"Take a Closer Look"
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had, and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).
One of North America’s biggest diamond mines was discovered in a very unlikely place – in the far north of Canada. Up until a few years ago you couldn’t even give the land away. Composed almost entirely of granite covered by a glacier, it has some of the world’s harshest weather and sparsely populated country-side. But at times some of the most worthwhile things come to those who look past the exterior and take a closer look. That’s wise advice.
Jesus had similar advice in a story he once told. It was about a man on a walk who found a valuable treasure hidden and buried in a dusty, dirty field. An ordinary field is definitely not the backdrop Hollywood would pick for a movie about a hunt for buried treasure. There is nothing glamorous about a dirt field, and that’s just the point. The man would never have found the treasure had he not taken a closer look beneath the plain surface.
It’s easy to miss things. Jesus didn’t have the most glamorous life. He was born in a barn beside a Bethlehem hotel with a no vacancy sign out front. He worked with his hands as a carpenter and spent most of his life around common people. Nothing special, you might say, just like that dirty, barren little field. But wait, take a closer look.
When you dig below the surface of Jesus’ simple lifestyle, there is a great wealth of treasure. At Jesus’ birth, angels sang him lullabies and kings brought him presents to mark the entrance of the Savior into the world. Some of those common fellows with whom he hung around became his disciples, bringing a message of renewal and joy to the world. By his death you are given forgiveness for every missed opportunity and failed attempt—and from the guilt that comes along with them. What is more, by Jesus’ rising from the grave you are given the treasure of life forevermore in the joy of heaven. And every day of your life you don’t need to worry or be afraid because Jesus promises to watch over you and provide for your needs.
Now those are true treasures! It’s just a story, right? It may appear to be as simple as a dry, dirty, good-for-nothing field. But it is a short story of Jesus that speaks volumes for our lives. And every time you participate in worship, come to Bible class, or read your Bible at home, you are stooping down to take a closer look. I hope you always keep doing that, to hold on to the treasure you have, and to unearth still more.
"God, my BFF?"
A friend is someone who knows all about me and likes me anyway. Have you heard that description of a friend? How would you define what a friend is? Are you happy with the friends you have? Do you wish you had more friends, or different kinds of friends, or that your friendships were healthier or more helpful?
People might define friends in various ways, but one thing is certain. God designed people with a need for friendship. When he created the first man, he offered this observation: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We naturally feel the need that God observed, but faithful friends might be hard to come by.
In the internet world friends often call each other “BFF’s”—Best Friends Forever. But those same friends often turn on each other and end up more as enemies than as friends. No matter how well someone knows you and likes you, there really is no friend who knows all about you. Your inner-most secrets remain locked within you, and there are deeper feelings than anyone could ever understand.
God wants you to know what you might have suspected all along. He does know all about you. He observes that you need someone to whom you can pour out your heart, and he is willing to be that one.
But do you want God to be your BFF, when deep down you know what he knows about you? As his own Word says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8). Few of us would make such a claim, but the good news is that God still wants to claim us as friends, despite our shortcomings. That is why Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came into the world long ago. He came to do what only the best of friends would do—he came to lay down his life for you. He came to stand in for you and take whatever punishment God’s justice demanded for your sins. And God accepted his own Son’s sacrifice to wipe out the guilt of your sin. That is why God invites you to see him as your best friend. He knows all about you, and he knows everything that you need. He extends his love to you without conditions, for the sake of his Son’s death on the cross.
You will not find a more faithful friend than God. Look to the living God and learn more about his faithfulness and his love. The more you learn, the more you will find that he is a true Friend that you can always trust.
"Behold the Man"
“Ecce homo.” John 19:5 [“Behold, the man.”]
The simple statement (above in Latin) directs the eyes of all to Jesus. Pontius Pilate spoke those words with the hope that the crowd would see the pathetic state of the broken man, Jesus. There wasn’t much of the man, Jesus, left. He had been flogged, ridiculed, and tortured. He had a farcical crown placed upon him, along with a special purple garment to show how ludicrous was his alleged claim to be a KING. His strength was waning and his life was quickly headed to its end.
The crowd was not satisfied to see him broken—they wanted him dead. They had expected so much more from this Jesus of Nazareth. Action. Deliverance from the Romans. Bringing Israel to prominence and glory again. Now, they screamed for the death for this apparent fraud whom they believed had duped them into thinking he was the Messiah.
Looks can be deceiving. You can’t always believe your eyes. As we imagine how Jesus must have looked at this historic moment, we can only imagine how dreadful he must have appeared.
From Isaiah 53:2-3: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
However, when we behold the man of suffering through eyes of faith, we see him far differently. We see him in light of God’s prophecies. We see him in light of his heavenly power. We see him in light of the awesome truth of Immanuel, God with us. We see him in light of the Easter victory that he had come to achieve. We see him, alive, offering his scarred hands and side to a single doubter. We see him seated on his throne, high and exalted. We see him holding the keys of death and Hades. We see him coming with the clouds, with every knee bowing before him in reverent homage.
Not only should we behold the man...we must never look away. We were joined with him through baptism into his death, and we share in the victory he won. This life is filled with distractions and empty promises, but only Jesus is always faithful. He became man to suffer and die in our place, and he was raised to life to give us the certain, living hope of our resurrection. We ask his help and favor to remain firm in the truth and to keep our lives focused on the man, who is our God and Savior.
“Ecce homo!” Now, through the eyes of faith. In time, with our own eyes in the glories of heaven.You will not find a more faithful friend than God. Look to the living God and learn more about his faithfulness and his love. The more you learn, the more you will find that he is a true Friend that you can always trust.
"Easter’s Promises Dispel Our Greatest Fear"
What is there to be afraid of? Some of the fears that that we harbor are real, but irrational. Experiencing a fear of heights when looking out the window on the top floor of a skyscraper is not reasonable because you’re not in any danger of falling. In reality, it’s no different than looking out the living room window. The fear is real--the danger is not. Many of us occasionally wrestle with these sorts of fears. The hypochondriac is afraid of unseen germs and lurking sickness. The claustrophobe imagines there is no air to breath in a closed space. The nervous child imagines a boogey man under his bed. Such fears are common among us, even if there really is nothing to fear!
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address of 1933. He was trying to allay the fears of people facing financial ruin during the Great Depression. The implication of his statement is that most fears don’t grow out of real danger but rather from imagined danger.
This is true of many of our fears. Jesus warned us not to become “weighed down” by the fears and anxieties of daily life. Such overemphasis on the fears of this life can cost us everything when the Day of Judgment arrives! (cf. Luke 21:34) Jesus does not, however, tell us that there is nothing at all to fear!
So what is there to be afraid of? Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10 (v.28), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Yes, trials in life are troubling. No, death itself is not a pleasant subject to even discuss much less to endure. But the reality of a hell, the place of eternal punishment--THAT’S TERRIFYING! The sinner in each of us stands in horror as we hear the simple proclamation that the soul that sins is the one that will die. We know that statement speaks to us. The world suggests that maybe God wouldn’t really send people to hell, and therefore, the fear of hell is irrational and unreal. But the world doesn’t know God like Jesus does. Jesus makes it very clear that the punishment that God threatens as the cost of sin is real--and something to be feared. The sinner is right to tremble today and to dread falling into the hands of the living God on Judgment Day.
That’s why the words of Jesus above are so precious. “Do not be afraid,” says the victorious Savior, just back from the grave. He’s not talking about the fear of heights, or of sickness, or of financial ruin (in other places he tells us that we don’t need to be afraid of those things either!) No--here Jesus tells us that we do not need to be afraid of the Holy God who demands the wages of sin, because that payment has been made for you and accepted by God. Everyone who believes in the Risen Savior will not perish but have eternal life!
Life without fear because of the Savior--what an amazing gift! The promise of that gift brought real peace to the heavy hearts of Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. That promise restored joyful song to the heavy heart of the shepherd-king David, whose singing had died out, having heard the haunting words, “YOU are the man.” The Easter message turned bitter tears of regret into bold confession of faith spoken by everyone’s favorite fisherman, Simon Peter. The Easter victory continues to speak to us when we are frustrated by our own sin and by this life that is surrounded by sin’s vile effects. “Do not be afraid,” says Jesus. “I’ve conquered sin. I’ve paid the debt. I’ve destroyed death. I’ve adopted you to be mine--forever. I’ll be with you to the end of the age. AND...I’ll be back. Fear not, trust in God. Trust also in me.” Christian, welcome each new day with this simple thought which trumps all others: Jesus has conquered! There is nothing to fear! Ever!
"Keeping the Batteries Charged"
It always seems to happen at the wrong time. The battery on the cell phone dies. You’re late for work and the car won’t start because the battery is dead. The power goes out but the flashlight won’t work because the batteries are dead. The kids bring a toy to you that needs new batteries and you don’t have any in the drawer or in the cabinet.
When these things happen it’s usually because we haven’t paid enough attention to the signs that are right in front of us. The cell phone showed us it was low on battery, the car had difficulty starting for weeks, the toy was moving slower and the flashlight had been dimming for some time. It should have been easy for us to see the signs and make sure the batteries were charged, or that we had new batteries ready to go.
There are many times in our lives when our spiritual batteries are dying and we miss the signs. Like the toy that keeps going slower and slower, the flashlight that dims or the car that has trouble starting, we begin to see the signs that our spiritual batteries are running low. We begin to feel the joy in Christ slipping away. We struggle to make it to church. We have trouble standing up for God’s Word and living a life of thanks to him in our words and actions in our lives. We notice ourselves succumbing to temptation more, and doubts and worries are increasing in our lives. The signs are there, but we are slow to do anything about it. We fail to take any action at all and our faith begins to dim.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection the disciples needed to be recharged. They had deserted Jesus, seen him be put on trial, die and be buried, and now they were being told he was alive again. Jesus’ appearances built them up in faith, and they were recharged as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. But this was only part of their spiritual recharging. They needed more for the mission and purpose Jesus would give to them.
At Pentecost, the disciples were given a very special gift. This gift was the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift of the Holy Spirit was exactly what they needed because the mission Jesus had given to them was not going to be easy. Their new purpose in life was to take the Gospel from Jerusalem into all the world and to preach that Gospel message to people of all nations. Opposition to their message would be great. But recharged by the Holy Spirit, they put their faith into action and boldly preached the Word, doing exactly what Jesus had commanded them to do.
While we don’t have tongues of fire on our heads or the ability to speak in tongues as those first disciples had, the Holy Spirit still comes to us, recharging our faith in no less a miraculous way than he did for those disciples. The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith, “recharges” us, every time we hear and study his Word and partake of the Lord’s Supper.
No matter where we are or what we do, we have the same job as those first disciples: Preach God’s Word to all people. But that work is not easy. We need the very power of God on our side to guide us in this work. We need that Spirit to strengthen our faith so that we boldly go and share the message as those disciples did. Summer time is filled with many wonderful activities like get-aways to the cabin, family vacations or other activities to entertain the children. But there is also the temptation to let our spiritual batteries get a little lower than normal. There is a temptation to get lost in all the fun and allow worship, personal Bible study, and family devotions to become something we fit in only occasionally. As those first disciples, let’s always be ready to do the work that Jesus gave us to do. Let’s have fun with family and friends, let’s take the vacations and enjoy the time of rest and relaxation, but let’s not neglect our faith while doing it. Don’t let those spiritual batteries get low. Keep coming back to God’s Word in worship, personal Bible study, and family devotions, so that we might be refilled, renewed and reenergized by the Holy Spirit. Then we will be ready to share the Gospel as those disciples did and to let our light of faith shine brightly to all those around us.
"Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God"
“The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
People spend a lot of time, money and effort to get a title after their name. Masters, doctorates and other post-graduate programs are in high demand. The appeal is understandable. Titles such as Doctor, Professor and a host of others provide opportunities to better ourselves and our circumstances.
There was one who had the highest of all titles already at his birth. The Bible describes it this way: “The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Jesus is holy. He is the true Son of God. The titles “Holy One” and “Son of God” indicate that all power, wisdom and authority belonged to Jesus at birth because as true God he possessed them from eternity. His name is above every name and over every title and authority that can be given.
But that did not stop Jesus from seeking another title. This one was decidedly a step down. It did not require a four-year graduate program or many evening classes. Rather, it required humble service. The Bible teaches, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus, who took the title Son of Man, did not come from heaven to earth to be waited on hand and foot. Rather, he came to take up our cause and to die a humble death on the cross—a death that should have been ours.
Give thanks that out of love for us, the one with the title Son of God was also willing to take the title Son of Man, in order to die for us on the cross. Our Savior Jesus is both true God and true Man. He is the perfect Savior we desperately needed—one who is holy and lived in our place and one whose innocent death counted for the whole world. Because Jesus loved us enough to do that for us, now through faith in him we have been given a new title as well: Child of God! Bear that title proudly and live your life for the One who gave it to you.
Have you ever longed for a solid friendship? Have you ever wondered if there’s a friend out there that you can count on? It’s no secret that a true friendship is a rare thing. That’s not to say there aren’t people who will pay attention to us! The world is full of people who will be our friend as long as they feel we have something to offer. But what about that friend who sticks by us, even when we’re at the end of our rope? What about the one who cares about us even when we have nothing to give? Is it possible that God could provide such a friendship?
Certainly God has a good track record of providing friendships to those in need. When David was under attack by King Saul, he found a faithful friend in the person of Jonathan, Saul’s son. The Bible tells us that Jonathan “loved David as he loved himself” (1 Samuel 20:17) and even defended David against his father’s attacks.
We’re also told that the apostle Paul had several friends that attended him while he was in prison. They were of great help to him at a time when he really needed a friend. But even during those times when true friendship seems far away, there is one friend who will stick by us no matter what! That person is God’s one and only Son –Jesus.
There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). What a beautiful description of Jesus’ friendship for us.
Just think! Even when we sinned, Jesus didn’t abandon us. Instead, he stood in our place, taking our sin and guilt for us and then giving his life for ours to set us free from eternal death! Jesus also earned a place for us in God’s family. By faith in him, we have the privilege of being heirs of his promised heaven. And he did it all because he loved us even more than he loved his own life.
Looking for a faithful friendship? Simply look to Jesus! His friendship will never end!
"The Days of Our Lives"
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
Most of them pass without much fanfare—they quickly blend together or are forgotten entirely. Some we approach with great anticipation. Some start in the ordinary way but erupt into a surprise celebration. Some are jarred by unexpected hardship or trial and usher in a time of gloomy darkness when little else matters. Some are marked on our calendars as ones to remember—and some we’d love to forget. If we live to be 80 years old, we get more than 29,000 of them.
When we see a young person die, we think, “I thought he would have many more of them.” Early on in life we barely notice how they pass and we long for better ones. Later, after we’ve been through many of them, we wonder where they all went and marvel at how quickly they came and went. And they just keep coming...and coming...
There are many proposals for how to best use them. “Live each one as if it were your last.” – “Don’t spend them all at work with no play.” – “Make the most of each one.” Some of those proposals are good—and some are idealistic and unreal. We recognize that far too often we waste them away on pointless things. Sometimes it can be difficult to find meaning and purpose in them as they just keep passing by. Remember the old TV soap opera? “Like sands through the hour glass, so are…” (Got it? – You may have to ask someone over 45 for help.)
In Psalm 90, Moses compares our days with God’s “days”. OUR days spring up new each morning but by evening they are dried up and fly away. GOD’S days? They’re like a watch in the night—or a thousand years. GOD’s days are timeless. AND—this is key—OUR days have no meaning without GOD. He is the Creator, the Owner, the Sustainer, and Judge.
In the most important verse of this amazing Psalm, Moses asks God to teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Moses isn’t asking God’s help to count how many days we have. He’s asking God to grant us wisdom so that we can understand how precious each day is—and how each of them has a God-ordained purpose. God alone can bring real meaning to every day. God alone can help us keep perspective through the darkest days and God alone deserves the glory and praise for the days of celebration.
Our days have meaning and purpose because of God. One day in particular helps us to see that. As we look back over the landscape of days gone by, we see one day that this earth can never forget. That day began with a violent earthquake and an unforgettable display of heavenly power. In a garden just out-side of Jerusalem, in the shadow Golgotha, the Lord of Life walked out of his tomb and declared victory.
Because of what Jesus did on that day, death has been conquered. You see, death is the one thing that brings the train of days to an end. No one can completely prepare for it. Sometimes it comes entirely unexpectedly and sometimes it seems to linger far too long. But it always comes…and when it does, our days come no more. Jesus, however, met death head on. He faced it willingly. On Friday, he bowed his head and gave up his last day. On Sunday, he started a brand new one! That means that death could not hold him—and that the days for Jesus and for his people will never end!
The Resurrection and the Life said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” That means that even when our 24 hour days are halted by death, it does not mean defeat and it is certainly not the end! The end of our days here only means that our timeless, endless Day is just beginning.
That amazing perspective of faith is the only thing that gives meaning to each new day. God’s mercies are brand new every time we step out of bed. God’s glorious purpose for each 24 hour period is clearly taught in his Word. As the people of God, our privilege each day is to be salt and light—and to share with others the certain hope of endless days with Jesus.
Some people see life as a monotonous succession of days that lacks larger meaning. That’s not the way we see it, though. The wisdom of God has taught us to number our days aright. We can prioritize our days and seek to glorify him in everything. And no matter how many days you have left, one thing you can be sure of—the best of days is still to come!
"Only Jesus Gives the 'Right' Knowledge"
The Church of Scientology teaches that people are basically good, that their capabilities are unlimited, and those capabilities can be realized. People can also achieve new, higher states of awareness and ability. Scientology claims that the secrets to this higher knowledge can only be found in their church through a process they call “auditing.”
Seems strange? But honestly, a cultic religion that encourages you to look within yourself for more knowledge can really satisfy an itch. Who doesn’t feel they need more knowledge? And how about being able to pat yourself on the back for pursuing it and supposedly finding that knowledge within yourself? That’s pretty appealing to the human heart.
But God’s Word sounds much different than L. Ron Hubbard, who authored the book that has become Scientology’s bible. God says people are not basically good, that people’s natural capabilities are limited to sinning and rebelling against God. As a result, God says all people are the same: “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God...The way of peace they do not know” (Romans 3:11,17).
God is right! Not L. Ron Hubbard! Need proof? Think about Adam and Eve when they pursued more knowledge on their own apart from God. They rejected God’s Word and sinned. Look at what their own inner pursuit of knowledge got them and us! A world infected by sin so badly that everyone eventually dies.
Jesus knows we all lack knowledge, and he wants to fill that void. He does so not by telling us to find it inside ourselves, but by telling us to look outside ourselves. We find knowledge in the Bible. Through his Word, God makes us wise; he gives us insight and understanding (Psalm 119:98-100). That’s because God’s Word gives us knowledge that we can’t find or discover anywhere else. The Bible tells about Jesus. It tells how wide and long and high and deep Jesus’ love is for people. That love drove Jesus to come to this world, to bear the sin of every person, to die on a cross, to suffer the eternal punishment for all sins. That’s love—love so amazing that God declares that your sins are forgiven because of Jesus. That’s love—love so beyond understanding that Jesus, the righteous one, should die for the unrighteous. But he did! That’s why the Apostle Paul says that “this love surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). In Jesus’ love for you, you have everything you truly need to know, both now and forever.
"Going from Blindess to Perfect Vision"
The crowd rebuked the two blind men and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”... Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him" (Matthew 20:31,34).
They were sitting by the side of the road, these two blind men. Perhaps they heard children laughing, but wished to see their faces. They felt the gentle warmth of the setting sun, but wished to take in the colors.
They wanted to see. Today, someone was coming. They had heard about the wonderful things he could do. Could he help them, too? They cried out eagerly. “Be quiet!” shouted the heartless crowd. We are all like these two blind men. We endure afflictions that make our lives harder, whether it is conflict in a relationship, troubles at work, a health woe, or a flaw in our personality that we wish we could get rid of. Our nagging burdens never seem to leave us alone. And people add salt to our wounds. They speak cruel words or are harsh with indifference. Even the dearest people in our lives do not always understand the personal struggles we endure. So we can feel like we’re all alone.
Then, out of the darkness of our sufferings, comes a gentle touch. It’s the touch of Jesus, a touch of compassion. For he too has cried and sighed in this world. He knows what we are going through. But Jesus’ touch does more than console. It heals. He simply touched the eyes of those two blind men, and they could instantly see. A miracle!
Likewise, Jesus touches us with God’s truth. He helps us see that our daily afflictions come from our root affliction—that we are sinners living in a sinful world. We are sinners estranged from our God; sinners blinded to the way of being acceptable to God. By the power of his Word, Jesus removes spiritual blindness. He opens our eyes to see him as our Savior whose innocent death on our behalf took away our pitch-black fear of the grave. He opens up our mind’s eye to understand the purpose of his coming and dying on the cross. He bore the guilt of our sins and restored our relationship with God. Then he miraculously rose from the dead to prove that we are forgiven and to give us the sure hope of eternal life. God has come to rescue us, to replace our blindness with perfect spiritual vision.
Behold the precious sight. Jesus is our Savior! With wide open eyes of faith, we gladly follow him, confident that the miraculous Jesus will carry us through good times and bad and finally bring us by his grace into God’s eternal heaven.
"Those Who Are Forgiven, Forgive"
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” [Matthew 6:14-15]
His face turned dark red and veins in his neck bulged as he wrapped his hands around the neck of his former friend. Rage overflowed as he yelled into the man’s face, “You owe me! I’m tired of your excuses! I’m sick of waiting! Give me what is mine! NOW!”
Gasping for air, he cried out, “Give me another chance! Be patient! I promise I’ll pay you!”
“NO! Time’s up. You owe it and that settles it. Pay me NOW.” [There would be no mercy offered today.]
Jesus told this man’s story in Matthew 18:21-35. As we picture this “unmerciful servant” in our minds, we can’t help but be appalled by his brutish, selfish behavior. How could he so easily forget the debt that he had owed? Didn’t he realize that the forgiveness he celebrated just minutes earlier made him free to offer forgiveness to this poor guy who owed him peanuts by comparison? We are disgusted by the actions of this unmerciful servant.
Jesus told that story for a reason—a lesson for us to learn. This is not a seminar on debt-collection. It’s a lesson about the state of the heart of God’s forgiven people. The unmerciful servant acts on his own natural inclinations. HE felt cheated. HE felt angry. HE was suffering a wrong that HE would correct. HE thought only of HIS loss and demanded what HE felt was fair to HIM. His lack of mercy was rooted in a heart that focused only on HIM.
How ugly in contrast to the glorious grace of our God! In the ultimate act of selflessness, Jesus set aside his glory to endure suffering and to pay off a debt which he did not owe with his own guiltless, priceless life. He holds out his hands toward us and offers us forgiveness. No matter what the sin. No matter how large the debt or how great the offense. Forgiveness—free and full.
In light of that treasure, could we ever hold a grudge and withhold forgiveness from someone who wrongs us? Is the picture of the unmerciful servant a sad but real reflection of who we are at times? Think about it…that sister who said those terrible things about you years ago; the father who wants back into your life after years of being AWOL; that grown son who left your home as a rebellious teen; that lady at church who always has a different opinion—even that husband who broke his vow and sent your life into a tailspin…Can we ever forgive them?
Of course we can! Forgiven Christians like us are FREE to forgive! The Victory includes the ability to rise above the selfish temptation toward bitterness and grudges…and to offer forgiveness to others. True forgiveness is uniquely Christian. Our Father in heaven is not simply overlooking our sinful actions, he has erased them forever with his own Son’s blood. As we strive to forgive those who trespass against us, we need to hear (in his Word) again and again about the forgiveness we’ve received and the freedom that we’ve been given to truly forgive.
Is forgiving someone easy? Not always. Sometimes we’re hurting from what they did to us. Sometimes, the actions of others place heavy burdens upon us. That’s when it’s hard to dig deep within yourself and forgive them. The truth is—digging deep within ourselves for an ability to forgive will only frustrate us and multiply guilt. Instead, God’s people dig deep into word and sacrament for the Spirit’s empowerment. This regular exercise refreshes our heart to know freedom from the guilt of our own sin AND frees our hearts from self-focused bitterness.
Read Jesus’ words from Matthew 6 (above) again. He clearly says that his forgiven people need to be ready to forgive. Hearts that were cold and calloused with sin are softened by his Gospel. True Christian forgiveness is to be celebrated and circulated!
May God make our congregation—a gathering of THE FORGIVEN—a place where forgiveness flows freely from one person to another. Let us thank the Lord daily for his forgiveness, and praise him daily by forgiving those who trespass against us!
"The Advantages of Advent"
Why celebrate Advent? Or, asking that another way, how will celebrating Advent benefit us? The Scriptures never direct us to celebrate such a season. Well, among many reasons, two stand out. First, observing Advent will enrich our celebration of Christmas. Taking four weeks to focus on the hope of Christ’s coming makes us much more joyful when we finally get to celebrate it. The more we get in touch with our need for a Savior, the more we will rejoice at his birth.
Second, every one of us struggles with balancing secular Christmas and spiritual Christmas. You know what I mean. We understand that Christmas is, most of all, a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus: God becoming man to save mankind. Yet, given the secular traditions of Christmas, we spend most of our time preparing, not for a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for fulfilling the demands of the season. We have to buy, wrap, and deliver presents. We attend parties and host parties. We visit relatives or have relatives visiting us. We have to send out Christmas cards. If we have younger children, we may very well spend hours trying to assemble gifts that come with sketchy instructions written by someone for whom English is, at best, a third language. And so on. This all requires lots of time and energy!
Meanwhile, we hear our pastors telling us that we’re spending too much time and money in secular celebrations and not focusing enough on the real meaning of Christmas. Religious posters proclaim: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But, in fact, Jesus faces heavy competition from retailers, relatives, and revelers. So what’s a Christian to do?
It’s pretty hard to completely escape the many secular traditions and “preparations” of Christmas. Nor, I’d add, would we want to escape all of them. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t also have our hearts and minds focused on what really needs to be focused on above all. Advent, with its particular themes, messages, and traditions, helps tune our hearts to resonate with the deeper meaning of the coming of Christ. In some Christian homes, Advent “countdown calendars” that include daily “appropriate for the season” Bible passages are used with the children. And for all of us, the midweek evening services can be a great help in having a precious, peaceful, God-focused experience during what is often a hectic holiday season.
OK, try this. For just a moment, forget about Advent itself, and answer the following questions:
• Is it beneficial for us to set aside a special time in the year to focus more on God and grow in our relationship with him?
• Is it good for us to get in touch with just how much we need a Savior?
• Is it helpful for us to hear about “waiting on the Lord” and then learning to wait upon him more faithfully?
• Is it helpful to remember our hope in God and to be refreshed in that hope?
• Would it be a valuable thing in your life to be reflect on the wonders of “God becoming man to save mankind”?
• Would you like to experience more of God’s peace and presence during the often hectic weeks prior to Christmas?
• Would you benefit spiritually by meditating on Biblical texts that speak of the first and second “advents” of Christ?
I think we’d all answer these questions in the affirmative. Does that mean we must observe Advent? Of course not. In our Christian freedom we are always free to do so or not to do so, according to our consciences. But it’s not hard to see how Advent can be very beneficial for us. I hope that you see it that way, too, and will take advantage of some of the special Advent worship opportunities we have here at Christ Lutheran.
- Pastor Jim Weiland