Monday, January 31, 2011

Polishing Cloths - January 31, 2011

Good Monday morning! Practical tip of the day: Never, never, scorch a bag of popcorn right before the weather turns cold. Welcome to the return of winter for Nebraska. We enjoyed a lengthy spell of nice, now we get some cold again. And once more we arrive at the last day of the first month of the year. A portion of the year is gone already.

On Saturday, we shared an example involving sculpture. We often hear this example used in life and our faith. And just to grind it in a bit, I had another thought on that. In Proverbs, Solomon wrote the following: Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. (27:17) I wondered if in this life each of us didn't have a bit of polishing to do on each other. As with most analogies, this one has more beneath the surface. Polishing cloths or papers come in different grades of roughness. A smooth polishing cloth would be used at the very final stages of preparation to make the sculpture shine. A rougher cloth, more like sandpaper, would be used when the surface of the work is still rough, but the shape has been chipped out of the stone. The rough cloth would be like the abrasive person you met at a Bible study but didn't really like that well. You might say they rubbed you the wrong way.

We seldom think of an abrasive kind of personality as possibly having the greater effect at rubbing more of our rough edges off. We like the smooth polishing action of those friends who don't dig too deep. However, a close friend may at times have that tough, abrasive action of the sandpaper. You and I might need a bit of rough sanding in a particular area of our lives, and Jesus may send a close friend to do a bit of hurting on us for a time. Neither of us will like the rough part, but in Christ we are brought through the tough time and we shine in the end.
Some of us in the body of Christ may even have a gift for polishing our brothers and sisters in Christ. A person may possess the gift of wisdom and good advice. Another may have the gift of seeing past the words of a person to the heart of the problem. None of us should try to be as abrasive as possible in order to "polish" the body of Christ! But some may have a gift for saying the tough things at the right time. Any of us might say to friend at some point, "Ouch! That really hurt! But thank you, I really needed to hear that." There are times when the pain and the gratitude are separated by a year or so.

In the same way a surgeon probably didn't start her career by remarking on how much she enjoys cutting into human flesh. What she spent all those years in education and training for was to heal in the best way our medical science knows right now. Not even surgeons would say that cutting open the body is the best way to heal a person, but it is necessary sometimes. The reward is in the final healing, not in the cutting. One day, we will all see Jesus and he has a much better way of healing and polishing his creations. The Bible speaks of fruit used to heal the nations, and of white robes, and no more pain or sorrow or suffering. The promises Jesus has made sound pretty good, especially when compared with our situation now.

Will friends still sharpen friends in Heaven? I don't know, but I certainly hope all of my friends and loved ones are in Heaven to find out! Have a great and God-glorifying day in Christ!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Perfect Tool for Christ - January 29, 2011

Good Saturday morning! Do you feel the sting of your own imperfection today? We all seem to have the urge to become perfect. But as imperfect creatures, do we even know how to get there? What if you felt a similar urge to become Martian, but had no idea where Mars sits in the heavens? Just in case we thought perfection was optional, Jesus had this to say in Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." This verse comes at the end of the chapter where Jesus also tells us that we sin by even thinking lust, we murder by even thinking hate, and that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees - those guys who upheld the strict Hebrew Law and the 600 or so rules piled on top of it. The chapter continues into loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, and cutting off appendages that cause us to sin. Perfection? How are any of us going to accomplish this?

What appendage causes us to sin? Hint: it isn't something we can do without! Sin begins in our hearts, what we call our minds; the thinking part of us. If we chop off our heads because of sin, we aren't much good to anyone. Jesus must be telling us to look past the world that our mind sees when he tells us to cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin. Jesus has also called us to come to the Father. Without the Shepherd calling us, we would have no better idea of how to attain perfection than any of the world's religions. If Jesus has called us to his kingdom, would we not already have that perfection in us?

Perhaps not, but look at it this way. When Jesus called us to follow him, we were in the rough shape that he found us in. Let's say that Jesus called me and he needed a chisel. Somewhere in my rough shape, that perfect chisel was already created by God for His purpose. At the moment Jesus called me, that perfect chisel was hidden in a blunt (pun on me!) shape. Jesus is going to take that shape and start cutting off the parts that offend Him! Somewhere within me, Jesus the master sculptor already sees the shape he wants to use.

In some people called by Christ, we see big chunks knocked off right away. You have probably heard of alcoholics or drug addicts who gave their lives to Jesus and were immediately freed of the desire to drink or shoot up; that is a big chunk knocked of the rough shape right at the start. Jesus can do that! For many of us, that shaping and polishing seems to take our entire lifetime, or at least as much of our lifetime as we have seen so far. The changes in us may be impossible to see on a day by day basis. We shouldn't give up on the Master though, even if the progress seems slow and the blows of his mallet hurt some. After all, when would the progress seem slowest on the sculpture? Exactly, just as the shape is beginning to become clear!

As our purpose becomes clear, after Jesus has knocked away some of the big chunks, we will begin to see that perfection God has already created in us. One thing we will realize is that God created us in his image, but he didn't create another God. We are not God, just as a sculpture is not the sculptor. As our purpose becomes clear, it will become clear that we are not well suited for some things. A hammer doesn't turn screws, a chisel would be ruined by pulling nails, and God's purpose in our lives has a proper application. Paul used the illustration of body parts to show us this. If you woke up with your feet where your hands should be, you would have to start learning how to walk upside down, and you would quickly realize that legs are much better for walking than arms. Each of us has a place in the body of Christ and if we try to be what we are not, we might feel the sting of imperfection more than we have to.

I read somewhere that the average church pastor has 250 persons in his church, one youth bus, and works 65 hours per week. What does this mean? Those 250 persons are not the pastor of the church! Those folks all have a different place in the body of Christ, a different function to perform for the body, and a different purpose in the cause of Christ. Should one of those 250 see how easy the pastor makes the Sunday sermon look, he might get the idea that he too is a pastor. He might fall flat on his face too - much like a saw would that leaps into the carpenter's hand when the carpenter reaches for a screwdriver to remove a screw. The saw may get thrown down and humbled a bit.

Finding our purpose in the body of Christ and discovering our gifts is not always easy. We need wisdom to avoid causing harm to the body by trying to do what we are not suited for. The Holy Spirit is the answer to this. Jesus sent us a guide to help us find the narrow way Jesus has made for each of us.

Enjoy the weekend in Christ!


Friday, January 28, 2011

No Fun in the Day? - January 28, 2011

Good Friday morning! So the day wasn't marked or set aside, but apparently the week is undecided between National Son week and Sanctity of Life week. I can see at least one relationship between those two. I wonder if all 52 weeks are covered yet? We could have National Week Week to celebrate a special week for weeks....that's kind of weak. Anyway, I don't see anything on the calendar for today so we'll call it National Joy in the Lord Day, just for those of us who need a day set aside for that. If you read this and run to your search engine to type in something like: "What day is it today?" You really should find something productive to do with your time.

Not that anyone in this group of fine folks would do such a thing, but today is Fun at Work Day. Sorry to do that to you. Many of you have probably arrived at the conclusion that "fun" and "at work" are mutual antagonists. Your employer might have led you to believe this through years of verbal cues. At least the day occurs on a Friday; imagine the global outrage if some wag had decided Fun at Work Day (I even have trouble typing the thing!) should happen on a Monday! The protests in Egypt would look tame by comparison. The question must come though: Who gets to decide or declare these days? Yesterday was Mozart Day (his birthday), Day of Remembrance for Victims of Nazism, Auschwitz Liberation Day, ...take a deep breath... United Nations International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, whew that's a cumbersome title. No need to give a speech after you have read that one to the audience, the title says it all. Oh, and yesterday was Thomas Crapper day. Alas, it seems that the myth about Mr. Crapper is not true. The invention of the flush toilet belongs to someone else. However, British soldiers in World War I did apparently coin the term that is associated with his name.

What good news can we bring out of this hodge-podge of days? Well, your ISP's advertising programs will certainly have a grand old time with this e-mail. You may not have fun at work, but I'm having fun with the devotional today and that is a part of my work. The cats are doing their usual sleeping thing, and I need to refill my coffee mug; that sounds like fun! I see some good news in the economy today, and any good news about the economy is fun these days. The weekend will start as soon as you can get away from your work tonight. That sounds like fun. We do seem to struggle to manufacture reasons for fun in this life.

The reasons and events for fun also end way too soon. Fun quickly exhausts us and we have to set aside another day (more as you get older) to recover from a day of fun. Seems kind of unfair, but imagine if the fall in Eden had eliminated fun entirely. Sounds like an idea for a children's book: The Day the Fun Went Away. Some people might read the Gospels and wonder if that didn't happen when Jesus began his ministry. The black and white (or red) printing and serious tone of the Bible tend to lead us to the conclusion that Jesus was not only a man of sorrows, but that he never had any fun. Jesus ministered for more than 3 years. While we know his mission from the Father was serious, we don't have all of his words and actions recorded for us to check for any fun he might have enjoyed with his disciples or his other close friends. I think we would be wrong to conclude that Jesus never had any fun while he lived way back in the day.

Sometimes we try to project our pain onto Jesus or other people from the past. If I feel downtrodden and depressed now, the disciples must have felt the same way with all the suffering they saw. If we aren't having fun in church, then surely the Puritans had no fun in church. They had to listen to sermons like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; how could they possibly have any fun? Perhaps that particular sermon by Jonathan Edwards wasn't all jokes and fun. On the other hand, after hearing about the dread and woe of Hell, you could say: "Praise God that I am forgiven in Christ!" Now that's fun!

Have some fun at work today... just to see how your boss likes it.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Day, We Rejoice! - January 27, 2011

Good Thursday morning! I'm searching in my mind for a special day to celebrate with you this morning, but nothing comes to mind. This is surprising in that it seems like almost every day on the calendar is set aside for some obscure "National" day. The Bible has a slightly different way of making our day special. I recall a verse that simply says: "This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it!" Psalms 118:24. Not a specific date on a calendar that must be anticipated, or can be missed in the busyness, but simply this day. Each morning we can get up and speak that one simple verse aloud. This! the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!

Rejoicing in the morning is not always easy. Looking at almost any news page is a sort of, "alright, who died yesterday" exercise. If we don't see news of a horrible tragedy, then we can read about people in a position of trust betraying their country or their employers, some celebrity mouthing off or breaking any number of laws; or even someone we respected once again shattering the myth of human self-righteousness. The plain fact is that looking at the world too much will certainly make it impossible to rejoice. Waking up with a promise to rejoice in the day must require us to look elsewhere.

Looking inside our own hearts may not be the answer either. If the Holy Spirit has opened the eyes of your heart so to speak, you will see the lust of the flesh that Paul wrote about displayed in shocking Technicolor, wide-screen format, 3-d horror. Jeremiah the prophet wrote: "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (17:9) When we read in the news about some minister, pastor, or priest who has fallen we are often first disappointed. But the only difference is that person's sin has been made public; your sin and my sin may be known only to God and each of us. However, since God's standard is much more strict than the world's, not one of us is getting away with anything. If you had to stand in court with everyone but the judge knowing your crime, you might harbor a hope of leniency from the judge, perhaps he would even declare you not guilty. On the other hand, if only the judge knew the depth of your guilt, it really wouldn't matter that the gallery knew nothing of your crime.

God, the eternal and final judge, knows every crime against His Law that you and I have ever committed. How are you doing at cleaning up your life? I can speak for myself in this: I find that I have no willpower, a strong lust of the flesh, and a quick, sharp ability to find an excuse for my sins. In my own strength I am weak to resist temptation and lost before I even start the race. I have found my judgment lacking and good sense not present at roll call. When someone gives me good advice, something in me immediately rises up to rebel. Cleaning up my own life in my own strength and ability just isn't going to happen. What is there to rejoice about on this day inside of me?

Of course, you are way ahead of me here. When we come to believe in Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, we gain some help in this battle. The Holy Spirit Jesus sent to us when he ascended to Heaven will convict us of sin, remind us of scripture, and call our attention away from our deceitful heart and back to God our Creator. The heart cleansing work of the Spirit begins as soon as He arrives in us. Like Lazarus, Jesus has called us forth from the tomb of our own sin and told the Spirit to strip away the grave clothes. Afraid of our own nakedness, we tend to grab at a few of those rotten garments and that is the lust of the flesh we feel now. The white robe of righteousness that Jesus holds for us cannot be put on us until every last shred of the old life has been stripped away. The Spirit is patient and tenacious though and gradually, you will know the freedom from sin that Christ has promised us. Is there reason to rejoice in each day? You bet there is!

Look to the one who has saved you! Look at Jesus through prayer and the scriptures. See his compassion for the sick and dying. Read about the Father's great love for the world in John 3:16. Read and think about the love so great that Christ went to the cross for us. Go to Revelation and read our Lord's promise to return soon. Take up John 14 and read about the place Jesus has gone to prepare for us. Yes, and you and me can find many more reasons to rejoice in Christ Jesus!

Have a great and wonderful day in Christ!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Accepting the Gift - January 26, 2011

Good Wednesday morning! I am glad that God is near you on this fine morning! What do you get when you ask for help? In a church you may get help, advice, a gift of prayer on your behalf, or even become the subject of the latest gossip. Churches are not all perfect. Some have the right response, others not so much. When you cry out for help in prayer, you may get a yes, a no, or a wait. In the world you might get no response at all. But that isn't the end of the story for the world. God sent along this verse for us today.

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:2

Jesus died for our sins. We believe in Jesus and we are reminded of that by the Holy Spirit. What is this about the world though? Does everyone get a free ride whether they believe in Jesus or not? From this verse, you might think so. A non-believer might even try to claim the benefits for himself. However, we also know that there is much more to the Bible. What this verse speaks to is the perfection of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. No one was excluded from his propitiation; no one need fear rejection by coming to Christ. Jesus died once for the sin of all, and then he wrapped up a perfect gift.

Imagine coming to Jesus, repenting of your sin and asking forgiveness. Not only does Jesus grant you his forgiveness of sin, but he also hands you a gift. Inside that perfectly wrapped box is his gift of grace. As you look up in gratitude, you see this huge pile of gifts beside Jesus ready to be opened.

"Who are these for?" you ask the Savior.

"I have made one gift for every person ever conceived," Jesus tells you.
You look, but have no way to count all the unopened gifts remaining. You have to wonder how many people have yet to be born. Though you cannot count the gifts, you can see that there is an end to the pile.

But hold on, over on the other side you notice some angels taking some of the gifts away. The angels appear sad, like they are doing a job they would rather not.

"What are they doing with those other gifts, Lord?" you ask Jesus.

"Those are the gifts that will never be opened. I died for their sins, but they refused to believe in me," our Lord says sadly.

"Why didn't you just hand them your gift, Lord?" you want to know.

"My child, it wouldn't be a gift if I forced it on them," Jesus says, "Everyone can come to me for the forgiveness of sin, but no one will be forced to acknowledge me until the end."

"Will no one tell them of this great gift then Lord?" you ask, remembering your loved ones.

"Those who believe in me on the Earth are spreading my Good News even now," the Lord responds with joy. "Look behind you!"

As you look, here they come; the sinners of the Earth in their thousands. Each one coming to receive his or her gift of grace from the Master. Jesus turns to greet every one of them.

I don't claim to know how exactly we will be greeted in Heaven, but this little fantasy this morning does illustrate the most basic choice we have in this life: believe in Jesus and accept his gift, or try to ignore Him and receive nothing. Wait, you mean that those who choose to ignore Jesus don't receive Hell as their reward? No, we are all bound for Hell without the saving grace of Jesus. They receive nothing because they already have their reward.

Trust in Jesus for your salvation!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Anchored Here? No Way! - January 25, 2011

Good Tuesday morning! What should we imagine on this day? Hmm, how about you waiting on that important phone call. There you stand, because you are too excited to sit. You might pace back and forth a bit. You check the phone to make sure that you have dial tone, which you suddenly realize will cause the caller to get a busy signal! You quickly hang up the phone and try to wait more patiently. This call is so important! You pace out to the living room, out of reach of the phone and snap the latch to a big chain around your ankle. The chain is attached to a 16-ton safe. Now you cannot reach the phone to answer it when that call comes. Isn't that just the stupidest thing?

All of us who believe in Christ are waiting on that one call. The call that comes not by the telephone, but by our soul. The call that says, "Come up here!" Wouldn't it be stupid to be anchored to this earth when that call came?

Many things on this earth call out for our attention: money, material possessions, children, jobs, spouses, taxes, weather, and on the list goes. Some things are blessings given by God. Children are a gift from God, as is your spouse. Yes, even during those times when you don't think so. Money and material possessions can go either way. Money can be a great tool to have in your tool box, or it could be that 16-ton safe you are chained to. Material possessions can be a great tool to entertain guests in your home, or those same possessions could turn into another chain and safe. Jesus told us that not one of us can serve both God and mammon. Mammon was a Greek word that meant money and possessions. We just cannot serve both money and God at the same time.

I don't know about you, but I have found that I don't serve money very well. Money is demanding of my time and energy, difficult to obtain, and slippery in my pocket. As a tool in my toolbox, money is in its place and God makes sure that I have just enough. As a servant or tool, money is useful. As a tyrant, money is demanding and unhelpful; leaving me anxious, depressed, and watching it every moment. Possessions work in much the same way. Demanding or useful depending upon what place I give them in my life. Both money and possessions set upon a throne anchor me to this world. And when the call comes, I do not want to be anchored here!
God strengthens me to serve Him. Money never did that for me. God sent His only Son to die in my place. I could never accumulate enough money or possessions to pay the price Jesus paid for me on the cross. In fact, no coin ever minted would even be acceptable to pay the bill of my sin debt. It's like when we were kids and tried to pay for something with a slug or a wooden nickel. The store clerk would lean down and say, "I'm sorry, dear. That isn't money. You have to have a real coin to pay for this." Jesus paid the bill for our sin debt exactly. The little metal discs and pieces of paper we call money just won't work to pay that bill.

A religion might tell you that good works or a certain amount of giving is the answer to salvation. Sorry, but God wouldn't have allowed His Son to die if there had been a way to earn your way to Heaven. Jesus could have walked all over the planet proclaiming the news: You need 1,437 good and unselfish works to earn a spot in Heaven! The world wouldn't have hated him for that. In fact some of Jesus' most notorious enemies, the Pharisees, would have been all over that way to Heaven. Many religions would have been glad to know the exact number. We could even do good works by helping someone we don't know count up his good works. Nope, when the call comes down, you don't want to be anchored here trying to count up your good works.
Jesus provided the only way to God, is the only way to God, and opened up the narrow way to God by His death on the cross. Read John 3:16 and 14:6, you either believe those two statements spoken by Jesus, or you do not. Either statement throws out all other ways to God. We cannot earn the way, buy the way, or accumulate the way; we can only believe in the Way. Have a great Day!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Dark Lamp? - January 24, 2011

Good Monday morning! Sorry, but good and Monday do not make an oxymoron. Welcome to the new week of working for God's glory! For those of you who must go "up the hill" here in Sidney, Monday is still a glorious opportunity to bring glory to God's name. Have you ever considered encouraging someone with the simple mention of our most basic facts of faith? We may search for deep words, long words, and the so-called 10 dollar words to impress each other, but the real encouragement might be just a simple reminder. Jesus loves you! That simple reminder is more encouraging to me than an entire thesaurus of fancy words. God cares for you! That simple statement gives more peace than all the peace treaties ever signed on this earth. For what is peace but the gift Jesus gave to us?

We tend to think opposite from our upbringing and training in this world. We give more power to darkness when we define it in our hearts as the absence of light. But God created light to drive out the darkness. Even distant stars shine with light that goes on and on. If you wake up in a dark room, a simple turn of the light switch on your lamp banishes the darkness. The dark must hide in shadows behind objects and in corners. You don't turn on a darkness lamp (now there's an oxymoron!) to banish the light at the end of the day, do you? During the reign of Christ on the new Earth, we are promised that the light of Jesus will shine constantly so that the light of sun and moon is not needed. God is light and Jesus is the Light of the World. When we walk through the valley of death's shadow, the Light is with us. In the same way, peace is not simply an absence of war.

When Jesus gave us his peace, he did not contradict his own statement of bringing the sword. Jesus gave us the peace that lasts even in the midst of this spiritual war we wage each and every day. We war against the lust of our own fallen flesh and against the powers of evil. Of course, the Holy Spirit is in us and reminds of that peace given by Jesus. In our fallen nature, we tend to forget that peace at times. We look at the war and get anxious; when in fact we should be looking at the peace and dropping those worries. A simple reading of a history book or a viewing of the news headlines will show that Jesus did bring the sword of war to the world. Turning our gaze to the Bible, we read that one day, one day soon, Jesus will return to bring a new peace to a new world. What a glorious promise! The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing!

Have a beautiful new week!


Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Bit Unsafe Today - January 22. 2011

Good Saturday morning! Ah, stuff stocked safely out of cat reach; I'm ready to sit down for some devotional writing. There is nothing quite so compelling to get a few purchases put away in the cupboard as the thought of a couple of cats entertaining themselves with your new bottles of this and that. Yes, the cats have trained me well. A bottle of Downy, or any other cleaning product from the store, costs just enough that a person really doesn't want to see it bounce off the floor too often. The manufacturer might say: "But our bottles are drop tested!" Of course, but did you drop test your product in my house with the added velocity of a cat push? And what good does the guarantee of a replacement do me when the kitchen is awash in fabric softener? I'll pass on the drop testing by cat. Easier and cleaner for me to just put in the effort right when I get home. Of course, while cats get a lot of bad press, as they are this morning, I haven't experienced the whole world of destruction that kids can cause. And I've forgotten my own efforts in that area from uh... 40 or so years ago. Yeesh! Has it been that long? We also know that those dear children are not the most destructive force in this world.

Sometimes it may seem like the world is out to get us. A quick reading of the news headlines on any typical day and we might feel the need to run home. But our homes are no havens of safety. If your cat drop tested the liquid soap, you might run into your house only to skid across the kitchen, down the stairs, and roll right into the sooty fireplace.

Shoof; yeek!, Ooof! thud, thud, thud, thud, roll, roll, CRASH! cough, cough, hack!

The cat will of course give your quivering, bruised, and sooty body the honor of a little kitty rub in hopes that you will come back to life long enough to fill the kitty food dish. We live in a dangerous world. Aaagh! Home isn't safe! You crawl out of the fireplace, ignore the cat, run up the stairs and get back into your car. Driving down the street at slightly faster than the speed limit you realize that the soap and soot have combined to form nasty black soap bubbles which are congregating on your windshield! Eww! (Wrong, I ain't going there.) You screech to a stop while the anti-lock brakes on your car prevent the tires from joining you, only to stop right in the final landing place of a giant satellite. The final blazing piece of this former billion dollar piece of equipment leaves a cute little dent in your car's hood.... "bink!" You suddenly realize that the car is not a haven of safety either. You smear the black bubbles out of your view. Eww! And drive home at a more sedate speed. Walk into the house and pet the cat (who still wants the food dish filled). There is no complete safe haven here on this earth for us, only a few relatively safe ones.

Long ago, someone told us to trust only in God. Then a bit later, another man told us that since we trust in God, we should also trust in Him. This same man also warned his disciples that believing in Him was no guarantee of a long, safe, and gentle decline into their old age. Jesus instead told his disciples that the world would hate them, persecute them, kill them, and just generally make life unsafe for them. We believe in Jesus and we don't get a free pass either. While we are gathered together, it may seem like the world isn't such a bad place. We may get into a little bit of a discussion over the finer points of theology, but no one hates us do they? In that environment, probably not; at least the haters will tend to hide it well in church gatherings. On the other hand, a simple change in surroundings and we might feel the full brunt of the world's hate. Christians gathered together in Nazi Germany too. Some found out the Jews were not Hitler's only targets for his hate. This world is not safe for us.

While this life is not safe, our eternal life is very safely kept for us by the same man who Peter, Paul, John, and the other disciples believed in many centuries back. Jesus is the Christ, and his guarantee of eternal life for those who will believe is stated in no uncertain terms in His Word, the Bible. We have no worries for eternity, and Jesus himself told us that we have no worries for tomorrow. We can conjure up images of all sorts of peril, danger, and mortal adversity to worry our little heads in this life, but trusting in God and the salvation of His Son is the only sure answer.

Have a wonderful Saturday!


Friday, January 21, 2011

Balaam's Be Very Afraid Angel - January 21, 2011

Good Friday morning! We woke up to a nice little snow this morning. The radar didn't even show it on the map; must have been a little rogue snowstorm. Last night in our life group bible study we ran into old Balaam again with his talking donkey. I like that story; it showcases the unexpected in our lives. A quick summary goes like this: A king by the name of Balak saw the mass of Israel coming and sought some magical help. Balak sent for Balaam, sparing us no small confusion for a bit with the name thing, and asked him to curse the Israelites, but God told Balaam that he should not curse them. The second time Balak sent for Balaam with a bunch of princes, and God allowed Balaam to go as long as Balaam said only what God told him to. However, God wasn't pleased that Balaam was going and sent an angel to stand in the way of Balaam's donkey. The donkey saw the angel, Balaam didn't. Naturally the donkey tried to go around the angel standing with drawn sword in front of her. On the third time, the angel stood at a narrow place where the donkey could in no way avoid running into the angel. The poor donkey, faced with being beaten the third time by her master or dying through trying to plow over an angel of the Lord, did what any good donkey would do and sat down under Balaam. Then the story gets funny.

Balaam's donkey is given the ability to speak by the Lord, and asks why her master is beating her for the third time. Balaam responds as though donkeys had a habit of speaking to him on a regular basis; telling the donkey that he wished he had a sword to kill her. The donkey asks Balaam why he would be unfair to his faithful servant who had carried him so many times without rebelling in any way. Balaam doesn't have a good answer, but then the angel asks Balaam the same question from a different view. The angel informs Balaam that had he succeeded in forcing the poor donkey to run into the angel, the angel would then have killed Balaam and spared the donkey. Incidentally, you should remember that the angel is holding a drawn sword, the very thing that Balaam wished he had to kill the donkey. Balaam now sees the angel and falls on his face.

I like this story because I can easily imagine myself in Balaam's place. Of course, I would have fallen right off the donkey onto my fanny pack in sheer astonishment. As you read this story in Numbers 22, you quickly realize that the story is about one donkey and one jackass. All of us have at times made a fool of ourselves in front of the Lord. Imagine having a donkey tell you that you are being terribly unfair in your ignorance, and then having to answer the same question from an angel! Now this is not just the messenger from God that has the great prophets Daniel and Ezekiel dropping to their faces in front of them, but an angel fully armed and ready to smite any fools that try to force a way through or over him. This angel does not comfort Balaam with a "don't be afraid" as Daniel, John, and many others will hear. No, this angel is the "Be afraid, be very afraid!" angel that Balaam must answer. Balaam does repent of his sin at this moment, but later in Numbers we run into Balaam again, once more on the wrong side of the Israelites and God. That second time, Balaam doesn't make it. Perhaps he sold his wise and faithful donkey at some point.

If you have a wise and faithful servant, you may want to listen to her when the unexpected happens. Especially if that wise and faithful servant has never spoken to you before. And never never try to plow over an angel of the Lord!

Have a great Friday!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fumbling and Bumbling - January 20, 2011

Good Thursday morning! The cold of winter is back for a visit this morning along with a bit of snow. The desk is a mess as I have started the annual digging out of the tax papers. And God is still sovereign in case the world has tried to convince you otherwise on this fine morning. Have you lost God's love today? Have you misplaced it somewhere so that you got up feeling unloved or had a night of tossing and turning that left you feeling unrested which must surely mean that God loves you a bit less today? Some mornings we get up and think that God's love must not be with us. How else to explain how we feel? We know better, but the thought still grabs us at times. God's love is of course not affected by our feelings of the moment. Other days we get up and immediately have a reminder of a past or present sin in our lives. Surely God doesn't love us quite so much in light of that! No, once again, God decided to love us, his fumbling, bumbling creation, and sent His only Son to die in our place.

One day a certain angel we have come to know by various names got up feeling perfect. Immediately he desired to set his throne higher than God's and also at that moment became something else... something no longer as perfect as he thought himself. If you get up one morning feeling perfect, you may want to check your surroundings right quick. God tossed that I'm-so-perfect thinking angel right out of Heaven, and we read in the Bible that the same angel will one day be chained and cast into the lake of fire. Since we are already on this earth, we only have one place to fall. Yikes! Maybe getting up not feeling just perfect isn't a sign of God's displeasure after all!

We as humans have a tendency to place on God the things that we think we know. Each morning you and me get up not feeling just perfect leads us from our meager experience to think that somehow God has bad days too. Do you know that the Bible has no recording of God having a bad day, the Trinity meeting in emergency session (as Pastor Rogers liked to say), or Jesus rushing to be anywhere on time. God never apologized for smiting the Israelites in a time they didn't deserve punishment, in fact He often put off punishment when a king or the people repented. Jesus never apologized for stepping on the Pharisees' scriptural toes without cause. And when Jesus went through a series of bad days at the end of his earthly life the cause was not a mistake of his own, but a whole lot of sins that we had a part in. Our fumbling, bumbling feelings just don't seem to tell the whole story!

A paraphrase of the Bible: God created everything and gave a couple of humans a choice. Eve fumbled the choice, and Adam bumbled when God asked him about the fumble. God sent the fumbling, bumbling humans out to live in a fallen world. God gave those fumblers and bumblers the Law, a perfect standard to which not one of them would ever fail to fumble and bumble his way to eternal condemnation. God sent an ark captain to keep one family as a seed to start over after the fumbling and bumbling reached pandemic proportions. Since all of the people once again proved so adept at fumbling and bumbling, God set aside only one chosen people and sent them judges, kings, and prophets to warn them that He would always be watching - don't fumble and bumble. Not one of even the chosen people could meet the perfect standard set down by God. Many was the time that God's chosen people seemed to fumble on purpose!

Finally, God sent His own perfect solution to an imperfect gang of fumblers and bumblers. The man, Jesus, never fumbled or bumbled in his entire life; a life that ended when the fumblers and bumblers refused to believe that God would do exactly as He had told the prophets he would do. The Light of the World died on a cross holding our shame and sin. From the Seed planted in the earth, on the third day a new Christ emerged victorious from the tomb. So new that the first human fumbled her recognition of Him. However, to all the fumblers and bumblers in the world forgiveness and grace now shone in the darkness. God said: Believe on my Risen Son, and grace is yours even when you fumble and bumble. God then sent an ever growing group of men and women out into the dark world to shine his light. These men and women did at times fumble and bumble too, not one of them had become perfect just yet. However, the Word spread like wildfire because of one great promise: The Light of the World would return to receive unto himself those poor fumblers and bumblers who would believe on Him!

When you go through your day, fumbling and bumbling, stumbling and mumbling, perhaps even daring to do a little grumbling, remember the grace that is yours in Christ Jesus!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Front Man - January 19, 2011

Good Wednesday morning! No grace is so precious as the grace we gain in Christ Jesus! In this world, we often miss the point. We would like to be as graceful as that dancer on the telly, or show the grace of the ballerina on the stage, but in Christ we are already full of the grace that we need. This play on "grace" isn't just for amusement. We tend to miss things at times. Peter didn't always get what Jesus was talking about. Peter was often our front man with Jesus.

If we had lived in the first years of Christianity, those years when Jesus began his ministry, we might have held an image of the King of Israel that didn't fit with what we saw in the man Jesus of Nazareth. The people tried to make Jesus king by force at one point, some of those same folks thought their promised king had arrived on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday. Peter often tried to take Jesus to task and make him act more like his image of the King. We can recall from our Bible study the time that Jesus called Peter "Satan" when Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to his crucifixion. Peter also refused to have his feet washed by the king he had in his mind. Even today, nearly 2,000 years later, we have yet to see Jesus arrive as King.

Jesus simply didn't fit any one person's image of the newborn King of the Jews, as the wise men from the east called him at his birth. Where was this king the wise men came to worship? Peter, our front man, tried to make Jesus act the part. The people of Jerusalem tried to make him take the part. Pilate had the cross inscribed with his title, but Jesus still didn't look like a King of the Jews. Of course, the high priests then tried to refuse the title to Jesus even after his death, imploring Pilate to change what he had written on the sign above Jesus' body. Even as Jesus came in his one almost royal entry into the city of Jerusalem, he stopped to weep over the sin he saw in the city.

Jesus fulfilled a prophecy with his entry on a donkey's colt. Jesus also fulfilled prophecies of his servant's status and much suffering. If we had lived with Peter, we may have tried to ignore those parts of the prophecies in favor of the more kingly parts. The people of Jerusalem would have happily joined us in that. Like many of us, they wanted to skip over the tough parts and get right to the King of kings part. We often do the same in our lives. God has promised us an abundant life, can't we just get to that part now?

Actually Jesus said that he came that we might have life abundantly, not necessarily an abundant life. We like to think that God said we would all be rich in this life. Some ministries even promise this if we just give each week, as though God is a kind of big cash register where you are allowed to take a handful out of the hundreds slot for every bill you put in the tens slot. We all have the urge to remake Jesus as a king in the image we like. Jesus will return as King and we will be more than satisfied. But until that time, God will remake us in HIS image, an important distinction for our walk with Christ. Be ready for the big rejoicing-fest when the King of kings arrives. Praise God that our King will arrive in his own image, not the one you, me, Peter, and the people of the world have tried to place upon him.

Have a wonderful Wednesday in Christ!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Your Special Day - January 18, 2011

Good Tuesday morning! We have arrived! a Tuesday in January, the 18th to be precise. What is so special about that? That's the problem; we don't see each day as special. Each morning should be a shout of praise to the Lord. "Hallelujah! The day is here!" When each day is special and dedicated to the Lord you and I will accomplish great things in Christ! We tend to look forward to the next so-called special day instead of treating each day as special. This could be your last day on this planet. What do you have to say today? Words of wisdom to pass on to your children or words of life to pass on to another human being will do nicely. Perhaps you want to write your own memorial so that no one misunderstands your feelings on going to be with Jesus. You might feel the need to write a psalm of praise to God the Father.

In Christ we are encouraged to live each day expecting Jesus to return on that day. The cares of the world often distract us from that thought. But something else may distract us as well: superstition. We don't want to talk about the possibility of the last day in case that brings on the proverbial cement truck from nowhere. Of course a belief in superstition cannot exist with a belief in God. You and I must decide which to put first. Do we cower down in a corner figuratively speaking and refuse to talk about death lest we bring its frightening embrace? Do we believe with our whole hearts in Christ Jesus and his victory over death and the grave? The choice is yours and mine, but we don't get both.

Looking at the choice, superstition or Christ, the way to go seems obvious when we sit reading or writing at a comfortable chair. However, we do tend to let that old superstition creep in from time to time. Turning to Jesus at such times is the best cure for the superstition that robs us of our freedom of speech and thought. Thinking about death does not bring some hooded character with a blade on a stick. Talking to God about death can bring you comfort as God's peace enfolds you. Death is not an easy subject for people. Try dropping a few words about it at the fitness club; watch as the workout intensity all around you suddenly increases dramatically. Mention death at a restaurant and watch the calorie intake drop off quickly. Watch as the manager tosses you out for hurting his dessert sales! The world doesn't want to hear about death no matter how certain the fact is in this life. I don't like to hear about the so-called aging gene and the possibility of stopping it. Why? To me that is a false hope. Living on this earth forever is not the answer people need to their hopelessness. We all need the words of life from Jesus Christ; we don't need news that tells us we might have to live here forever just as we are now.

You have worked hard to get where you are now. In fact, you and I would be glad to admit that without Christ, we wouldn't have made it this far. Do we really want to reverse the aging and stay here any longer? Each day brings us one day closer to seeing Jesus in person. One day closer to feeling the healing touch of our Lord. One day closer to putting on the white robe of righteousness that Christ holds for us even now. One day closer to our heavenly reward. I think each day sounds pretty special in light of that! I choose to believe in Jesus. Death may try to grab me, or you, or anyone of us at any moment. But Jesus has already fought and won that battle: Bring on Eternity!

Enjoy your special day in Christ!


Monday, January 17, 2011

New Arrivals - January 17, 2011

Good Monday morning! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day! Whew, bit of a mouthful there, too many syllables for a good holiday, mate! We should change this to Martin's Day, or maybe Marty's Day; something with a simple ring to it. Think about it: Easter, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, all simple and short in the syllable department. Independence Day must have too many syllables because everyone asks how your "fourth" was or "What are you doing for the Fourth?" What happened to one through three? Don't I get to celebrate the "First" first? I suppose we took care of that on January 1st. How 'bout seconds then, do we get to celebrate Seconds? One look down at my belly and I get the nagging suspicion that maybe I've celebrated seconds a little too much already. Nobody celebrates thirds of course, that would be just too greedy. We just need to shorten up the name of this particular holiday. King's Day wouldn't work because in America we rather like to have our royalty at a distance. A royal wedding in England is okay, but don't get any on us please! We prefer to bow and scrape before celebrities behaving badly or CEO's behaving criminally. Okay, enough of the social commentary for the day.

As you began your day in prayer... you did begin your day in prayer, didn't you? As we begin the day, did you need to pray one of the more difficult prayers in Christendom: thank you Lord for taking someone home yesterday? Thanking the Lord for taking someone home seems to be one of the more difficult prayers we will face. Any of us might worry that a relative of the one called home might take that prayer wrong. "Does he think I'm thanking God that his relative is gone?" Thanking God that 'ol George is finally gone is a different thing entirely, especially for 'ol George. The prayer I write of this morning is one of genuine gratitude for the Lord bringing our loved ones home to himself in Heaven. And on that subject, my thought for the day:

Heaven Improves with Each New Arrival!

First of all, isn't Heaven already perfect with God the Father sitting on his throne with His Son, Jesus, beside him? Not quite, although I'm not a qualified judge of the matter. Something is missing from Heaven, or perhaps I should say, someone is missing from Heaven. You and me are not there yet! Throughout the Bible, God's Holy Word, I get the impression that God would very much like to have all of us in Heaven with Him. Of course, none of us can just walk up there, and God will not allow the stain of sin to enter that most wonderful of realms. If ever a group was more welcome and not welcome in a place, I don't know what it is. Imagine an abandoned and starving little puppy or kitty on the side of a dusty road. You so want to heal and help this little creature, your heart breaks with compassion for it, but this little thing stinks. I don't mean the stink of neglect, but the stink of having been sprayed full-bore by a skunk, then taken by that same mean old skunk and rolled around on a flock of stink beetles for a few days, and then just for good measure, the skunk hoses that poor thing down one last time. You would stop to wonder how in the world you could get this thing cleaned up so that you can start the healing process in your home.

God has the same problem. Revelation speaks of trees that bear fruit to heal the nations. God has the method and His home all prepared for us, but we stink of sin. God came up with a solution for that: He sent his own Son down to us. Hebrews 1:3 states: "After he died to cleanse us from the stain of sin..." The death of Jesus on the cross cleansed those who will believe in Him from that stank stink of sin that prevented us from being welcomed into Heaven. A few traces of that foul scent linger, thus you and I cannot go home just yet, but our welcome is now guaranteed! God will not bring any of us home until He has removed every trace of the stink of sin and covered us in the beautiful scent of His Son. Now imagine that same little puppy or kitten with all traces of the skunk gone and now smelling like a sweet flower. Your home would be improved with the arrival of this little treasure! So it is with God's home in Heaven. As each new arrival is greeted by the throngs of saints and angels, God's home improves just a little bit. When every last believer in Christ is brought home, Heaven will be complete.

Have a wonderful holiday, and look forward to arriving in Heaven!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Proper Perspective - January 15, 2011

Good Saturday morning! Welcome to the weekend and give God the glory for this lovely day! Have you ever woke up praising God and come to realize that you are writing, speaking, or singing a psalm? Not one from the Bible, but one in your own words. I believe the Spirit within us cries out songs of adoration to God the Father constantly. Getting in tune with that song of praise gives each of us a song of joy and adoration in our hearts. Does that make any sense at all? Probably not by the world's measure of good sense, but we know that our spiritual song is there within us.

The Proper Perspective

Today, think of a tall building that you have visited or worked in. A 30 to 40 foot tall building will do, just one tall enough so that you have to crane your neck all the way back to see the top when you are standing at the base. Now imagine an ocean wave that tall as you are standing on a sandy beach with nothing but an enormous rock of solid granite at your back. You have no place to run, the sand is already being sucked out into the approaching wave. You know that swimming to the top of this wave that the evil world has thrown at you is out of the question. Surely you will be dashed and smashed against the rocks and drowned. The enormous wave is full of boulders, sharks, spiny plants uprooted from the ocean floor, ugly tentacled things, bloodsucking leeches, and all manner of unimaginable junk. Surely your life as you know it is at an end. That wave is the cares, responsibilities, busyness, and tragedy of the world all thrown at you in one big wave. You would cower in abject fear of this wave but for one small problem: You have the wrong perspective on it.

In Christ, we don't stand on the beach in front of that terrible wave, we stand up on the rock that we so often tend to look away from. That rock is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. From on top of the rock now, you look to your side and see a small lighthouse standing there. A beautiful lighthouse standing in the morning sun with an enormous lamp at its top(enormous is the word of the day). Your job is to tend that lamp spreading the light of Christ to the world. But before you go to light that lamp, you take a look out toward the dark ocean that is the world and you see that wave. Now from the top of the Rock, you realize that the overwhelming wave you saw before does not look so tall or even overwhelming as before. Jesus has now given you the proper perspective. The wave that looked so large from the beach dashes itself harmlessly against the foot of the Rock far below. You have been lifted up. More waves will come, some smaller and some larger, as the world and its prince hurl assaults against you. Alone you would have no chance, but on top of the Rock your only duty is to light that lamp for Christ.

Have a wonderful Saturday,

Your friend in Christ,


Friday, January 14, 2011

A Famine of Healing? - January 14, 2011

Good Friday morning! For some of you, have a great long weekend! For the rest of us, have a nice weekend. Yes, Monday is actually a holiday, though one that is often overlooked. You will of course have less trouble overlooking the holiday if you trudge down the street to get your mail on Monday. We took a moment last night to pray for the people in Australia, Brazil, and Sri Lanka as parts of these countries have been hit hard by floods and mud slides. A minister last night spoke of growing more specific in prayer. In this day, we have the power of the Internet. Often our prayers for far away lands can get quite specific through the knowledge we can gain on Internet news and encyclopedia sites. With just a few mouse clicks, any of us can narrow down the area to a city or town to pray for in each of the countries we prayed for last night. How specific do we need to get in prayer? As specific as you feel led by the Holy Spirit to be!

With all of this suffering in the world, does anyone have a gift to help out with this? According to the Bible verse for today, there is!

" another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit," 1 Corinthians 12:9

Here is a bit from Paul's message on spiritual gifts. Each of us has a gift given to us by the Spirit, some might have more than one gift. The 11th verse of the same chapter says: All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills. So, my question is: Who are these healers and where do we find one? I don't believe that "doctors" is necessarily the right answer. Doctors in many cases don't do a whole lot when it comes to healing, but in other cases the doctors do know some things. In the time of Jesus and the first apostles, healing was done perfectly with a touch or even just the touch of a shadow. Why has this changed for us? Or has it? Healing in a hospital is a long drawn-out affair. You don't hear about someone going in there and being touched by a doctor saying, "Be healed in the name of Jesus!" and then the person popping out that same afternoon with a shout of, "Thank you, Lord!" Peter and Paul didn't add metal parts to their patients; Jesus didn't keep one of his patients in a room until the charges broke and bankrupted the family. What gives here?

I am reminded of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. In Nazareth, it is recorded in Mark 6 that Jesus could do no mighty work in his hometown and marveled because of the unbelief he found there. But, there is one little phrase in that passage, "except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them." (Mark 6:5b) Jesus was not powerless to heal even in an area of unbelief. If the unbelief in our country is not the impediment to healing, where are these healers? I did hear a story on a television ministry about a time where a minister prayed over a patient in a hospital and she hucked up the tumor. Again, I don't recall any stories of Jesus or the apostles healing with grossness of that kind involved. You might point to Jesus spitting on the ground and making mud with his saliva to heal a blind man, but that was something Jesus did to the man and was easily washed off. Barfing up a tumor, I hesitate to say it, kind of makes me think the healing came from another source. Who are those with the gift of healing perfectly with a touch?

Perhaps one question does occur to you; it is nagging at me. The question: Is it me? Thinking back over many years, I cannot recall an instance in which I tried to heal someone with a prayer and a touch, not even a touch of my shadow. And I still have plenty of shadow to go around too! What about you? Not the shadow part, but have you tried to heal someone with a prayer and a touch? Perhaps one of you has the gift of healing and it is going unused? Go as the Spirit leads. In this I don't think the Spirit will let his gift go unused due to the ignorance (remember: that's don't know, not stupidity) of a person holding his gift. When I came to realize through the Spirit's leading me to understanding that I had a gift for writing, I also felt the Spirit leading me to do it. I don't feel led to healing in this way, only a sort of curiosity to see if I have this wonderful magic power. The curiosity is sort of along the same lines as trying to see if I can produce dollar bills or gold out of thin air. You know that wishful thinking kind of thing. If you feel only that wishful kind of thing that involves getting attention and fame through a gift of the Spirit, you probably don't have the gift.

Now, we do know that a person with a spiritual gift will be tempted of the devil. A person with a gift of powerful prayer will hear that whisper like: "Why don't you pray out loud in the church each week? People will love and honor you for your powerful prayers!" We also tend to think that an inability to perform with a gift of the Spirit is due to our lack of faith. However, Paul lists faith as a gift also. You may not have the gift of wisdom or of knowledge or of faith. If you can't heal a loved one with a prayer and a touch, you may not have that gift. When thinking of our spiritual gift or gifts, we may see a failure as a weakness in faith. We are reminded that not only is faith a gift apportioned as the Spirit wills, but that the key is not great faith in God, but faith in a great God. So, once more, where are these healers?

Another gift in Paul's list of spiritual gifts is prophecy. You will recall that God poured out on Israel a famine of the Word (found in Zechariah, I think... brzzt! Wrong, it's in Amos 8:11. Praise God for Blue Letter Bible on the Internet.). God's prophets stopped coming to Israel for some 400 years. We may be in a famine of healing. Yes, I have seen the thing on the telly with the shove to the forehead and someone to catch the person as they fall backwards; I don't recall any of that in the Bible. Perhaps right now prayer and doctors are all we have. Of course, I'll take the prayer first! If we have a famine of healers in the land, we don't have a famine of God's healing power. We have an abundance of expensive medical care too, but that's another story. While we cannot make God do our will, we can ask persistently and in faith. Jesus himself advised us to pray with persistence. Paul told us to fight our anxiety with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Actually Paul told us to be anxious for nothing. How are you doing at being anxious for nothing? Yeah, me too, but the Holy Spirit is strengthening me day by day and the encouragement of Christ is precious beyond compare.

Have a great day and accept a bit of encouragement from me too!


Oops, you had a break yesterday, looks like we're back to the dissertation-length devotionals!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Only One Strong Tower - January 13, 2011

Good Thursday morning! With around 40° of difference in the temp between yesterday morning and now, we feel a little bit spunky so far this morning. Even the cats are up and at 'em today. New England on the other hand... well New England has a buncha' more snow, on top of that other stuff they were going on about around New Year's. Hmm, there is so much more activity going on out there this morning that one cat may have to spend the morning outside if'n it don't stop soon. The question for us this morning is: How much do you trust Jesus?

Do you trust Jesus to save your eternal life as in John 3:16, but then turn to your own abilities when it comes to financial matters? Do you trust Jesus when the ghost story leaves you trembling under the covers, but then despair in your weakness over the vague pain in your body. Do you trust Jesus in words, but then trust only in your own actions? If you are guilty of that last one, then no doubt you have felt the despair of having no action to take. When a child is suffering from a sickness that even the doctor's don't fully understand we are left helpless. Without placing our faith and trust in God, the financial forces of the world will overwhelm our ability to manage money, our savings, and even our homes. Without complete trust in God, we may be left unable to get out of bed until an earthquake sends us scrambling to get out of the house. Without God's help, we might be unable to get out of bed due to some unforeseen illness, earthquake or not. People have become fitness fanatics only to die of heart failure well before old age. People have tried to find a chemical fountain of youth only to die of old age. Religious people the world over have come up with systems and methods to save themselves, but only one man could say, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." The one man who could save himself, and in fact didn't need salvation, chose to die for the sins of the world. Why do we keep trying to save ourselves in diverse ways and truths?

Without God's constant protection, none of us would be where we are now. Yet so few acknowledge Him and are content with where God has placed them and what God has provided for them. Tragedies and trials come and we cry out, "Why me, Lord?" What would happen if we trusted in God and asked, "Why not me, Lord? For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" That turning of our faith from our weakness to God's strength may be difficult during a trial. But who do we call out to when things are at the worst? Does it really help to tell yourself that YOU can do it when the you already knows that it ain't gonna happen? Christians have often been accused of various mental deficiencies when we have that faithful attitude of gratitude that says, "I can do this through Christ in HIS name!" But many of us have discovered long ago that our own strength is just not enough in this world. Oh, we do continue to fight the desire to be strong in our own right until one by one, our strong towers are knocked down by the world. A person blessed by good health and long life will feel the approach of death and old age. A person blessed with superior financial abilities will face worry and possibly ruin when the economy "heads south" as they say. An athlete might be on top of the world until an injury sidelines him for the remainder of his life. There is only one strong tower that is sufficient, and it ain't in me!

At some point those who believe in Jesus are helped along by the fact that like Thomas we have no idea how to get to the afterlife, much less that place where Jesus went. Dying is only the end of this life, not a pathway that we can follow to Heaven. Not only did Jesus tell us that he is the Way, he also told us that he is the gate and the Good Shepherd. Looks like all of us poor, weak, and blind sheep don't have to worry about following a path through the wilderness. The Good Shepherd will take us in by the Gate, lead us in Truth on the Way, and bring us to Life in His Heavenly Home! What do we have to do to earn all this favor? Believe in Jesus, the Son of the Living God!

Sounds too easy. As a man who has believed in Jesus for many years, I can tell you that the journey is not easy and this life is indeed a wilderness. The start of that journey, that first coming to belief and faith in Jesus is not easy for many either. So difficult is it to turn from the world and our own abilities that many will never take that first step toward surrender to Jesus. Personal success in the world is perhaps the most difficult of all things to overcome. Of course a person who has wealth, strength, and health will find it easy to believe in their own ability! Now we know why the trials and tragedies come in this life: God has to get our attention somehow, else all of us would merrily bounce down the wide path to Hell and eternal destruction. The next time some small or large trial arrives in my life, I will remember to pray a prayer of gratitude that once more this hard world has reminded me that God is right here with me. In Christ, the best efforts of the world and its prince to crush us only serve to remind us of our Lord Jesus and His redeeming love.

Have a much better day in Christ Jesus!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Little Serious, a Little Not - January 12, 2011

Good Wednesday morning! Yes, it's already morning of mid-week. Here you go, another devotional with no stats about how many will re post it, no veiled threats that God will toss you from the kingdom for not passing it on, and no calling you names for not reading this while standing on your head and twirling small hoops with your toes. Can you tell I've looked at e-mail and Facebook already this morning? Whee-oo! You can just feel the cold coming off those windows when opening the blinds this morning! I don't know about you, but every winter after a couple days of the real cold, I'm always ready for spring to start. I seem to have this thing where I like the approach of winter and the time when the days are in the 40's and the nights in the 20's, but when we have minus temps, then I'm ready for the end of winter. We just received a wind chill advisory too! On the other side of the globe, the folks around Brisbane in Australia are fighting a scourge of water. Sometimes my complaining about the weather doesn't look so good in light what is happening somewhere else on the planet...

After a few long and more serious devotionals, I'm not feeling all that deep and serious today. This past month or so has been tough for me, especially in the mornings. The symptoms are not new as I seem to suffer them to a greater or lesser degree each winter at about the time when bad things happened to me many years ago. Oy! That sounds both deep and serious! Good news for today is that our seriously cold weather is supposed to go away tomorrow. Getting back to more normal winter temps will seem like a much greater blessing after the past couple of days. The sun coming in the windows looks particularly nice after the cold, cold night too. How 'bout we imagine a place where the weather is perfect and the water stays where it is supposed to?

We have to imagine it because if you are reading this then you and me are right here on Earth where the fallen and cursed Creation still has much to do with our everyday lives. Heaven has not arrived here yet and Jesus has not renewed His Creation. We can imagine Heaven and go to extremes in doing so, and still fall short of what the glory of God will reveal in our eternal home. We can take the easy route and imagine that Heaven is just a place not like it is here, but that doesn't work either, after all the burning outer darkness of Hell isn't like it is here. We do have some clues from the Bible though. Pain and suffering - gone! That would be a good place to be already! Sorrow and separation - gone! We sorrow much from partings in this life. Jesus will be there with God our Father! Better and better. Together forever with our loved ones and Jesus, well some days that might just seem like too much to hope for, but there it is! Look forward to our hope in God's glorious presence!

Have a joyous day!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We Don't Always Win - January 11, 2011

Good Tuesday morning! No way I'm opening the shades until that sun is up this morning. Wow, it's cold outside! Thank you, Lord, for things like furnaces and heat pumps! If you don't feel like getting out of your warm bed this morning, I completely understand. It sounds like the entire state is in a deep freeze this morning. Congrats to Auburn for winning the college football championship last night. I support my Nebraska Huskers, but watching those two teams last night I could definitely see the difference between the Huskers' play and the way Oregon and Auburn played the game. This morning, I wonder how many on each team prayed for victory last night. Does God decide based on the sincerity of the prayers like Linus's Great Pumpkin? Does God weigh out the good deeds or amount of faith on some kind of scale? I think we know that none of that is true. The best way to put it is that God keeps His own counsel. Today, what we like is often different than what happens in life.

Christians Don't Always Win the Game!

In my study in Numbers last night, I came to the part where the spies had returned from scouting out the land. As you will recall, ten of them advocated for taking the easy way; they didn't believe in the strength of God. The remaining two, said, "Let's Go Team!" Joshua and Caleb believed in the team of God and Israel. God had already told Israel that the land was theirs for the taking, even though large people and walled cities already occupied the land. Standing on the border of their promised home, the Israelites saw the opposition and decided to not even go out onto the field. While Joshua and Caleb shouted, "Let's Go!", their team sat on the bench muttering against God. We know that God told them to turn their faithless butts around and head out into the desert for forty years, one year for each day of the scouting mission (I didn't make that up, says so right in the Bible!). Do you know what the Israelite team did then? They rebelled again!

Yes, the team, now without the blessing of God, without God on their side, without the Ark of the Covenant, Moses, Joshua, or Caleb, now decided to go out onto the field. After being told by God to take the land, the people refused, so when God said go back to the wilderness, they rebelled again. Joshua and Caleb warned them this time, "If you try it without the Lord, you're going to get whooped!" When the Israelites finally made it out onto the field... they got their rebellious butts kicked all the way back to Hormah. Imagine some two million rebellious and beaten Israelites turning away from "a land flowing with milk and honey" and heading out for forty years of exile in the wilderness they had just crossed; all the people over twenty would die there, never to see the promised land.

In our lives, we don't always have things that dramatically presented. God hasn't told us to go wander the pastures of western Nebraska for forty years for our lack of faith. That would be so unusual that the farmers and ranchers would ask, "What are you doing?" when they stumbled upon our little goatskin tents. You see we have to get permission to wander the wilderness these days. However, in this life, we don't always win the game. Unlike the Israelites, our loss may have nothing to do with how much faith we have. Last night on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll spoke about one thing we all have in common: suffering. New Christians, long time Christians, and even the heathens and pagans, all experience suffering in this life.

The rich heathens try to mitigate their suffering with the very best (and most expensive) therapists, trainers, and physicians. The poor suffer without the ameliorating effects of lots of loot. We may pray for relief from suffering. Paul prayed three times for relief from an affliction, but found only the strength to endure through God's grace. Nero had both Paul and Peter executed, and then blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians. How would you like to appear before God with that on your resume? Nero seemed to win the game for a brief time, but we know that he will not. Many believers prayed for help to God before their execution by Rome and many other evil regimes, but those prayers were not always answered with the "yes" those folks wanted. A person may pray fervently to God before a sports contest, and still lose the game.

On this Earth, and in this life, we may believe completely in God and yet lose the game at hand. In fact, Jesus promised that we would often lose the contests on this Earth. He promised the disciples that they would be delivered up to the courts. In Revelation we are promised that future believers will lose to the Anti-Christ for a certain length of time. The worst person to ever live will not only make Hitler look like a wuss, but will be allowed to overcome God's people. We like the stories that promise a good ending, but in this life those may be the exception and not the rule. However, before you grab your Bible and go down to the basement to hide for the rest of your earthly life, God has one promise about the very end that stands out - He Wins!

Remember that great promise today, and also that God has promised to bring us through the valley of death's shadow to His victory celebration: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Tragedy - January 10, 2011

Good Monday morning, good n' cold that is! We are only just above the 0 mark and the wind chill is not something to take for granted this morning. Our prayers go out to the Honorable Gabrielle Giffords today and those injured in the shooting down in Arizona. You will see a lot of guessing in the news today; guessing about the reason or reasons why the man aimed and pulled the trigger so many times; killing six persons and wounding 14 others. Another group of people to pray for this morning is the police officers who this morning are probably second guessing a lot of things about the incident. Another group will be the relatives and friends of those hurt and killed. Many of them might be asking "Why?" of God at this very moment. We don't know all the reasons God allows actions of this type, but we do know that He was there. Just like God was there when His Son died on the Cross at Golgatha.

One thing we can pick up in our Bibles and in history is that God does allow people to choose to kill and hurt other people. Certainly God could step in to stop all of these things, and I believe that our Lord very much desires to have the pain and sorrow come to an end. We must remember God's eternal view, and the importance God places on the life of every person; the eternal life, not just the part we see here on this earth. All of us have been hurt in this life, but today I am reminded of Ezekiel 9 where God tells the executioners to spare no one in the city. However, before the execution takes place, God sends a man clothed in linen to pass through Jerusalem and place a mark on the forehead of all those who sign and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it. The executioners sent by God are to spare those with the mark of the scribe on their foreheads.

The phrase that stuck in my mind this morning after reading about this incident throughout the weekend is: Those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed. That pretty much describes us when we read about incidents such as this one in Arizona. The murder and hurting of so many can only be seen as an abomination. Groaning in sorrow over this seems entirely appropriate. The action of one man has given us a reason to love those we don't even know. If you think I mean the shooter, you would be wrong. The action of Jesus on the cross and in our hearts gives us the means to love those we do not know. Speaking of the shooter, how do you feel toward him this morning?

When I first heard the story, I wanted to be the judge who reminded the murderer of the Word of God in Exodus 21:12: "Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death." Of course, the Holy Spirit would remind me of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. For the Law also says that adulterers should die. Yet Jesus forgave her and did not put her to death. Should I then be quick to forgive one who has committed this atrocity? Certainly, just as Jesus made no exceptions when he forgave me all of my sins. Does this mean that the murderer walks free as the woman did before Jesus? No, I think not. As Paul stated: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil." In speaking of rulers or governments, Paul reminded us that the duty of the government is to execute judgment on the evildoer. While you and I personally are to stay away from judgment and be quick to forgive even in such a case as this, any of us might also be called to serve on a jury where we would be bound to act as agent for the ruler.

When we have a time such as this, when we cry out for justice and yet seek the power of the Spirit in our hearts to find forgiveness there, we can take comfort from what the tribulation saints are told in Revelation 6:9-11:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Trust in God and wait on Him,


Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Powerful, Muscular Angel...Wearing Running Shoes! - January 8, 2010

Good Saturday morning! Can we expect still more snow tomorrow? The warm temps of the past couple of days melted a lot of snow, but we still have quite a bit on roads and lawns. Another good snow storm might be just the thing to keep us all inside like hibernating bears until May. So far I haven't had any luck with that; I still have to get up every morning. Hibernation could save us a lot of money over the winter. Yes, it would be hard to hold school with all the students hibernating, and more frightening still when your kid's teacher claimed she couldn't tell the difference in performance. I guess we had better be content with how the Potter made us; his precisely crafted and wonderfully made little collection of clay pots. Praise the Lord for the new day!

But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (Matt 24:2)

Many of us will recognize the prophecy of Jesus regarding the mighty Temple buildings that Herod the Great had constructed before Jesus had been born. Huge stones had been carefully quarried, trimmed, smoothed, and laid with great skill in the construction of these buildings. That construction would take decades to complete and lasted for only about 20 or 30 years as a completed project before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and fulfilled the prophecy spoken in our verse today. In 1984, I visited Jerusalem and the great Temple had not at that time been reconstructed, even today the spot stands mostly flat, with one notable exception, the Dome of the Rock. Not only do the Hebrew children not have the Temple as Jesus did when he grew into a man in Judea, but the shrine of another religion stands there. The Dome of the Rock is beautiful in appearance, made of many costly and lovely materials, but you can imagine how having your holy site taken would tend to frost your gourd so to speak.

What caused every stone to be thrown down though? Historians actually know the answer to that one! It seems that a lot of gold was used to overlay parts of the construction in Herod's great temple and there were many gold and gilded objects used in the worship services. When the Romans set fire to the building, the gold melted and ran down into cracks in the lower stones and foundation. The temptation of greed caused the Roman soldiers, and many others no doubt, to knock down every stone in search of the gold. God can use even the base instincts of humans to fulfill His words of prophecy. The fire ruined the stones of the temple and with the city also destroyed, the few survivors would have used any intact building material to make shelters and new homes, and the survivors probably searched relentlessly for any gold the Romans might have missed.

Melting gold and letting it run down into every crack and nook in a building would seem to be a rather expensive form of demolition and cleanup. You and I couldn't afford to demolish a building that way. The lesson does kind of make me wonder what "gold" God would pour into the cracks of a nation if He decided to cause its demolition. What form of worldly treasure might not be in the cracks of our nation? Treasure valuable enough that our own people would dig and widen those cracks to hasten that destruction. Greed for money is certainly much in evidence in these times, as is all other lusts of the flesh. The desire for power, both political and economic, has driven many to sin in that pursuit. Even simple selfish desires like laziness and convenience have caused people to have abortions because: "A baby just wouldn't fit my lifestyle right now!" Sin would seem to be the "gold" that causes so many to drive their picks into the cracks of our society and nation.

Sin doesn't seem much like a "gold" that you would search for, does it? There is an important difference between those who believe in Christ and those who do not - how much of a death grip sin has on their lives. A Christ-one still feels the lust of the flesh, but the Holy Spirit within can break those chains binding us to sin, if we will step back, lower the pick, and let Jesus help us make the right decision. The power to decide is still ours in every test between to sin or not to sin. Sometimes we make the right decision, other times we don't. Why is that do you suppose?

Look at it this way: At some point you may have seen the illustration of the devil and the angel on a character's shoulders. One exhorts him to do good, the other to sin. However, that illustration is not quite correct. The illustration for one who does not believe in Jesus should be of a big devil and a little policeman. The devil still exhorts the sinner to more sin, while the policeman tells the sinner about God's law and the laws of society. The policeman is too small, though he is very exact, to move the devil from its place. One time the sinner might regard the law, listen, and decide to do the right thing simply to avoid punishment. Other times that policeman is looking the other way, staring off into space perhaps, and the individual sinner has no defense and falls into more sin. Now the Christ-one is freed from the Law, so no policeman. Instead the illustration should be of a sly little devil and a powerful, muscular angel wearing running shoes on the other shoulder. The angel is much more powerful and is faster, but the devil is sly and hides in small places. If you can picture this illustration, you might wonder why we don't always make the right decision. What slows down our fast powerful angel is, well, us! We don't always listen when God's Holy Spirit gives us that moment of decision between the lust that we feel and the peace that Jesus gave to us. We sometimes give the devil a place to hide, such as a habit leftover from our sinful days.

It will take a lifetime and the direct touch of Jesus to finally cleanse us from all unrighteousness. However, the Spirit assures us that day will come. Look up in hope! Listen to the Spirit of God!


Friday, January 07, 2011

Let or Take? - January 7, 2010

Good Friday morning! So much news today; much of it about rich or newly-rich folks. Kind of explains why you won't see my name in the news today. If you are reading this, then your name probably isn't among the rich or newly-rich either. Those folks are getting up this morning to worry about their money. We will have to find something else to do for this morning. Burt and I had a nice chat last night about that place we both used to work at: he left by retirement, me by having the door smack me a good one on the buttocks. I don't think we solved any of the problems up there on the hill, but it was good to talk it out. The only problem I see with chatting past my bedtime is that the next morning I tend to stare at the computer screen for minutes at a time without realizing what it is I'm supposed to be typing!

Last night we heard about yet another termination for an individual. After what happened to me, I do not wish this outcome on anyone. However, I also hope and pray that this isn't the first scapegoat of a witch hunt: How's that for mixed metaphors! As I came home and opened my Bible for a little late reading, God led me to a passage in Matthew where Jesus sent out the disciples with this instruction: And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (Matt 10:11-13) In thinking about these verses, perhaps a bit of explanation is in order.

In this passage, I don't believe that Jesus told the apostles to literally greet the house, even though that is exactly what the verse says. When you are asked to greet a church today, you wouldn't walk up to the building and call out, "Hello church! Hope your bricks feel good today. Everything settling alright with you?" No, you would greet all of God's people gathered there to worship. In the same way, Jesus was telling the disciples to greet what we would call the household: the family, friends, servants, and even the pets living there. I have no doubt that the peace given by the disciples was a powerful thing, a wonderful blessing to have on your house as it were. In the same way, having the house found unworthy and losing that peace would have a strong effect as well, and not for the good. You may have noted in the reading that Jesus didn't say "give your peace" or "take your peace away." The action is more passive, "let your peace come upon it" and "let your peace return to you." At least in this version, the ESV, it sounds more passive; the NLT states it a little differently: "When you are invited into someone's home, give it your blessing. If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back your blessing."

Bleah, my coffee has become stone cold; be right back. We don't think about letting our peace return to us when a household tells us to get lost, but is that what is meant by unworthy? In later verses, Jesus gave his disciples instructions for what to do when a house would not receive the disciple or listen to the Good News. The instructions regarding a house's worthiness might be open to the disciple's judgment. A child sneezes during a prayer and the father reaches down and lays out the child with a backhand blow to the head; house might be unworthy. The house raises the children to the best of the couple's ability with fairness and much prayer; the disciple would probably say it was worthy. If you and I went into a house to stay in a town, we would quickly come to some conclusion on whether the house was worthy or not. Jesus may have left this entirely up to the disciples. But, Jesus did send the disciples out with great authority, which tells me that the Holy Spirit was sent with them. In an earlier verse, Jesus gives these instructions: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." (Matt 10:8) That is some serious authority! The disciple's judgment in the matter of worthiness probably had the influence of the Holy Spirit. The disciples did not go alone and didn't bear the responsibility alone. Taking back a blessing or letting your peace return to you is a serious thing. I can only imagine the difficulties and trials that came to those houses who had that peace or blessing removed from them.

Praise the Lord that your house can have the peace of Jesus! Believe in Him and receive it.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Be a Whoever! - January 6, 2010

Good Thursday morning! All those new congress persons started yesterday, but I don't see much difference yet. Do you suppose they spent the day trying to find the restroom in the capitol? After all of the political ads we endured for months leading up to the election, we do have some high expectations for our new and old congressional representatives and senators. Whether anything will actually happen or not...remains to be seen. The question we might ask of ourselves is: Do you think any legislative body or official can make anything better for us until the Lord gives them leave to do so? I am reminded of the words of Jesus. "And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold." (Matt 24:12) What does it mean that lawlessness will be increased? We tend to think simply of crime, especially violent crime, such as murders, rapes, and assaults. However, lawlessness can come in other ways as well such as corporations and corporate officers who think they can do as they please with the investor's and customer's money. What about the banks who think that government bailout money, aka taxpayer money, is okay for bonuses? Now that we have arrived here, what about the individuals who accepted those bonuses? What about that individual who rolls through a stop sign? Is that lawlessness?

More than likely, each of us would draw up a list of things that constitute lawlessness and the lists would be somewhat, or even very, different. Yesterday, I wrote about how exact the Law was in the book of Numbers in the Bible. However, we also read about how the most legalistic of groups, the Pharisees, piled on their own rules in addition to the Law, and yet Jesus denounced them often. So where is this line of lawlessness that we would draw? Is our line wavy and drawn in the sand? Today, the Pharisees might feel a particular satisfaction in looking at our collection of federal, state, and local regulations. They might even get the chance to point a finger at us and say, "We were bad, be we never had a pile of regulations that high!" True, but the point is not that we violate all of the laws, even the violation of one law may be a sin. The question to ask of yourself is: Would the violation of just one law make me lawless? I don't think that is what Jesus told us to watch for.

If you have developed the habit of rolling through stop signs on county roads, you might have a bad habit that you should take a look at, but I at least would not consider you to be a lawless person. Lawless to me seems to be more of a systemic problem in the time Jesus told us to watch for. In other words, it won't be the bad habit of one driver, but the "do as you please" attitude of nearly everyone in that time. The many examples we see in our times are signs that we are close to the end. The corporate scandals and sexual harassment in government offices; the city drivers who gun the accelerator at the yellow light and the rock star who tosses a heavy speaker into the crowd; these are signs of lawlessness on the increase. At the moment, you recognize that all of these things can and do cause injury or death to other persons. At the moment in this country, flocks of lawyers would descend and there would be lawsuits, compensation, and perhaps jail time for the offender. What we are to look for in a time of lawlessness might be the government official who runs the traffic light in his big armored vehicle, hits another vehicle and kills the occupants, and then continues on his way with a glib comment. Many other examples could be made, but I won't start out your day with a reading of too much of that dark subject.

What are the times we see now? If you were to hold my big toes to the fire, I would answer that from what I see, we are very close to those times, but not there yet. Our times as of today are more like what Jesus spoke a few verses earlier in Matthew 24: "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet." We have been living in the "not yet" time for many years, even centuries now, and we can see how the end time is getting closer with each passing day. At times, groups of people and even entire nations have acted with lawlessness, but not yet the entire world. We see the corporate officer convicted of defrauding his investors, employees, and even his family, and then saying in the interview that he did nothing wrong. A sign that the end may be near, but not necessarily a signal that the end has begun. Like many, I also believe that we are not to worry because the Rapture will occur before this time of lawlessness. One reason is that the Rapture would explain the sudden increase in lawlessness all over the world.

The Rapture will catch not many, but everyone by surprise. We can see the signs and be on guard, but never know the exact time. I also believe that many millions of Christ-believing people will be suddenly gone. These people will come from many different churches, not just those whose members think that only their particular sect is entirely correct on all points of doctrine. The church you don't want to join is the one that will form after the Rapture. The one-world church headed by the false prophet of the Anti-Christ - you don't want to join that one! What sets us apart no matter which church we attend? Believe in Jesus. We can argue about an army of doctrinal points, but one verse says it all:

For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Be a whoever, and have a great day!


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Uncompromising Law - January 5, 2011

Good Wednesday morning! The snow should be melting away for the next couple of days; my drifts lost some height yesterday, mostly those on the south side of the house. Question for the day: Do the news headlines make you weep for the world? Some days it is difficult to get through the news without a sense of sadness. We see all the worst news it seems. The new year should be a time of renewal and hope, but the news seems much the same as last year. Are we looking at the news and thinking that God is not in control? Whoa! Sadness for the suffering is one thing, but if we start to lose hope then we have our eyes going in the wrong direction. Time to open the Word of God and study His promises for the end times. As the late Pastor Rogers used to say, "It is getting gloriously dark!"

This year, for the daily Bible reading, I started in Numbers. This book is one that I have skipped over for years; who wants to read a book about counting ancient Israelites? But as with every book in the Bible, there is much more than that in this book. God does not set out to bore us with reading lengthy and repetitive texts just for His own amusement. If I just described a teacher and one of your classes, I'm sorry; do your best to endure. The first thing I noticed about Numbers was how exact the Law is. God told the Israelites every little thing about his tabernacle and worship. The next thing is how many times already, and I''m only just in the first part of the book, a phrase or command ends with, "will die". Yikes! God's sacred things are not like the sacred things of other peoples and religions!

Many ancient and even some modern religions have laws and rules about when to put a person to death. God's worship wasn't different for the Israelites in that way, but His sacred objects were very different. Simply gazing at the Ark for anyone other than a very select few resulted in a "will die". Not that the person must be put to death, but that person will die. Looking upon other sacred objects in the tabernacle held the same "will die" penalty. There were no exceptions for a stray breeze, the tabernacle was made of cloth curtains for the most part, no exceptions for age or sex, the Law was exact and unforgiving. So far in my reading, I have seen no way to avoid the penalty. God even gave explicit packing instructions involving the covering and bundling up of the sacred objects by Aaron and his sons to avoid killing all the Levites whenever the tabernacle had to be moved. Other mistakes resulted in the same penalty. Aaron had lost two of his sons already for burning the wrong kind of wood in the worship. Why did God make the penalty so absolute and His worship service so difficult? That is the Law! The Law of Moses, actually the Law given to Moses, is uncompromising and unforgiving. Wander into the tabernacle, wonder what is behind the fancy curtains, and 'bam' you get once glimpse of gold and the glory of God, and that's it for your earthly life; end of story.

Today, we have only the slightest idea about that kind of tough and uncompromising penalty. There are electrical plants and substations, even some prison fences, where if a person touches the wrong thing, that's it - life over. Of course, these dangerous things are protected by many layers of doors, gates, fences, safety zones, building walls, and personnel to keep the curious and ignorant away. God gave the Israelites instructions and even selected the tribe of Levi to safeguard His holy objects from the unwary or foolish. All of this is why Paul came to the conclusion that all of us are condemned under the Law. If each of us was put on trail before God's Law this morning, we might find it easier to list the laws that we haven't violated in some way. And of course we have no excuse for the sin of Adam that stains us. Do you fear the penalty of the Law? You should, we all should, that instant death thing can cause a lump in your throat. So why don't we live in terror of the Law now?

That sin demanded a sacrifice and only one sacrifice could take away the penalty that all of us face. Jesus came and satisfied God's judgment on all sinners. There is no more penalty for sin! So why do we have to bother with witnessing, spreading the Good News of Christ, confessing our sins, and all that other stuff? The grace that comes through Jesus Christ must be given and accepted. How can someone accept the gift of grace if he doesn't believe in Jesus in the first place? How can that other person believe if she has never heard of Jesus Christ? That is why those of us who have decided to believe in Jesus and accepted His gift of grace have work to do! And isn't it wonderful to live without the fear of instant death for even accidentally seeing the Ark of the Covenant?

Have a great new day in Christ!