Jesus Christ is like a Pan of Brownies

How, you may ask, is that news? Why it is the single greatest news story in the history of the world. All of us, whether young or old, have been victims of an insidious conspiracy. We have been led to believe a lie! We have been told that if we do enough good things in our lives, that the balance sheet at the end will show us to be good people. We hear it everywhere, from TV, Movies, Radio and the like that our eternity can be earned. “Just do enough good deeds to get by,” and then our eternity is secured in a Heaven filled with all the things we want, like gold, good food, and so forth.

While there is always time to do good, and good people should do good deeds, we’ve been lied to. How do I know this? Because of Jesus.

Rather than think of our lives as a balance sheet, think of it as a pan of brownies (Mmmm). A balance sheet has two columns, for good deeds and bad deeds, which we’ll call sins for short. A pan of brownies on the other hand is everything mixed together. Now I could probably eat a pan of brownies if the only ingredients were good, like flour, salt, cocoa, sugar, milk, eggs, and so forth. But when you put not so good ingredients in there, like coffee grounds, egg shells, kitty litter, and such, the brownies don’t smell, or even taste very good at all.

All of our lives we’ve been laboring under the delusion that our good deeds erase the bad ones, but in reality, our lives are the sum of both our good deeds, and our sins. There is no amount of good that we can do to erase the bad. It’s just not in our power. We can’t do it. No one can. This is why the Bible says, “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3) The more I think about it, the more I wonder what God wants with us at all.

This is why I have such good news! Jesus Christ is Lord! Remember the events of just a few weeks ago we remembered at Easter? Jesus, the Jew of first-century Palestine, died on a Roman cross at the hands of sinful men, only to rise from the dead three days later. While that information may seem merely remarkable on the surface, and interesting tidbit of history, it has profound implications for you.

The New Testament (which is proven true every time it is tried) says that that cross was God’s instrument to solve our sin problem. When Jesus died, he wasn’t just anyone, He was God’s Son. As such, he was perfect, and sin-less. Jesus’ pan of brownies smelled wonderful. He was absolutely pure. And it was his death on that cross which was a vicarious (vocabulary word meaning, “instead of me”) sacrifice. He died for you, so that when you put your faith in Him, His death covers your sin. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death.” Jesus had no sin to die for, so he died for yours. Only his death (and his blood) can erase your sins.

There are consequences for this of course, which is why you may have put off putting your trust in him. I don’t blame you, because everyone needs to make this decision with their eyes wide open. Putting your faith in Christ means you will now need to live like Him. His death can save your life, but only if you become like Him, in faith, in confession, in repentance (from your sin), and in immersion. Only then does He guarantee eternal life with Him.

The down side of trusting Jesus, if you consider a down side, is that you give up your effort to earn your salvation by good works, and give in to Him. I think it’s a really good trade off, since you don’t have to wonder anymore if you will go to Heaven when you die; you know you will. That’s good news too.

Jesus Christ is Lord! Not that he was, or will be, but is. He is Lord now! He wants you, not to use you, or make you do stuff, but to love you, more purely, more lovingly, and more wholly that anyone person ever could. Do you feel unloved? Do you need a friend? Or are you just tired of trying to live life by your rules? Turn whatever you’ve got over to God. Let Him work with your ingredients, so that your brownies will smell GOOD!

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One Wrong Move

“And you shall be like God, knowing good and evil.” Innocence is lost. Sinlessness is lost. Now, with the fruit from the fatal tree, man must decide to follow good or evil. And for his trouble, he will die in his sin. Is knowing good and evil all it’s cracked up to be? Are we really better off that we know what is good, or even evil? What price have we paid for the knowledge of evil? Is it worth it?

We may tell ourselves that evil is easy to recognize. Plague, war, genocide, anti-semitism, Nazism, bigotry, murder all claim some degree of evil and revulsion. And certainly many top personal lists. But the Bible includes other areas we might not think of:

“lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

It would seem evil is a bit more subtle than we imagined. I can think of times I’ve been reckless, even ungrateful, yet God considers each of these signs of evil. Why is God’s sense of good and evil so refined? Because God defines evil by what He is not. God is good. (Ps 7, 48, 54, etc.) He is righteous. God is the standard of good, and what is not God is evil.

When Adam ate the fruit from the tree, he committed the equivalent of opening Pandora’s Box. He opened a door that cannot be closed. We cannot go back, this side of Heaven, to ignorance of evil. It was the very act of eating the fruit that opened Adam’s eyes to evil, since this was exactly what God told him not to do.

Everyone remembers the first time they did something they weren’t supposed to do, whether it was not to eat a cookie from the cookie jar, or run out into the street. I remember because my parents very loudly and sharply slapped my hand and told me NO. But it wasn’t just the sting of their words, but the sting of my conscience. I had violated it and did what I knew was wrong. There was no going back.

But there is hope. For there is one called Jesus, by whose standard all are judged. His blood paid for all of our sins, both past, present and even the future. This is grace. The judgment seat of Christ is passed by a simple task, put your faith in Him. If you will commit your life to Jesus, you will find all the evil can be put back into the box. You are not condemned to follow the path of your temptations. You are free to live without have to serve Sin as a slave.

All will bow at the feet of Jesus, but as a follower of Christ, you can do so without fear. You conscience can be healed, even if its “seared with a hot iron” because the salve of the Holy Spirit can heal such burns.

Are You “LOST”?

If you haven’t been watching TV, you might have missed it. The program, aired on network television, is about a group of survivors of an airliner crash (9/11 anyone?) stranded on a deserted island. The group (of about 47) is looking anxiously for a rescue, but, if it came, that would be the end of the show, so they keep looking, and waiting.

The program explores not only the island on which they are stranded (and it requires serious examination) but also the survivors themselves. Each person brings with them their own story, their own history. What makes the show so popular (and due credit goes to the writing staff) is its true-to-life feel. In the end, the viewer realizes that you cannot place people into stereotypes, and expect them to stay there.

Does any of this sound familiar? Every time we ignore God and try to discover purpose and meaning ourselves, we end up stranded. Sure, there are answers out there. Evolution, the most popular, says we came from goo. That’s encouraging when you are facing life’s toughest battles, isn’t it? Godless living doesn’t give us much hope. Aren’t we stranded on this deserted island (Earth?) looking for a rescue? Aren’t we looking to the sky, to the horizon, to ourselves, trying to discern the way home?

Like the survivors on this deserted island, we are lost, especially if we resist the call of Jesus Christ. Do you really want to know the way off of the island? Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:8) Jesus is the “author of their salvation,” (Hebrews 2:10) the trailblazer, the pioneer of the trail homeward. We are the ones who have lost our way. “All we like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:6) God has drawn map. Now He draws us to Himself. Will you come?

Lessons from Loss

If you’ve been keeping up with your Bible reading, then you’ve read the prophet Ezekiel. I’ve always found Ezekiel to be fascinating, ever since I started reading through the Bible. I have a journal somewhere dated 1999 where I tried to read through the Bible, and only got as far as Isaiah, and that in 2001. I’ve only been through the entire Bible a handful of times, and only recently (2004) picked it up again with the help of an audio Bible. So don’t think I’m trying to boast. But as a believer, I’ve come under the conviction that I need to be reading the Bible daily to keep up the strength of my Spirit.

After reading about the disaster that befell the Israelites in Jerusalem in the siege by the Babylonians, and then the numbers that were sent away, you get a feeling of utter despair. Jeremiah’s writings feel despondent, if not maudlin. It’s no wonder they call them the Lamentations. The Jews have been ripped from their homeland, and their homeland is utterly destroyed. We know it is because of their sins, their idolatry and their wickedness before God. That’s the religious justification. But pain is still pain. It still hurts, whether it is just or not.

Enter Ezekiel, mourning with the exiles on the shores of the river Kebar. “In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, …”1 right along with them, Ezekiel was wailing, weeping, mourning the loss of their home, and despairing of their future.

We’ve all lost someone or something at one time or another, whether a spouse, friend, child, parent, job, or favorite activity. When we lose a loved one especially, the pain of the void they leave behind devours the rest of our lives. We wonder if life will ever be the same again.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes it as the five stages of grief. Her work focused primarily on those who were in the process of dying, like from a long-term illness, but the stages are applicable to any loss. First there is denial and isolation. We don’t believe it and don’t want to talk to anyone that does. Then, there is anger. Often this is directed at God, at doctors, at friends because of the force of our loss. Third, there is bargaining. Just bring them back Lord, I’ll do anything. Fourth, there is depression, a simple despondency, lack of energy, or desire for life. Lastly, there is acceptance. This is the point we’d all wish we could skip to, because the loss becomes then a part of us, part of who we are.2 There is no guarantee that everyone will go through all the stages in order, but everyone goes through each stage to some extent. Dwelling in any of these stages save the last is asking for serious mental and emotional problems. And if you find yourself in the list above, you need to talk to someone, even if it is your local minister, to work through this debilitating grief.

Now this is why Ezekiel is so fascinating. Into this emotional maelstrom, where all is despair and loss and rejection and grief, enters God. “The heavens were opened and I saw the visions of God.”3 And not merely visions, or the “Angel of the Lord,” but wheels within wheels, cherubim with the faces of Man, Ox, Eagle, and Lion. “I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.”4 Ezekiel goes on to describe an incredible vision. This is the Lord God revealed in His glory to this lost and depressed crowd, to this one man entrusted with a simple message. “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”5

What God instructs Ezekiel to do is continue to warn the Israelites that unfaithfulness will lead to further destruction. We learn later that they didn’t listen, and their first destruction was better than their last. In short, Ezekiel’s message to his people from God was this, “trust me.”

I Know You’re in Pain, But Trust Me, I Can Take Care of You.

This is the message to every age, and to every man. “Trust Me.” I know you’re hurting. I know your circumstances. I know your pain, but trust me, I can take care of you and your eternity. God may not appear in whirling wheels or great and terrifying storms, but like he appeared to Elijah at Mt. Sinai, He may speak in a mere whisper, in a still small voice, just to see if you are listening. Today is a great day for listening.

1 Ezekiel 1:1a (NIV)

2 Taken from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York: Macmillan, 1973)

3 1:1b

4 1:4

5 2:1, 2

A Note about Islam

Something that bothers me, this whole Islamist terrorist insurgency, this holy war that many Islamists have brought to the doorstep of American and Western civilization. Because what is at issue is basically a disagreement in religion. Muslims think Islam is the right faith to believe in. I don’t agree. Obviously. We see some Muslims as evil, simply because they choose to kill people as their form of religious expression.

Now America is a “free” country, as long as you pay your taxes, and wear your seatbelt. It’s also free in its selection of religion. We live in an age of Post-Modernism, that is, whatever you believe is fine, because you believe it. Anything that you believe is ok, because it has the inestimable virtue of being a believer in something. This is insane! If I want to believe that my car is blue when it is actually white, that’s ok. It doesn’t hurt anybody else, does it? It doesn’t until I complete my registration form at the BMV. Postmodernism denies absolute truth. It denies that murder is always wrong, or that lying is always wrong. It will say that sometimes, these things are ok, especially if your beliefs say they are ok. Like when your holy book says that when people don’t believe like you do, it’s ok to kill them is they refuse to convert.

There are many good things about Islam. That point is not at issue. There are good, moral Muslims, and we could probably learn a thing or two from them about prayer and holiness. It is not the good we are afraid of. It is simply that it exists alongside the bad. The Koran calls Jews and Christians, “People of the Book,” but it also demands their lives if they don’t accept Allah as their God. (The Koran, Sura 2:191)

“Kill them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Dissension is greater than killing. But do not fight them by the Holy Mosque unless they attack you there; if they fight you, kill them. Like this is the recompense of the unbelievers.”

Muslims flatly deny the saving power of Jesus, or the truthfulness of the Scriptures. (The Koran, Sura 4:171)

“People of the Book, do not exaggerate your religion. Do not say about Allah except the truth. Indeed, the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, is only a Messenger (and Prophet) of Allah, and His Word (Be) which He gave to Mary, and a (created) spirit by Him. So believe in Allah and His Messengers and do not say: ‘Trinity. ‘ Refrain, it is better for you. Allah is only One God. Exaltations to Him that He should have son! To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth, it is sufficient that Allah is the Guardian.”

To this, one may argue that the Christians are no better. Doesn’t the Bible depict a War-like God sending the Israelites into Canaan to kill every living soul? How is this different from Islam? And didn’t the Christians kill many Muslims during the crusades (1000 years ago)?

It is true that God sent the Israelites into Canaan to kill them all, since they worshipped idols. God demanded the purge since the peoples in the land sacrificed their own children to these “gods.” They were wicked.

It is true that “Christians” went to the holy land 1000 years ago to fight Muslims, retake the holy land, and guard the sacred sites. Many atrocious things were done in the name of “Christ.” But I might note that the crusades were eventually lost. If they were truly of God, and what God wanted, would they have been lost? Also, there is no command of Christian Scripture to guard the holy land, or to kill Muslims. Christians do not make converts by violence, but by preaching, teaching, and witnessing.

In the war of ideas, it is Muslims who carry the sword. Christians, even now, in Sudan, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries, are being hunted down, raped, pillaged, property stolen, children abducted and sold, I could go on, but I think you get the picture. What are the Christians doing to the Muslims? Buying them warm blankets, food, supplies, especially after the Tsunami hit last December. Christians are witnessing, sharing God’s word, and offering their necks to the sword, because they have been found worthy to suffer for their Lord.

It is true that some “Christians” have bombed abortion clinics, or killed abortion doctors, but compare that with the number of young Muslim men who have willingly strapped explosives to their bodies and walked into public places, its apples and oranges.

What Muslims in our area do not need is our vitriol, our hatred, or our rhetoric. They need the love of Jesus. They need to see that we don’t hate them back. We don’t want to kill them. They need to see in us what they wished Allah could be — forgiving, kind, and consistently compassionate.

If you have a Muslim friend, it is pointless to argue religion with him. Don’t try it. Rather, try to be his friend. Respect his faith, learn more about it, and share with him yours, not by saying, but by doing. And when the time is right, tell him about the grace of Jesus. He doesn’t get that from Allah.

“This is the story of Star Wars”

I remember as a kid I would hear that line every time I pulled out the Star Wars Book and Record set. This calm voice would begin reading the main plot points while I slavishly turned the pages. To this day, I still remember dialogue from that book before I think of the actual dialogue from the movie (of which I now own several editions). I still have that book and record, somewhere, but the story of Star Wars has been fully revealed with the latest chapter, Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith.

You might know, unless you live under a rock somewhere, that George Lucas has finished his six-part epic. Viewers of Episode 3 usually come away with one of two reactions: either they loved it, or they come away feeling dirty. What I mean is, watching Star Wars III is like watching the Passion of the Christ, or Titanic. You know how it’s going to end, and it won’t be good for the hero. It is the story of Anakin Skywalker’s “temptation and fall [, which should be] of special interest to Christians,”1 because there are many parallels between Anakin and ourselves, that we have more in common with Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker.

This is what the story of Star Wars truly is. It is a story about the Fall and Redemption. It is a story that says, regardless of how evil you have become, or how lost you believe you are, or if you think that you’ve done too much to deserve grace and forgiveness, remember this, “There is still good in you.” There is still that spark of divinity from our Creator that offers hope. In Star Wars, it is the son that brings the father from the dark side, and back to the light side. For us, it is the Son, and obedience to Him, that will bring us to the light and into eternity.

The Bible describes this in simple terms: “Whoever has the Son has life.” (1 John 5:12) Does it sound too easy? Well, it actually is. Christ went to great lengths (the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection) to make it easy for you to come to Him. He doesn’t demand great sacrifices or powerful deeds, or even a life cleaned up. All he asks for is you. He wants you just as you are. Let Him worry about cleaning up the mess. “The Spirit and the Bride [His Church] say come. … Even so, come Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:17, 20)

But note one more lesson we learn from Star Wars. Darth Vader could not merely believe he was changed, and let that be enough. His belief required action. You cannot change your heart and ignore the rest of your life. Vader took the source of his evil, the Emperor, and cast him into the depths of the Death Star, eliminating the source of evil and deception in his life. Then he embraced his son, honestly and truthfully. “Let me look on you with my own eyes.”

Belief in Jesus also requires action. Though it costs nothing to believe, it costs everything to follow that belief with life-changing attitude. Though we come to Christ dirty, He makes us clean. No more can we wallow in the mud. But He helps us make those changes that make us disciples. He helps us grow. Like Vader, our change is made evident, not merely by our mental agreement, but by working to eliminate the evil in our lives, and casting them in God’s sea of forgiveness.

The Bible describes it this way: “Repent [that is, cast off your sins and your desires to do them] and be immersed, 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 [who will help you learn how to live according to Jesus, and resist temptation].” (Acts 2:38)

The Story of Star Wars is my story, and it is your story. It is the story about sin, grace, and redemption. This forgiveness is freely available to you. Just let Him in. Please call or stop in today to speak with one of our ministers or myself, and we’ll be glad to tell you about God’s love for you.

1Gene Edward Veith, “The Fall of the Jedi” World Magazine (May 18th, 2005, Vol. 20, No. 21),12.

Fearful No More!

IMG20053We consider our homes, our castles, inviolable. Sometimes, with a false sense of security, we leave our homes unlocked, if only for a short time, so that we can run errands. We live in a “safe” community, don’t we? It is while we are away that the enemy creeps in and steals. This particular enemy favors cash and drugs. No one knows his name, or, if they do, they are unwilling to share it. They say, “I’m glad it wasn’t me.” Thus, home after home, church after church are victimized, and ransacked for valuables. It is he, the enemy that seems to be invulnerable, not our homes and families.

We church-folk are fond of saying, “Jesus is the answer!” But how does Jesus become the answer in a community plagued with crime and criminals?

First – Christ enables us to call this behavior what it is: Wrong! This is an evil committed in our community, not someone’s poor upbringing, not a result of poverty, using drugs, sickness, or mental instability. Very clearly the Bible states: “You shall not steal!” There is no cause to make excuses for theft.

Second – Christ will exact justice. “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord” and of the established government;“if you do that which is evil, be afraid; because he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13) Jesus, whether through an agent like the government, or personally through disease or sudden death, will exact a penalty for the crimes committed in our community. No one escapes God.

Third – Christ reminds us in our suffering that He alone should be our Rock and our Fortress. (Psalm 46) “Cast all your anxious care on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter) We put our trust in Him, for He cares for us. He may not hinder the free-will of the burglar, but He will enable us to bear the loss. Jesus also says “love your enemies; bless them who curse you; do good to them who hate you; and pray for them who arraign and persecute you; that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5)

Our chief objective as people of God is to pray for those who are our enemies. Therefore:

“Our heavenly Father, you have seen fit in this community to allow an individual, or group of people to raid our homes, our churches, or lives. Lord if we have committed sin to warrant such discipline, we pray Father for Your forgiveness. We repent of our sins, and pray for the grace, which you pour upon all men liberally, to be felt and filled within our hearts.

Our Father, we pray for these who so casually enter homes and steal without thought to consequence, either to themselves, or to the others whose medication may be vital to their lives. We pray for these few who victimize the many, and bring a similitude of fear upon our community. We know dear Lord that perfect love casts out all fear. Therefore we pray Father that we face these criminals fearlessly. That Father these robbers will be brought to repentance, if not to justice this side of Heaven. We pray that they will be influenced by godly and Christian neighbors, so that they give up this thoughtless and hopeless life, and give themselves to Christ Jesus, for Your glory. In Jesus Name, Amen.”

Let’s pray this prayer, and mean it.