Power of the Gospel

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.Romans 1:16

Crucifixion was a most shameful to die. The condemned individual was stripped of both clothing and dignity, nailed to a wooden cross, and left there to die slowly over the course of hours or days. It was an execution reserved for only the very worst of criminals.

With all this in mind, you might expect the early Christians to have been ashamed or even embarrassed about what had happened to Jesus. Instead, from the very beginning, the message of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross has been at the heart and core of Christianity.

As he addresses a group of Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul even calls Jesus’ suffering and death “the gospel,” which means “good news!” He writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

How could Paul and other Christians be so positive about the shameful death of Jesus? The answer is that by Jesus’ death, God was accomplishing something wonderful for all people.

The prophet Isaiah put it like this: “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” The reason Jesus died that shameful death on the cross was to take away all our sins—our lust, pride, selfishness and greed…every cruel word we have said to hurt other people…every wicked action for which we are ashamed and wish we could take back. All these sins, for which we deserve to be punished, were placed on Jesus and he took the punishment in our place.

Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross means that we are saved from God’s punishment for our sins. It means that relying on Jesus as our Savior we can look forward to eternal life in heaven that our Savior has prepared for us.

Thank God for the message of the gospel, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Powerful enough to wash away our sins. Powerful enough to bring us home to heaven one day. Powerful enough, and important enough, for us to rely on Jesus alone for salvation.

What is My Purpose in Life?

“What is my purpose in life?” is a question that gets replayed over and again at every stage of life. College students rack their brains trying to determine their purpose in life as all sorts of philosophies are spread out before them like food at a restaurant buffet. Empty nesters restart the quest when their children have moved out. As their health and abilities decline, the elderly often wonder what purpose they still have.

Have you found your purpose in life?  It is a question that is always demanding an answer.  It is always there haunting us, confusing us, bewildering us.  For many it is a painful question because the answer has eluded them.

The reason why so many of us struggle to find purpose in our lives is because we keep looking to the wrong person for the solution.  While it seems to make sense to look inwardly for our answer, we won’t find anything more than a mirage, a grasping at the wind.

Jesus helps us look beyond ourselves to find our purpose.  You see, our purpose in life is a combination of “out of this world living” and “living our lives for others.”  Jesus states our purpose for us in a book of the Bible called Matthew.  In Matthew 22:37 and following, Jesus unveils that purpose.  He removes the smoke and mirrors.  He states our purpose with crystal clarity.  He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  He then goes on to say, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  With these words Jesus directs us to live for God and for others!

Do you want contentment in your life?  Then discover or rediscover God by getting to know him and love him personally through the good news of the Bible.  Be strengthened through his means of grace, found only in his Word of life (the Bible) and his sacraments of Baptism and Communion.  Safeguard your soul as it yearns for the one who loves you more than you can imagine (Jesus).  Use your mind to seek out ways to serve God and to serve others.  Living with God’s purpose as your reason for living is living a life of amazing adventure!

Darkness Pierced

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. – Romans 8:15

For a young man by the name of Andy Nieman, the darkness in life had become complete. “I lived in a place of total darkness,” he later said. Given his life history up to that point, perhaps you and I would have felt the same way.

He grew up in a violent home with alcoholic parents. His earliest memory was that of waking up in a cold house during the winter. He was alone. He remembers screaming in panic because no one was there.

At age ten he was placed in a boarding school. For the next three years he endured abuse. By the time he left, he said, shame covered him “like a cloak.”

In the years that followed, Andy staggered through a haze of alcohol and drugs. He ended up on the streets of Vancouver. The sheer misery and loneliness of his life had now reached a point where he just wanted it to stop. On what he described as “one of the loneliest days of [his] life,” Andy purchased enough cocaine to give himself a fatal overdose.

Before he acted on it, however, something happened. Somewhere along the line, someone had told him about Jesus. And so in that moment, on that day, in the total darkness of his life, Andy simply prayed, “Help me, Jesus.” And Jesus did. An old friend of Andy’s came and carried him through that terrible day. Soon after, the message of God’s Word refreshed Andy in what Jesus Christ had done at the cross to embrace him and forgive him and wash him clean. And the darkness went away.

Today Andy Nieman serves as a Christian pastor, reaching out to those who are still in that “place of total darkness.” To pierce that darkness he has the light of Jesus Christ—the same light that can pierce your darkness too.

What is love?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. – 1 John 3:16

If you asked ten different people what love is you may very well receive ten different answers. Ask a three-year-old and his answer may be a simple “mom.” Ask a psychologist and you may have to settle in for a long and complicated response. The answer given by a fifteen-year-old girl will likely be very different than the one given by a sixty-year-old man who has been married to the same woman for 42 years.

Even though these answers may all be different, they likely all revolve around the same thing–emotion. Describing what love is usually involves describing how a person makes them feel or the committed feelings they have about a certain person.

God doesn’t talk about emotion when he describes love in his Word. He talks about action. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

Love is defined by the greatest act of self-sacrifice ever made. God’s own Son gave up his life for you. He didn’t do it because of the way you made him feel. He did it because he knew it was the only way for you to live with him forever. He shed his blood not because he saw some great potential within you. He shed his blood because the sin within you needed to be washed away.

Jesus Christ laid down his life for you because his desire to save you eternally was far greater than any desire to preserve his own life. That selfless, self-sacrificing action is the very definition of love.

Now that you know what love is, go and love others.

Why does bad stuff happen?

Have you ever:

  • Been gossiped about…
  • Been injured in a freak accident…
  • Been dumped in a relationship…
  • Contracted a disease…
  • Lost a loved one…
  • Lost a job…
  • Just “lost it”…

If so, what is the common denominator in all these situations? Isn’t it that they hurt? When bad stuff happens, it hurts, and because we don’t like to hurt we ask why bad stuff happens.

The answer, in a single word, is “sin.” You won’t read that word on the op-ed page of your favorite newspaper or on a CNN newscast. Scientists won’t use that word. Philosophers won’t use that word. Politicians won’t use that word. But God does!

In the book of Romans we read, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). God is willing to identify the source of suffering and pain. It is sin. That’s why bad things happen.

But just knowing why is not real helpful. What we really want to know is what we are to do about the bad stuff that happens.

In that regard CNN, the scientists, the philosophers, and politicians will have something to say. They will offer a theory, a medicine, or a philosophy by which to live. Those answers to life’s problems, however, only create another problem. What do we do when the solution doesn’t work?

That’s when it is wise to turn again to God. He has something to say about bad stuff. He is willing and able to do more than identify the source, he has provided the solution. God has a plan for health and healing. God deals with sin–the source of hurt and pain–by removing it.

Romans 5:20-21: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If scientists could wipe out diseases, they would…
If politicians could end war, they would…
If philosophers could create bliss, they would…

But they can’t, so they don’t, and we keep asking why bad stuff happens.

If God could wipe out sin, he would…

And he has. Where sin increased, his grace–the love he has for undeserving sinners–increased all the more. That grace came to all in the perfect life of Jesus, in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and in the resurrection to life of Jesus. Jesus brings us God’s grace, and with grace come spiritual peace and health and joy that last forever. That’s God’s good answer to all the bad stuff.

 

Hallelujah

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. – Psalm 118:1

Maybe you’ve heard these words spoken at the end of a dinner prayer. Maybe you’ve heard one of your “church” friends say them, and thought: “Good?!? Enduring love?!? Oh really! Show me.”

Oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico like water over Niagara Falls. Anarchists revolted at a meeting of the world’s leaders and set police cruisers on fire. “God is good? He has enduring love? Show me.”

Children are born with birth defects. Convenience store clerks are shot. The economy is uncertain. Unemployment threatens the stability of millions of families. People still die. I am lonely. “God is good? He has enduring love? Show me.”

Has anyone, or anything, ever let you down? Plenty of times. Has your love ever gone unreturned? You’ve stopped counting. Many times you’ve probably wondered where to turn; you’ve asked, “Who can I trust?”

This psalm calls out to you, to me. It’s an “Hallelujah” psalm, meaning “Praise the LORD!” Long ago, God’s people sang the words of this psalm toward the end of their Passover meal. That special occasion was a time for the people to remember how God rescued their nation from slavery in Egypt; it was a picture of God’s rescue of all people from their slavery to sin. The Passover meal was a way that God showed each generation how much he truly loved them.

Would disaster continue to interrupt their lives? Would prosperity be withheld? Would earthly death continue to pick away at their loved ones? Yes, yes, and yes. Yet the people sang out praise and thanks to their merciful God for deliverance from all these trials of life. . . and more: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5).

Give thanks to our Savior God for his mercy and deliverance from death through Jesus. Jesus shows us that God is good. Jesus proves that his love for us endures forever.

Human Wisdom versus the Gospel

The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:25

Author David Platt, in his book, Radical, tells the story of what happened when he was standing outside of a Buddhist temple in Indonesia.  As he stood there, he got into a conversation with two people—a Buddhist leader and a Muslim leader. Both of them embraced what seemed to be very reasonable belief.  They believed that, while there were superficial differences among the major religions, all of them basically taught the same thing.  Then they asked David Platt what he thought.

He said, “It sounds as though you both picture God…at the top of a mountain.  It seems as if you believe that we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and I may take one route up the mountain, you may take another, and in the end we will all end up in the same place.”

To this the Buddhist and the Muslim said, “Exactly! You understand!”

But then he leaned in and said, “Now let me ask you a question.  What would you think if I told you that the God at the top of the mountain actually came down to where we are?  What would you think if I told you that God doesn’t wait for people to find their way to him, but instead he comes to us?”

They both thought for a moment and then responded, “That would be great!”

David Platt then replied, “Let me introduce you to Jesus.”

Current human wisdom believes that all forms of spirituality are essentially the same.  Such a belief seems logical.  Without question it’s very convenient.  And it’s dead wrong.

Never forget how radical the message of the Gospel really is.  It’s not about our getting up to God.  It’s about God coming down to us.  It’s not about making ourselves holy before God.  It’s about God living a holy life in our place.  And it’s not about cleansing ourselves of our wrongs.  It’s about God going to the cross to wash our sins away.

When it comes to human reason versus the Gospel, the Gospel wins every time. Thank God.

Why do bad things happen?

In this world, why do bad things happen at all? One would have to agree that bad things do happen to all people. War, poverty, disease, sickness, accidents, pain, sorrow, death occur everyday to people around the globe. The rich, the poor, the intellectual, the illiterate, the strong, the weak, the old, the young can all be stricken and afflicted by that which we might define as bad.

This is not how God envisioned the world he created. When he was done creating the world, God looked over his creation and we read his evaluation in Genesis 1, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” What happened to this world that was very good? The answer again is found in the Bible, just a few short pages away from Genesis chapter 1. Adam and Eve, the first humans created by God, listened to the temptation of the devil, chose to go against God’s command and so sinned. Sin entered this perfect world. The effect of this sin was felt not only by Adam and Eve, but by all of creation. God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”

About 4000 years after Creation, the Bible gives us an evaluation of the status of the world with these words: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” All of creation is tainted by evil. The ultimate evil that sin brought into the world is death, which awaits all living things on earth.

What good is there in this world that is so steeped in evil? On this side of eternity, the bad things keep happening. Evil will continue to happen until the end of time. God has not left us without hope. God in his love sent his one and only son, Jesus, into this world to live as our brother and to suffer the sorrows of this life, including a horrible death in our place. In exchange he guarantees us a place where we might enjoy goodness and mercy forever. There will be no more sorrow, or crying or pain. As believers in Jesus, the bad things of this life will pass away and we will be able to experience paradise in heaven.

Is Jesus Just a Prophet?

Prophets come in all shapes and sizes. If you speak of prophets in Christian circles, they will recall Old Testament folks like Isaiah and Jeremiah. But what about Jesus? Was he just a prophet among the many prophets?

Generally, prophets are known by their claim to speak about secret events or to reveal some divine truth not known by their hearers. And since it is unknown, there could be many so-called prophets who will say interesting things. But who is to know if they are speaking from supernatural, inspired knowledge, or just making stuff up?

When prophets predict some future event that doesn’t come true, it certainly causes us quickly to lose confidence in their claim to have a special ability as a prophet. We ought to listen carefully to those who have never missed once.

That narrows the field of prophets down quite a bit. While in Japan I was touring a Buddhist Temple at Narita. The monks were busy scribbling “holy writings.” I asked a teacher what they were doing, and he said, “They are updating their holy writings in order to make them relevant to today.” If their prophets were supposed to proclaim some divine truth, it would surely be suspect and hardly reliable.

Compare that to the prophets of the Bible. Every one of their prophecies was fulfilled. The Bible hasn’t changed in over 3000 years, and still every prophecy holds true. Quite dependable, wouldn’t you say?

Jesus was called a prophet. Matter of fact, Moses told God’s people to be looking for this prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18). When Jesus lived on earth, he did prophesy about the coming of the kingdom of God and about his purpose to save the world. He often spoke about his own suffering and death. Other prophets spoke of these things too, but what sets Jesus apart from all the other prophets is the fact that all the other prophets directed their attention to the promised Savior—to Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled every prophecy about the promised Savior. He was born from a virgin in Bethlehem; he descended from the Tribe of Judah; after his birth there would be a massacre of babies; he rode a donkey into Jerusalem; he was betrayed by his friend for 30 pieces of silver; he was rejected by his own people; and he was accused and condemned unjustly. Then came the big fulfillments. He suffered on a cross while the soldiers cast lots for his clothes. He died and then had his side pierced without one bone being broken, Jesus was buried with the rich and rose again from the dead – everything just as had been prophesied about him.

No other prophet, either Christian or non-Christian, has come close to fulfilling what Jesus did. No other prophet has come close to proclaiming accurately the secret things of God like Jesus did. No other prophet has come close to fulfilling prophecy like Jesus has.

Jesus is a prophet. But he is much more. He is the Savior of the world. He has freed us from the punishment of sin and hell. Jesus is our Savior. You can count on it!

How do I make a decision for Christ?

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. I remember standing over a college application, trying to decide what area of study to enter. I remember lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide if the car I had just test-driven would be my first car. I remember staring at dozens of real estate listings and actuary tables, trying to decide which house, if any, would be my first home.

I’m not very good at making difficult decisions. Whether or not you’re the same way, I think we would both agree that we want the right to make them. We want to be able to chart our own course, to succeed or fail on our own.

So what about Christ? When we talk about making a decision for Christ, we are talking about the most important decision of all. Our attitude toward Christ has an impact that lasts longer than a four-year college, longer than the life of a car, even longer than a thirty-year mortgage. We’re talking about eternity here. So it’s understandable for us to be concerned about this important decision.

But interestingly enough, this is one that we have no ability to make. The apostle Paul spelled out the truth clearly in a letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus. Paul said that by nature human beings are “dead … in sins” (Ephesians 2:1). He meant that, left to ourselves, you and I have the same ability to make a decision about Christ as a dead body has to make a decision about a college, a car, or a house. Absolutely no ability at all.

As much as not having a choice is very distasteful, in this case it is good news. It means that life’s most important questions don’t start with the words, “How do I…” Those questions always lead to doubt and uncertainty – things that none of us wants when we’re talking about eternity. Life’s biggest questions are not directed inward. They are directed to one who is outside of us. Questions like, “Does God love me?”

And the answer to that one is easy. In spite of the fact that we have sinned against him, in spite of the fact that we have treated him and the people around us as supporting actors in a drama that is first and foremost about me, yes, God still loves me. In fact, the Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “The world” is all-inclusive. God loves us all, no exceptions.

You won’t find your name in that passage. But ask yourself this: when God tells you how much he loved the world, how he sent his Son Jesus to die for the sins of the world, how he has done everything needed for the salvation of the world, does that also include you?

A “yes” is the answer of faith. But realize that a “yes” does not indicate that you made a decision for Christ. There’s much better news. God made a decision for you. In that same letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The decision about Christ is more firm and more certain than the very foundations of the world. And for that very reason, that decision was made by him, not us.