Give Thanks to the Lord

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!

When is the resurrection going to happen?

When I was a child, one of the questions we couldn’t ask while on vacation was, “When are we going to get there?” Now that I’m a parent, I understand why. Without ground rules, children will ask that question every fifteen minutes.

Most people, certainly Christians, have a sense that this life is a journey to a place where we will spend an eternal vacation. We won’t get there in a car or even a spacecraft. Instead, God himself will bring all those who trust in Jesus to heaven. Even those who have died will come to life again when God is ready to bring his children to heaven.

But when are we going to get there? When will God raise the dead and bring them to heaven?

God does not mind if we ask the question. In fact, he loves it when people seek him and inquire to know what he has said.

One of Jesus’ friends (Martha) once inquired about the resurrection when one of his close friends died (Lazarus, Martha’s brother). Jesus comforted Martha with words about the resurrection and asked her if she believed in the resurrection. Her answer helps us identify when the resurrection will happen, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). The resurrection from the dead will happen ON THE LAST DAY.

But when is the last day going to come? The exact time when God will bring the world to an end (and raise the dead) is information he reserves for himself alone. During his life on this earth Jesus once said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 30:32).

On the one hand, we know exactly when God will raise the dead; he will do it on the last day. On the other hand, we have no idea when God will raise the dead; God hasn’t told us when the last day will come. Trusting that God will raise to eternal life all those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins is more important than knowing exactly when the resurrection will come, is.

Only in Jesus can we be sure that when it is time we will get there – that is, to our eternal vacation in heaven!

Am I Too Far Lost to Be Saved?

Am I too far lost to be saved?

That depends on your point of view. Are you looking at it from your standpoint or are you looking at it the way God looks at it?

From a human viewpoint, we’d probably conclude that we are too far lost to be saved. We don’t like hopeless causes. We are reluctant to keep throwing good money and time into a bottomless pit. If it is too much of a stretch, if there’s too much damage to undo, if there is too much effort that will be needed day after day to get someone to heaven, I think we’d sometimes say that person (maybe it is us!) is too far lost to be saved.

But God doesn’t look at things like that. He doesn’t look at our liabilities. He looks at his possibilities. With God, all things are possible.

Over and over again God emphasizes his love and forgiveness to all people. Jesus showed this even in his choice of disciples. One of his followers, Matthew, had been a tax collector, working for the hated Romans. He had been kicked out of the synagogue long ago. As he sat in his tax booth collecting money for the Roman occupation forces, teachers in the synagogue would often come by and tell him he was going to hell. “Don’t even bother coming to worship—it’s not going to do you any good, because you’re going to hell; you are too far lost to be saved.” The only people who would associate with Matthew were other tax collectors and prostitutes. The beaten and the damned—that was his gang.

Then one day Jesus showed up and told Matthew, “Follow me.” Matthew did. He dumped that dead-end job for one that offered heavenly benefits. Matthew was excited that someone, instead of telling him he was going to hell, told him that God loved him and had a spot in heaven waiting for him. He was so excited that he wanted his friends to meet Jesus, too, but the only way he could get them to take time out to talk to a “religious” person was to throw his own going away party! (Matthew 9:9-13)

They all got to talk with Jesus, even though the same people who had delighted in telling Matthew he was going to hell now turned their nose up at Jesus for stooping to talk to the beaten and the damned.

It’s not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Our God is so filled with love and mercy that he seeks out the sick, those who feel they are too far lost to be saved. For with God, no one is too far lost to be saved.

Where Does Evil Come From?

I have a two-year-old son. At times, I give him a job to do. I say, “Son, it’s time to clean up your toys.” I’d be lying if I said he listened every time. Very often he doesn’t. But there are times when he hears the command of the father he knows loves him, and he gladly and willingly obeys. When he does, my heart fills with joy. He did that for me. He must really love me. “Thank you, son.”

I also have a garage door opener. At times, I give it a job to do as well. I press a button. My garage door opens or closes. The garage door opener gets it right much more often than my son. Every time, in fact. Without fail. And yet, when the garage door opener gets it right, there is no joy. There is no “thank you.” Why is that?

People often wonder where evil comes from. Sometimes they hear an explanation that goes something like this: When God created the universe, everything was good. There was no evil. But then a good angel chose to do evil. That angel, the devil, then tempted good human beings to do evil. And they did. They disobeyed God and ate the fruit he had told them not to eat.

That explanation, true as it is, usually leads to other questions. Why would God allow that good angel the freedom to do evil? Why would he allow him to tempt Adam and Eve? Why would he allow Adam and Eve the freedom to do evil? And if God knew all of this was going to happen ahead of time (which he did), why would he have created the universe in the first place?

Those are great questions. When God created the world, he made certain things that work like garage door openers. They do what God wants by the sheer force of his will. The planets follow their orbits. The sun rises and sets. The rain falls. Plants grow. They have no choice.

But God also created people. And he made them moral creatures, not machines. He gave them the freedom to choose between right and wrong. He wanted to love them into loving him back. And did he ever love them!

That brings me to the question that really matters. Not, “Where does evil come from?” Instead, “Where does evil end up?” The evil that Adam and Eve brought into the world remains to this day. Things like murder, rape, theft, and terrorism are a part of our world. These are blatant sins that we see every day. But also included in the realm of evil are the sins of our hearts, our secret sins, our “hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).

Fortunately, God loves us so much that he took all of the evil that has ever taken place and will ever take place and gave it a single destination: his one and only Son. Instead of giving evil people the evil they deserve, he gave his good Son the evil he didn’t deserve: death on a cross. In exchange, evil people receive the good that they don’t deserve: forgiveness, the perfect holiness of Christ, and eternal life in heaven.

God surely does love us!

And so the truly amazing thing is not that the world has evil, but that an evil world full of evil people has so much good in it. God continues to love us into loving him back. “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

How can I begin to read the Bible?

The Bible is a big book. Maybe you’re like many other people who want to read the Bible but don’t known where to start.

In reality, the Bible isn’t just one book; it’s a collection of 66 books. Knowing a few things about some of the books may help you to have some idea about where to start. So let’s first take a quick look at subject matter of some of the books, then I’ll give a brief suggestion about how to get started in Bible reading. If you want to know more details about each of the books of the Bible, you can check out the articles which are included on this website. Look at Book by Book.

The Bible is divided into an Old Testament and a New Testament. The Old Testament contains books which were written before Jesus’ time and the New Testament contains books written after Jesus’ time. When you’re reading Old Testament books (like Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, etc.) you’re reading about events which happened before Jesus came. In those books God is telling us about his plan of salvation, how he brought Jesus the Savior to the world, about our need for the Savior, and prophecies about the Savior, so we could recognize Jesus when he came. Some of the books of the Old Testament are straight-forward history (like Genesis). Other books have many details about the worship life of the Old Testament Israelites (like Leviticus), and others address very specific time periods in the Israelite history (like Amos and Hosea); those can be a bit more challenging to read and understand.

The New Testament books were written after the birth of Jesus. The first four books, the “Gospels” – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – give us the account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The book of Acts records the history of the early New Testament church and the spread of the gospel message. The majority of the books of the New Testament are letters, written either to churches or individuals, in which God gives us further insights into the truths he expects us to believe.

So where do we start? I’d suggest the following:

  1. Luke
  2. Mark
  3. Genesis and Exodus
  4. Matthew
  5. Romans
  6. 1 & 2 Samuel or John or Acts or 1 Peter or some Psalms or Ephesians or Philippians – you decide! Or, re-read the first five suggested books again, and then go on.

That will allow you to start with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – that’s the heart of God’s saving work for you. Then you’ll begin to broaden your knowledge by seeing the beginning of all things. Then you’ll study Jesus’ life again, then broaden your understanding of Bible truth by reading one of the New Testament letters.

“What translation should I use?” There are several good ones. I’d suggest that you use a New International Version (NIV). It’s written in modern-day, understandable language, and is an accurate translation. “What if I don’t understand what I read?” Two thoughts – try reading it again and think about it in light of what you have already read in the Bible. Or keep on reading – perhaps the next time the meaning will be clearer, because you’ll have learned more. “Should I just read each book once?” No! Feel free to read, to re-read, and then to read it again! Particularly the first five suggested books – read them often! “What if I get confused?” Why not use the church locator feature on this website to locate one of our churches? Our pastors would be happy to help!

So go ahead! Open your Bible to the book of Luke (check the Table of Contents) and begin to get to know Jesus up close and personal!

What is the importance of Christian Baptism?

A man lies in the recovery room after serious, life-saving heart surgery. The surgeon walks into the room and gets down on his knees beside the bed. With tears in his eyes the doctor says, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for me!”

There’s something backwards about that scene. Shouldn’t the patient be the one thanking the doctor? After all, that surgeon saved his life. The patient owes that medical man a huge debt of gratitude.

Many people get Christian Baptism backwards. They think that Baptism is something we do for God, a way of showing obedience to him. That seems appropriate. After all, parents are the ones who bring their children to the baptismal font. However, in Baptism God is really the one who does something for us.

And what wonderful things God does for us in Baptism! The apostle Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In those words Peter describes two of the wondrous blessings of Baptism: the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners. Sin separates us from God. Sin takes away the blessings he wants us to have. Sin keeps us out of heaven. So God did something about sin. He sent Jesus, his Son. Jesus lived perfectly in our place, died on the cross to pay for all our sins and rose again to assure us of eternal life. In Baptism, God gives us this forgiveness that Jesus won for us.

The other blessing, the gift of the Holy Spirit, is faith or trust in Jesus. Faith is the hand that receives all the blessings that Jesus won for us. In Baptism God miraculously works faith in our hearts so that we don’t miss out on a single blessing that Jesus won for us. Through faith worked in Baptism, God gives us all the blessings earned by our Savior: forgiveness of sins, a new life of peace and hope, and eternal life in heaven.

Is Baptism important? Absolutely! In Baptism God is at work for us. Through Baptism God saves us.

Why am I here?

You’ve seen the sign maybe at a freeway off ramp, or maybe on some street corner. It is usually held by an unshowered man in untidy clothes. It says, “Need food. Will work.”

Now imagine the opposite. A sharply dressed gentleman next to a shiny limousine is holding a sign that reads, “Looking for someone to help. Will provide whatever you need.”

Can you guess which of them is God, and which is you?

God has an abundance of love, forgiveness, and peace and he delights in sharing it with those in need.

A long time ago God created people as his companions in a perfect world, but sin spoiled that relationship. Now people, by nature, are afraid of God, confused about God, and no longer as interested in God as he is in them.

God does not want to have a broken relationship with you. God delights in restoring peace and harmony between him and you. He uses your lifetime to accomplish this restoration.

God also gives you the privilege of doing things for him. You can be his hands, assisting the needy. You can be his voice, encouraging a friend. You are never too young or too old to be helpful.

God shares his forgiving love with you, and he looks for you to respond to it. You are here to receive the gift of God’s love and to share it.

There is a poster that says it this way:

  • Yesterday is history.
  • Tomorrow is a mystery.
  • Today is a gift.
  • That’s why they call it the present.

The Bible says it this way, “Always give yourselves fully to the word of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).