden, drawing your life from Christ.  But you need a lot of care and attention—sin makes you grow in wild and unruly ways.  Be grateful that God lavishes so much attention on you, watering, fertilizing, weeding and pruning you so that you might be productive and beautiful.  Show God your appreciation by bearing much fruit; make sure that the things you say and do give glory to the Father who cares for you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

God, man and the animal kingdom

Everything that lives and moves will be food for you (Genesis 9:3).

Animals and other living creatures are an important part of our lives.  Many lonely people find the companionship they need in a loving dog or cat. Many nursing homes feature an aquarium stocked with colorful fish or an aviary with birds that fill the air with song.  Children learn responsibility from caring for the family pet or raising small animals to compete at the fair.  Horses need more space, but they offer the joyous freedom of riding with the wind. Living creatures also play a large role in our food supply.  Cows and chickens give us milk and eggs; hogs and fish join them in providing us meat for the plate.  People have differing views on using living creatures this way; some feel outraged at how animals are raised in confinement, while others object to the notion of eating them in the first place.  This leaves the Christian to wonder: what does God have to say about the way we treat animals and other living things?

In the book of Genesis, we are told how God made the universe and everything in it.  The Lord created three kinds of living beings—spirits without bodies, living creatures without souls, and one special being comprised of soul and body joined as one.  The spirits that have no bodies are angels; the living creatures without souls include birds, animals and fish.  The one type being that has both a soul and a body is humankind. 

When God created the birds, animals and fish, there is nothing said about eating them.  God tells the first couple, You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; regarding the rest, God said Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground (Genesis chapters one and two). But this changed after the Great Flood; when the waters receded and Noah stepped on dry ground for the first time in months, God told him Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.  Some people feel that killing to eat is wrong. We are to be responsible caretakers of God’s green earth and all that lives on it. Certainly the Lord did not give us this charge so we can waste valuable resources or take sinful pleasure in mistreating anything that can feel pain or fear. But Jesus Himself blessed two dinners where fish were on the menu, both times feeding crowds numbering in the thousands.  There is nothing wrong with eating meat.  Jesus did not suffer on the cross to save creatures without souls, He died for men and women and children, gave His own life so that we might live with Him forever.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld (2 Chronicles 20:20).

Some old things lose value with time.  But some things grow better with the passing of years.  Cheese and wine are two obvious examples.  It takes many years before a tree is big enough to climb or relax in its shade.  Fine art grows in value when it establishes the artist’s legacy or comes to represent the time and place where it was created.

Old things have value when they offer perspective on your life.  A lot of books have been written throughout the years, but there are a special few that still speak to us, that touch our souls, that shine a light on the human condition, that offer guidance in dealing with our problems.  Examples include the works of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, although no piece of literature has touched more hearts than the Bible.

Old things have value because they offer comfort.  There is the comfort of the familiar—decorating your new house with paintings that you bought 20 years ago, paintings that make you feel at home in new surroundings.  There is also comfort to be had from feeling secure—your old phone might not have all the latest features, but you have peace of mind knowing that in an emergency you can use it without hesitation or confusion.  Old things have proven that you can count on them.  God is older than everything else; if anyone has proven his dependability over course of years, it is the LORD God Almighty.

One thing that definitely grows better with age is faith—faith in God the Father and in His Son Christ Jesus.  Faith is a miracle, a gift handed to us by the Spirit of God. Faith clings to the promises of Jesus, promises of forgiveness when you repent of doing wrong, promises of help with life’s struggles when you pray, promises of eternal life if you die trusting in the Savior’s resurrection from the dead.  Faith grows every time we hear or read God’s holy and inspiring word.  Faith grows when setbacks make us rely on God more than we have before.  Faith gives us a perspective on life that is rooted in confidence and hope, trusting that God is fully in charge and is on our side.  Faith gives us the comfort of knowing that God is with us no matter how dark things get, and that He is our steady light at the end of the tunnel.  An old faith is a strong faith, tested and toughened and securely attached to the Savior from heaven.  The world of new ideas has nothing that can offer a better perspective on life, or greater security.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Children of God!

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! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:1-2).

You are a child of God.  It is because of His love that you have life.  It was God who decided whether you would be male or female; He determined the color of your skin, your hair, your eyes.  He chose the time and place of your birth.  Your conception was no accident.  Your birth was not a mistake.  God has supreme power over life and death; you were conceived because God wanted you to live.

Some people don’t appreciate God’s gift of life.  A woman who gets pregnant through assault might have a hard time seeing her baby as a gift—yet that little one is proof that God can bring something wonderful out of any tragedy.  Others might curse God because they were born with a birth defect or were raised by people who were unloving—but this is not God’s fault, it is the result of sin.  Sin damages everything it touches.  Sin keeps us from fully enjoying the gifts that God gives us.

Sin makes us ungrateful and mean-spirited.  Sin causes us to act selfishly.  Sin makes us use and abuse others, destroying every relationship. Sin alienates us from God, making us outcasts and runaways.  God our Father is a loving God, but He brooks no disobedience.  This is why Jesus chose to suffer on the cross and die; He endured the Father’s punishment in our place, sparing us from the hell our sins deserve.  Jesus took on the role of the eldest child who shields His brothers and sisters from harm.  He did this because He loves us, and He wants us back in the Father’s good graces. 

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are reborn.  He gives us a fresh start at life, unburdened by guilt over past mistakes.  Sin made us filthy little beggars living alone on the streets; the love of Jesus forgives us, cleans us up, and brings us into God’s large and loving family.  Through Christ, God offers us adoption as His sons and daughters. 

You are a child of God.  God is your Father because He gave you life at the moment of conception.  Sadly, sin stole you away from Him.  But through Jesus, God offers a new start at life—Paul writes, When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13).  God has given you birth and rebirth—you are doubly precious to Him!

Sadly, the world doesn’t share God’s love for you.  In fact, the world doesn’t really know what to make of people who claim God as their heavenly Father and Jesus as their precious brother. 

Consider our history.  Christians refused to worship the gods of Rome or fight in her armies; when they were arrested and executed for treason, those Christians sang praises to God as they died in terrible pain.  During the Dark Ages, Christian monks devoted their lives to making hand-written copies of the Bible instead of finding a wife and raising children to carry on the family name.  During the years of the Black Death, Christians risked infection with an incurable disease to care for the sick and dying. 

Consider our beliefs.  We believe in a God who is Father, Son and Spirit, yet is one God not three.  We believe in a God who punished His own Son for our evil ways.  We believe in a God who forgives sins without demanding anything in return except our love.  We believe in a God who fills us with life by eating His body and drinking His blood when we take Communion.  Yet this God remains unseen; we only experience Him through the words of His Book.

Consider our outlook on life.  We value service over power.  We value respect over pride.  We value giving over having.  We don’t think of death as a friend, nor do we fear its coming.  We are willing to admit our mistakes and we are willing to forgive those who have hurt us.  We respect authority.  We don’t like gossip.  We don’t worry about tomorrow.

The world doesn’t know what to make of this.  Christians don’t behave like everyone else.  Christians don’t look at things the way everyone else does.  Some think we’re deluded.  Some think we’re crazy.  Some think we’re dangerous.  But the world doesn’t ‘get’ us because it doesn’t know Jesus.  The world only sees things through the distorted lens of sin; Jesus reveals the truth. He demonstrates what true love is. He forgives our mistakes and mends what we have broken. He gives us the confidence to face each problem with hope.  He gives us faith to accept the unexplainable.  He shows us how to live with no worries and no regrets. He opens our minds to eternity.  Life can be confusing, chaotic, downright scary.  Only Jesus can offer life that really makes sense.

Of course, we all wonder about life after death.  Where will you be?  What will life after death be like?  Will you be reunited with departed loved ones? 

God doesn’t tell us a great deal about heaven.  We know that it is filled with love and peace.  We know that it is a place of rest for the weary and healing for those scarred by life.  We know that nothing evil is permitted near its gates. 

Heaven is where God lives, along with all who serve Him.  There are angels beyond counting, singing praises to God and carrying out His will.  And God has opened His beautiful home to those who died trusting in His love.  Jesus said, There are many rooms in my Father's house. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am (John 14:2-3)

God does not tell us much about heaven for two reasons.  First of all, how do you describe a perfect spiritual realm to people who have lived their entire lives on a sin-filled earth?   It’s like trying to describe color to a blind man.  We can’t imagine living as a soul without a body, and we can’t picture what life would be like free from all effects of sin. 

The other reason God doesn’t say much about heaven is because we won’t be staying there permanently.  When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will purify this sinful world with heavenly fire and then seed it with new life; earth will become the paradise that was lost so long ago.  When this happens, Christ will raise our bodies from the dead and return our souls to the land of the living.  God never intended us to die; sin made death necessary.  When all is restored to perfection, death will be a thing of the past and we will live on the new earth forever.

What will our risen bodies be like?  The details are unknown for now.  But we do have these words from Paul: the Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21).  We will be freed from all the effects of sin—genetic disorder, chronic pain, disease, crippling injuries, and the weakness of old age.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).

When we look forward to the new life that awaits us, one of the things that excites us most is the thought of finally seeing our Lord face to face.  All our lives we’ve heard about Him and have wondered what He looks like.  It’s can be hard to feel close to God when you’ve never laid eyes on Him.

Why can’t we see God?  He’s with us constantly.  He touches and maintains every corner of the universe.  So why does it often seem as if God is nowhere to be found?

The problem lies with us.  Although God and His angels are constantly at work everywhere, sin keeps us from seeing it.  We come through a serious accident with only a few cuts and bruises and say that we’re lucky to be alive.  After countless bad dates, we find the person of our dreams and say that sooner or later the right one was bound to come along.  People see incredible things happen in their lives and mark it down to coincidence or serendipity or good karma from living right.  What they don’t see is the hand of God showering them with His love.

Sin also makes us deaf.  The Bible is God’s message, preserved on paper so it can be read to people in every time and every place.  Through the words of Scripture, our heavenly Father speaks to us—but like naughty children, we tune Him out and don’t pay attention.  We don’t want to hear criticism for our wrongdoing; we don’t have the patience to sit and listen and learn.  God talks to us constantly, but we’ve learned to ignore religious plaques on the wall, religious bumper stickers on cars, religious messages on the radio or TV. 

As much as we ignore God, it’s little wonder that we feel abandoned and alone.  He is constantly talking to us; He performs miracle after miracle.  But sin makes us deaf and blind.  Sin hides God from our perception.

In Jesus, God came and walked among us—but even then people could not see what was right in front of them.  They could not accept the truth of His words.  Their blindness led to His death on the cross.  Their blindness wouldn’t accept the testimony of all the men and women who saw Him alive on Easter and heard Him over the 40 days that followed. 

Jesus said, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).  For now, We live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  But Jesus is coming back, and when He comes down from heaven in all His glory, the Lord will give us eyes like His, eyes that can see the truth.  At that time we will, at long last, finally see Him as He is.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The ripened fruit of our youth

Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God (Leviticus 19:32).

In our society, elderly people often don’t get the respect which they deserve.  Our attention is more focused on those who are young, attractive, athletic. But God demands respect for those who are older than us.  One of the Commandments says, honor your father and your mother.  The third book of Moses tells us to stand in the presence of our elders as a gesture of respect.  God rules and directs our lives, and that leadership is typically through people who have more experience than we have. 

One way of showing respect to our elders is by being patient.  Older people need a bit longer to get things done because their bodies are slowing down. We show them honor by letting them take their time instead of rushing them or just pushing them to the side and doing things ourselves.  When the elderly begin to lose their independence, we show respect by carefully seeing to their needs.  God takes good care of us and expects that we look after each other with similar diligence. And we show respect for the elderly by not taking them for granted.  God hates it when we ignore Him; you cannot show love and respect without an investment of time.  It is not right that many seniors approach the end of life having only doctors and nurses for companionship.  God values all people regardless of their age; He certainly cannot be pleased with our youth-obsessed culture. 

We live in a time where some of the elderly are seen as burdens on family and the economy.  The Hemlock Society urges seniors to think about ending their lives to preserve resources for future generations.  But the older we get, the more valuable we become.  True, advanced age takes away our strength, speed and stamina, but look at what is gained in exchange.  Wisdom. Patience.  Perspective. Old people are a reservoir of life experience for those who are willing to make time and listen. I’m of the opinion that age also gives you a greater appreciation for God.  You can look back at decades of life and see how the Lord brought you through one difficulty after another that seemed insurmountable at the time.  When you realize that death is not far off anymore, you get hungry for the comfort offered by Jesus, who died to forgive every sin committed throughout the years, and rose from the dead with the promise of eternal life for all who follow Him.  Growing old is a privilege because the elderly have so much to offer. They are not a burden to be dealt with; they are the ripened fruit of our youth.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Timeless blessings

The eternal God is your refuge (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Our world is fascinated with new things.  New ideas.  New technology.  New relationships.  Old ideas seem out of date, even restrictive.  Few people have the patience to get things done with old technology.  The desire for sampling new intimate relationships leads to cheating, divorce, and living together in a no-strings arrangement. 

But new isn’t always better.  New ideas, new ways of doing things, haven’t stood the test of time.  People who abandon the old ways in search of something fresh and cutting edge often find out that our ancestors were actually pretty smart and knew what they were doing.  How many times has new software been released that is full of bugs that need patching, or a new car hits the street that needs a whole lot of warranty work?

Another problem with new things is that they don’t stay new.  Designer clothes go out of fashion in just a few months.  Bleeding edge technology is yesterday’s news almost as soon as you get it home.  People who are devoted first adopters are slaves to change, and are never be satisfied with what they have.

And new things have one more flaw—they lack the comfort of the familiar.  New technology is frustrating until you get comfortable with using it. New jeans don’t feel as pleasant against the skin as those that have been thoroughly broken in.  Long-running TV shows might retread the same old plots, but there is comfort in spending time with characters that you’ve known for years.

One institution that is seen by many as hopelessly old fashioned is the Church.  They hunger for new music, modern ideas, fresh ways of doing things.  But the Church has been around for two thousand years.  Most of the best-loved hymns are centuries old.  The teachings of Jesus and His apostles come from God Himself and are just as relevant for today as they have ever been.  The Christian Church has stood the test of time.  It offers things that never grow old.  Forgiveness.  Connection to God. Understanding of who you are and why people act the way they do.  Guidance when what is right and wrong becomes hard to figure out. Hope for things to get better in the future. Comfort in times of trouble, companionship in loneliness, and peace when sadness comes. The Lord is eternal, and His Church offers timeless blessings that never go out of style.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Religion that goes too far?

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  He is `the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.'  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:8-12a).

People like religion, but only to a point.  They like religion if it makes them feel good about themselves; they like to hear sermons that say “You don’t have to change; God loves you just the way you are.”  People like religion that paints a rosy view of the future; they like hearing a funeral message assuring them that everyone goes to heaven.  People like religion that urges respect and tolerance for all people; they believe that the world could be at peace if everyone just accepted each other without imposing standards. 

But people don’t like it when religion makes demands.  When a religion says that some types of behavior are wrong, many get mad and accuse the faithful of being narrow-minded.  When one faith claims that other religions are wrong, people angrily respond that such divisive talk results in conflict where there should be tolerance.  When a religion urges its followers to spread the faith, others react with hatred, saying that people should just keep their beliefs to themselves.

People want a religion with no rules or expectations.  They want a religion that doesn’t limit their behavior or challenge their priorities.  In reality, they don’t want religion—what they want is a placebo, a sugar pill that does nothing but make them feel good.  But a placebo can’t cure what’s wrong inside.  A placebo can’t save you from death.  You don’t need a placebo—you need Jesus, the Author of Life.

After Jesus returned to heaven, the apostles carried on His ministry, healing the sick and teaching about the Son of God who died to rescue sinners from damnation.  One day, Peter and John came upon a man who could not walk; acting through Peter, God healed the man completely.  This miracle drew a large crowd, and the apostles used this opportunity to preach about Christ.  At the end of the day 5,000 people converted to Christianity.  This alarmed the Jewish leaders; they had Peter and John arrested and held overnight.  In the morning, they demanded answers from the two followers of Christ. 

In today’s reading from Acts, we hear Peter’s reply.  By anyone’s standards, this is tough stuff.  He doesn’t speak of a religion designed to make them feel good about themselves.  He doesn’t speak of a Savior who offers one more option for getting into heaven.  No, Peter gives the kind of witness that makes people angry.  He calls them sinners.  He claims that faith in Jesus is the only way to avoid suffering in hell. 

What was Peter thinking?  Didn’t he know better than to say such things?  Didn’t he have a staff of speech writers go over his message in advance with a fine-tooth comb?  How could he hope to win people over by demanding them to change and follow Jesus?

Peter didn’t need a speech writer.  Peter wasn’t saying his own words.  Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Those challenging words came from God Himself! 

God’s words make people mad.  God’s words label them for what they are—sinners.  God’s words threaten them with imprisonment in hell, with Satan in the cell next door.  God’s words also tell us of His mighty power.  We are told of how He created the universe in six days just by speaking.  We are told how He wiped sinners from the face of the earth through the waters of the Great Flood.  And we are told of His mercy and kindness.  We are told how God gave the Ten Commandments so we could understand the ways of righteous living.  We are told how He pardoned us from sin by giving His Son to die in our place. 

But these words make people angry.  They don’t want to be told about miracles because they are too blind to see anything more than coincidence and good luck at work in their lives.  They don’t want to be told about hell because they don’t want to change their behavior.  And they don’t want to hear about Jesus saving us because their pride won’t let them depend on anyone but themselves.  They demand that Christians give a reason for saying what we do, but they reject our reasons as unreasonable. 

It’s not surprising, really—God has warned us about this over and over again.  Paul writes, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate" (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Human wisdom is foolish—let me give you one example.  Comedian Bill Mahr makes fun of religious people because there is one thing he knows: no one can know the truth.  Think about that for a moment.  He is sure that no one can know the truth.  He doesn’t see the fallacy in his own argument!  If no one knows the truth, then Bill Mahr cannot be sure that religion is false!  Human wisdom is definitely flawed.

People say they value diversity.  I understand why.  They study history in school and see it soaked with blood.  Many conflicts were sparked by religious differences.  So they blame religion for that violence; they believe that religion divides people when it should be uniting them.  They react badly to any message that separates people into believers and non-believers, saved and lost, blessed and condemned. 

But people do not value diversity.  Children make fun of kids who are too fat or too thin, too smart or too dumb, too trendy or too shy.  In high school you can be ostracized for how you dress or who you hang out with.  People stare at couples where one person is white and the other is black.  Conservatives do not value liberals, and the feeling is mutual.  We don’t feel comfortable with diversity, no matter how much we claim to support it.

Thankfully, through Jesus God reaches out to everyone.  In 1st Timothy chapter 2 we read, God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.  When we are adopted into God’s family through faith in Christ, we are united as one.  Ephesians chapter 2 says you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  The only way that diverse people can truly live together with mutual respect and support is when they are united as Christians under the headship of God’s living Son.

In Acts chapter 4, Peter speaks of Jesus as the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.  You’ve seen arched windows and doorways, but do you know why an arch does not collapse?  It all depends on the capstone.  Stones leaning in from the left are held in place by the capstone.  Stones leaning in from the right are held in check by the capstone.  Stones pressing down from above are supported by the capstone.  Of all the stones in the wall, the capstone is the only one capable of maintaining the arch.  It must be perfect in shape and exceedingly strong. 

Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected.  We all build walls around ourselves, beliefs that protect us from fear, doubt, and confusion.  But these walls are no more stable than a house of cards.  We need the kind of structure only God can provide.  Sadly, many look at Jesus and see a strange looking stone that doesn’t fit anywhere in their plan.  They walk away, considering Him unnecessary or even worthless.  But the stone that was rejected has become the capstone of God’s temple, the only building strong enough to shelter us from every storm of life.  Jesus has borne the weight of all, and because He lives we have a secure place as part of His Church.  In Him we stand firm, united with all sorts of different people who serve the Lord together with a common purpose.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.  Jesus is the only means of salvation from sin, death and hell.  Only Jesus was sinless; no other person could carry out God’s plan to save us and bring it to perfect completion.  Jesus is the only one who could offer God restitution for all the ways we’ve angered Him; Jesus made that restitution by dying on the cross as a sacrifice of atonement.  Only Jesus can raise us from the dead to live forever; He proved His authority over death by rising alive on Easter morning.  Only Jesus can open heaven to us; He is seated at the right hand of God, where He speaks to the Father in our defense (1 John 2:1)

Some people may not like it, but Jesus is our only hope for a right relationship with the God who made us and who will judge us. Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). John writes, No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23).  And Revelation closes with these words from the Savior: Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  Jesus is the only gateway to eternal life and happiness.

This is a truth that must not be watered down or kept to ourselves.  This is a truth that demands to be broadcast with power and conviction.  To put a muzzle on it is to risk letting the unbelievers in your life die in fear and spend eternity being miserable.  There is no other way to God’s side than by Jesus Christ.  He demands that we repent our sins, not wallow in them like a pig in mud—we must repent to receive His forgiveness and be washed clean with His blood.  We must reject all other religions as wrong paths leading to dead ends, because God has said I will not give my glory to another (Isaiah 42:8)

Some will resent hearing such a message.  But don’t let that concern you.  Scripture says, the word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12).  God says, my word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).  Peter saw proof of that when he shared the word of God in all its fullness on Pentecost; Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:41).  After Peter healed a man who could not walk, he and John were arrested because 5,000 people converted to the Way of Jesus after hearing about the Savior.  Talk of Jesus may not be popular with everyone, but all people do need to hear the truth.  They need to hear about Jesus, who said at His trial: for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me (John 18:37).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Age and value

Rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:11).

When does something become too old?  At what point do you discard or replace something due to its age?  When is it time to just say ‘goodbye’?

Old technology doesn’t have much value.  An aging computer cannot run the newest software, and modern operating systems often cannot run old programs.  When a car gets old, it’s hard to locate replacement parts.  Old clothes are out of fashion, look worn, and tear easily.  Old houses are not energy efficient, and have settled to the point where everything is out of square.  Old food and old medicines become dangerous to ingest.  Old appliances like toasters and microwave ovens are cheaper to replace than to repair.  Old trees are brittle; wind and snow often bring down branches on roofs, cars and power lines.  In many situations, old things simply ought to go.

But some things are not easily replaced, despite their age.  An old pet might be troublesome to keep healthy, but putting that animal to sleep is still unthinkable.  Old photos can fade and discolor with age, but you would never part with those snapshots of happy memories.  You might have seen the same old movie a dozen times, but there is still that favorite scene which puts a lump in your throat and makes your heart beat a little faster.  We are the sum of our memories, and everything that gets thrown away takes a little bit of our own history along with it.  As the years slip away, reminders of the past grow increasingly precious to us.  Some things just should not be discarded.

Relationships should definitely not be discarded.  More than anything else, relationships define who we are.  Our relationship with God gives our lives value and purpose and moral direction. Our relationships with family and friends give us a place to live that is emotionally safe and nurturing.  Relationships are where we experience love.  Jesus makes relationships positive and strong through forgiveness—His forgiveness of our wrongdoing, and His gentle leadership when we need to forgive each other.  I know there are times when it seems as if an old relationship is just not salvageable and it would be much easier to simply walk away.  But Jesus was crucified to repair every relationship damaged by our sinful conduct; with His help, no broken relationship is beyond hope of a wonderful reconciliation.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Hidden gold

I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, `They are my people,' and they will say, `The LORD is our God' (Zechariah 13:9).

Most of the volcanic activity had been small eruptions leaving an occasional dusting of ash on nearby cities in Colombia.  However, after an explosion in 1993, an interesting discovery was made inside Mount Galeras.

Dr. Fraser Goff, a geologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, was sampling gas vents in a deep river canyon just west of the summit when a guide jokingly asked him, “Do you want to look at some gold?”  Dr. Goff picked up some rocks for sampling, and when he cut them into small slices he found they were full of gold.  This was the first time visible gold particles were found in an active volcano.

After studying this volcano for nearly a year, Dr. Goff observed that the mountain spews more than a pound of gold into the atmosphere each day, and each year it deposits 45 pounds of gold into the rocks lining the crater.  He estimated that there is a gold vein at the base of the volcano that is at least ten feet wide.  However, no one would have even known that the gold existed if it were not for the ultra high heat and pressure residing in the core of the volcano that pushed the gold to the surface.

The LORD our God wants us to shine like gold.  Sadly, there is more that is ash about us than any precious metal.  The Almighty has to work hard at bringing our good qualities to the surface where He can give them a proper shine.  So He applies heat and pressure.  He allows troubles to get in our way, troubles that seem insurmountable, troubles designed to make us cry, “Lord, help me!”  We are pretty full of ourselves, confident in our abilities individually and as a group.  We don’t pray to the Lord as often as we should when things are going well--when there is no real pressure on us and it is easy to keep our cool.  So God applies some heat and pressure, pressure that drives us closer to Him, heat that makes our faith come to the surface like gold that was formerly hidden beneath the ash of our sinful priorities.  When your life feels like a red-hot pressure cooker, remember the gold that was only revealed through volcanic eruption.  It may be that God isn’t seeing the gold in you, and is hard at work coaxing it to the surface!

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Blood and water and Christ

This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth (1 John 5:6).

John—this was the disciple closest to Jesus’ heart.  John was the disciple who sat next to Jesus during the Last Supper.  When Jesus was on trial in the court of the High Priest, it was John who watched the proceedings while Peter was outside, denying any relationship with the Lord.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, John was the only disciple who risked coming near to show his support.  John took Mary into his home that day, and cared for Jesus’ widowed mother as if she were his own.  Two days later, John beat Peter to the empty tomb, and believed that his Master had risen from the dead.  John wrote an account of his years with Jesus; he also wrote three epistles about Christ, and Jesus blessed him with a Revelation of heaven that closes out the Bible. 

And John saw something else, something no other disciple saw because only John was close enough to witness it.  On Good Friday, when the soldiers came to confirm that Jesus was dead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34).  Jesus looked dead but the soldier wanted to make sure, so he shoved a spear into the Lord’s heart from the side, avoiding the rib cage and leaving Jesus’ bones unbroken.  Blood you would expect—but amazingly, water came from Jesus’ heart as well.  John writes, The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe (John 19:35).

Blood and water, flowing from Jesus’ pierced heart.  John tells us this detail because he believed it important—so important that he alludes to it again in today’s Epistle reading: This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

Blood and water, both connected with the Son of God.  Why are they so important? That’s what I want to talk about today.  We’ll take water first.

You know how important water is.  Without water, there can be no life.  Plants shrivel up and die without water.  Farmers worry more about getting adequate moisture than they do about applying fertilizer or pesticides.  Animals will travel miles to gather at a watering hole, risking the attack of waiting predators for a life-sustaining drink.  A person lost in the wilderness can last a long time without food, but if he cannot find water to drink he will be dead in a matter of days.

Water is also important for good health.  Unwashed wounds are easily infected.  If a town or village does not have a sewer system, garbage and waste rot in the streets and fill the community with all sorts of diseases.   Water is essential for life, and it is essential for quality of life.

It is no surprise that water plays an important role in the Bible.  God used water to wash the earth clean of evil people, while He kept Noah and his family safe in the ark.  God parted the water of the Red Sea to let the Israelites flee from Egypt, then used that same water to drown the hostile army pursuing them.  When those Israelites were thirsty in the desert, God made water flow from a rock so they could drink.  Over and over again, God used water to wash away bad things and give life to the people He loved.

In the New Testament, God put John the Baptist to work along the banks of the Jordan River.  His job was to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Savior God was sending from heaven.  John said, I baptize you with water for repentance (Matthew 3:11).  Following heaven’s command, he used water to rinse people clean of their sin so they would be ready to meet God in the person of Christ. 

Then one day Christ Himself came to John, seeking his baptism.  But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented (Matthew 3:14-15).  This baptism was not like the others John had performed.  Jesus was the sinless Son of God—He had no corruption to be washed away.  But Jesus was about to embark on a holy mission; it was time for Him to save mankind from sin, death, and Satan.  Jesus came to stand with us against the forces of terror and darkness, and in baptism Jesus pledged to honor God with His life on our behalf. 

Jesus took John’s baptism to a whole new level.  When our Lord was baptized, God the Father sent the Holy Spirit to rest on Jesus and support Him throughout His ministry.  When we are baptized, God’s Spirit comes down from heaven again, changing us from filthy outcasts to beautiful children of God.  John baptized for repentance; Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, bestowing new life that will never be extinguished. 

When you speak of the water that gives life, you are speaking of Jesus.  When He talked with a woman at Jacob’s well, He told her everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).  Years later, John saw this living water in God’s revelation of heaven: the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation chapter 22).  Jesus is the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, and the water of life flows from Him.

Now let’s talk about blood.  God says the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life (Leviticus 17:11).  When your blood drains away, you die.  When your heart stops pumping blood, you die. Speak of blood and you think about matters of life and death. 

In the Old Testament, blood was used to ratify treaties.  The practice still survives today when two friends prick their fingers and rub them together, making a pact of blood.  God used blood to seal His covenants.  Abraham and all his descendants were to be circumcised, a shedding of blood that guaranteed them membership in the household of God.  When God announced His laws and promises to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, Moses sprinkled them all with sacrificial blood as a pledge of loyalty. 

But blood has another purpose; its loss is the price for breaking God’s Commandments.  In the law given through Moses, God established a system of sacrifices; when you sinned, an animal lost its blood in your place so you might be forgiven and continue to live.  This system stayed in place until Jesus shed His blood on the cross.  When Jesus gave up His lifeblood, no further sacrifices were needed.  The blood of God’s Son has more worth than any amount of human blood.  Jesus’ blood drowned death with God’s own life. 

Jesus’ blood does the same thing as the water of baptism—it purges away evil and bestows new life.  In fact, Jesus referred to His bloody death on the cross as a baptism; looking forward to Good Friday, our Lord said I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! (Luke 12:50) His first baptism in the Jordan was a thing of joy, the start of God’s generous plan of salvation.  But His second baptism--when Jesus completed His work by paying the price for our sins--was a terrible event, painful and humiliating beyond our ability to understand.  Jesus wanted to get it over with, to get past the suffering to the new life Easter would bring, not only for Him but for all believers. 

Jesus bled so He could share His blood with us.  Listen to His words: I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him (John 6:53-56).  Jesus showed us what He meant when He instituted the Lord’s Supper; Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus ratifies our salvation by marking us with His blood.

When the soldier pierced Jesus’ heart, out gushed both blood and water.  A miracle to be sure—an unusual miracle that proves the worth of Jesus’ life on earth.  His work began in water when He was baptized.  His work ended in blood when He was crucified.  Jesus shed tears for our wretched state as sinners; He shed His blood to purify us and make us His own dear friends.  In Jesus, water and blood are combined in common purpose—they wash away our sin and bless us with everlasting life as children of God.  Water made Him one with us, His blood makes us one with Him.

There is an old familiar hymn that speaks to this subject.  Rock of Ages was written just after the American Revolution, but its words speak of freedom from something much more powerful than the British Empire.  Look carefully at the first verse: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r.   Blood and water, both spilling from Jesus’ heart; they are His gifts to us.  He let Himself be pierced so these gifts would be available to everyone—gifts of forgiveness, new life, purity, and heaven.  John saw the water and blood first hand, and he saw how Christ used them and still uses them to work out our salvation; this is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.  May you find comfort in the water of Jesus’ baptism and His blood given to you through Holy Communion; they are the bookends of His ministry, and His personal gift to you.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The scars of Christ

I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:16).

When Jesus rose from the dead, it was a miracle hard to believe.  The disciple Thomas went so far as to say, Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (John 20:25). So in order to put all doubt to rest, Jesus appeared to Thomas and said, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe (John 20:27)

Although He was returned to life, Jesus had some disfiguring scars.  There were scars in His hands and feet where rough iron nails—spikes really—had been pounded through His flesh to fasten Him to the cross.  Jesus’ side had been punctured by a spear in order to pierce His heart and make sure that He was truly dead before the authorities released His body for internment. 

Jesus has cured all sorts of ailments.  A woman plagued with incurable hemorrhage was healed at His touch.  Many people suffering from untreatable leprosy were made well by Jesus’ power. Christ made the lame walk, the blind see, and the deaf start hearing again.  The Son of God raised several people from the dead, including Himself.  Had He wanted to, Jesus could have easily removed the scars of Calvary that now marked His body.

But Jesus chose not to.  He chose to keep those scars forever, fulfilling the prophecy spoken by Isaiah 600 years earlier: I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.  But why would Christ leave those scars alone?

Have you ever injured your hand?  You notice that injury every time you go to do something.  The scar on my left hand always reminds me of the circumstances which caused that injury. 

Jesus has scars on His hands from the day when He suffered and died to forgive your sins and welcome you into God’s treasured family.  Every time the Son of God does anything, those scars remind Him of you.  The Lord will never forget how important you are to Him—your worth is engraved forever in the palms of His mighty hands.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Jesus is Lord of all!

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6).

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Jesus Christ has proven that nothing is more powerful than He—not sin, not the devil, not even death itself.  By walking from the tomb alive, the Son of God has assured us that He has the power to make good on His promises.

Jesus promised, Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19).  The Christ of God raised Himself from the dead.  Think about that!  Imagine that you suffered a heart attack; lying on the floor with no pulse, how could you resuscitate yourself?  You couldn’t!  But Jesus did the impossible—after being confirmed as dead and sealed in a tomb, the Lord of Life shrugged off death’s hold on Him.  There can be no question that our Lord is able to raise His followers from the dead to join Him in paradise forever.

Jesus promised, the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). Jesus confirmed this authority by rising from the dead.  The reason Christ died was to make satisfaction for our sins; if that job was left incomplete at the time of His death, the Savior would find no welcome in heaven.  But Scripture says, After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3). By suffering the punishment for all our transgressions, Jesus has earned the right to forgive them—the Bible says, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:1-2).

Jesus promised, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). When our sins have been forgiven and our fear of death removed, life can be a joyful experience despite whatever aggravations come our way.  Our Lord is alive, and He is with us—He told His disciples I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Although He looks down from heaven, the Lord Christ offers to be a vital part of each and every life—He says Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends (Revelation 3:20).  On top of that, the Savior blesses our lives in countless ways—from giving us the wisdom to make good choices to helping us cope with disappointment.  On Easter morning, Jesus proved that He is Lord of all—I pray that you find security in His ever-living arms.

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