Saturday, June 03, 2006

Has Anybody Seen the New X-Men Flick?

My wife and son went to see it last night. Since I had work to do and know nothing about the X-Men franchise, it made little sense for me to see it.

In spite of being superhero buffs who enjoyed the first two films, they hated this one. Later, my son's best bud from elementary days dropped by and shared the same thumbs-down review. With its fast-paced violence and epic explosions, it sounds like it was made to appeal to the overseas market, which still appears to like these sorts of films.

UPDATE: John Schroeder does a review of X-Men 3 at the conclusion of this post, another in his series on comic book art.

Another Haiku

At dusk they capture
fireflies, then watch the bugs glow
like Roman candles

Friday, June 02, 2006

Want or Need?

One of the most insightful books I've read in the past ten years is The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge. I think that Eldredge's basic premise is dead-on: Sin has distorted our humanity; yet we still have the same appetites for eternity we always had.

In other words, there is in all of us a desire for something better, something different, something more. We sense that this craving is rooted in how life should be. An old song by Randy Stonehill, which I'm fond of quoting, says, "Like a child who dreams of flying, we ache for something more; we hold a dim remembrance of an ancient golden shore." Truth be known, what we really want is eternity in fellowship with God and others, the life for which we were made. God put that desire in all of us!

But sin causes us to chase after what were once "good dreams" (C.S. Lewis' phrase) in distorted ways. The condition of sin drives us inward, rather than upward to God or outward to our neighbor.

As a consequence, our dreams can become nightmares of deeply selfish ambitions and susceptibility to the carnival barker (or internal voice) telling us that the latest gadget, the newest book, the drug everyone is doing, or whatever, will fill that ache.

We're hungry for eternity; but we settle for filling ourselves with spiritual junk food.

We want the God Who lives forever; we settle for stuff that wears out, dies out, rusts out, and gives out.

Dan, over at A Slower Pace, is doing a series on the habits he's adopting to maintain a slower pace of living. He rightly points out that his sixth habit--When you go to purchase ANYTHING, ask yourself "Is this a NEED or a WANT?"--dovetails with my post on The Seventh Commandment, "You shall not steal."

Dan’s post is really good and I recommend it to you. Presently, there's a big push to dramatically expand gambling in Ohio and many, including myself, are horrified at the way in which the gaming industry lures people into financial loss through the false promise of wealth. (Even though the Lottery Commission here adds a hypocritical, “Play responsibly” message to every commercial.)

But it strikes me that a lot of advertising for ordinary goods and services is just as deceptive. Things we don't need are hawked as the very items that will bring us fulfillment, success, and of course, sex. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, by which I think He meant our everyday needs. The basic message of advertising is, "More"; but God tells us "My grace is sufficient." In a consumerist culture, these are hard things to remember.

None of this is to say that we should just settle for lives of poverty or that we shouldn't have ambitions for bettering our lives in other ways. Nor is it to disdain those who have the ability to make money; some people are really gifted at this and I believe that it too, is a gift from God that God can help us to use in positive ways. But when we're focused on what we need, rather than what we want, God can free us to pursue the life He has in mind for us, a life that expresses our specific personalities, gifts, talents, and passions.

There's a guy I've known since we were in junior high school. When my wife and I were first married and he was first married to his wife, we all lived in the same apartment complex. (My wife, in fact, introduced that couple to each other, who were married the year before us. That means that they'll soon be married thirty-three years and we're soon to celebrate our thirty-second anniversary.) We spent a lot of time together in those early years.

We hadn't seen this guy for awhile when, after I had come to faith in Christ, we had dinner together. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. (Today, at age 52, I'm trying to figure out if I'm going to grow up.) But I had an inner peace.

My friend told me after dinner. "You've changed, Mark. All those years I knew you, you seemed to be flailing, anxious to make people like you, looking for something. I don't see that now. You seem content with yourself, more sure of your place in life."

Consumerist culture doesn't want you to be content. What God has been teaching this sometimes reluctant pupil for the past thirty years is that when the God we know in Jesus Christ becomes the object of our desires, He gives us a better life than we could possibly imagine...even in the rough and painful times.

Go read Dan's post.

[By the way, I think that advertising can glorify God and that God gifts some people with a creativity geared to advertising. But I do think that in many ways, advertising is geared to offering false hopes that goods and services (gods and services?) can't deliver.]

[Thanks to Successful Christian for linking to this post.]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

"I feel like a flag. I feel like I've represented the country."

The speaker? Queen Elizabeth II? Lance Armstrong? Eurovision winners Lordi, the first to hail from Finland?

None of the above. It's Carlos Sanchez, who has portrayed Colombia's coffee ambassador, Juan Valdez, for thirty-seven years.

Brief Thoughts on Haditha

At the height of the Vietnam War, an active-duty admiral spoke to an assembly at our high school. He put a twist on a common saying of the times to present his motto as a patriotic citizen:
My country: When wrong, to make it right; when right, to keep it right.
As the Marine Corps looks at the incident at Haditha, we could do worse than to adopt that as our motto.

If all that is alleged to have taken place at Haditha happened as reported and if there has been a cover-up, that must be made right. Of course, innocent lives cannot be restored. But, I pray, justice can be served.

I say this as more than just an American. As much as I love my country--and I blushingly admit to actually loving my country, I pray for justice in this matter even more as a Christian.

Every patriot will want to get to the bottom of Haditha. So will anyone who takes Jesus' command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to love others as He has loved us.

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 16

In discussing the basics of Christian faith, we've started by looking at the Ten Commandments. We're up to the Seventh Commandment:
You shall not steal.
With this commandment, says the sixteenth century Christian reformer Martin Luther, we arrive at another level of relating to our neighbor:
Next to our own person and our spouse [the objects protected in The Fourth and Fifth Commandments], our temporal property is dearest to us. This, too, God wants protected.
This commandment then, refutes the idea that God doesn't care about this world or our "stuff." On the contrary, the Bible sees money and other material goods as gifts from God over which we're to exercise good "stewardship," wise and respectful management. We're to control our money and not allow it to control us, seeing it as something we can use not only to provide for our families and ourselves, but to gain friends in heaven, helping others to know and experience Christ. In fact, how we manage our possessions is so important that when God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, He talked more about money and its management than He did about heaven and hell combined. (For more on the Biblical view of money, see here.)

I must confess that I have often been faithless as a manager of my possessions. Whether in thought, word, or action, I've violated this commandment, just as I have found ways to violate the other nine. I can only thank God that He is forgiving!

This commandment tells us that just like the dishonoring of parents, murder, and adultery, the subjects of the three preceding commands, stealing from others is an impudent human effort to override God's judgment, taking for ourselves blessings that God has granted to others.

There are all sorts of ways that this command is violated, going way beyond the obvious. Examples would include:
  • Being irresponsible at work, allowing our employer's property to be damaged
  • Not doing our jobs, wasting the money our employers or contactors spend to pay us
  • Overcharging others for goods and services we sell to them
  • Defrauding others by selling them merchandise, goods, or services we know to be deficient in some way
  • Swindling anybody in whatever way
  • Manipulating markets or the legal system to swipe money and property from others [the preceding six items are based on a list compiled by Luther and presented in The Large Catechism]
  • Luring people to buy products or services they don't need
  • Enticing people to engage in gambling or to fall for "get rich quick" schemes
But, as is true of all the commandments, this one is more than a proscription against violating God's will. It also commends positive behavior. Luther says that to obey this commandment:
We should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor's money or property, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business [that his means are preserved and his condition is improved].
This past week, I co-presided over the wedding of a wonderful bride and her equally wonderful groom, a young man I've known since he was in the seventh grade. In the wedding liturgy of my faith tradition, a section of the service is given over to allowing the entire gathering of witnesses to prayerfully commit themselves to helping the newlyweds keep their wedding vows by praying for them and encouraging them.

Similarly, in this commandment, God calls us to prayerfully find ways to help others keep their property, supporting them in being wise and grateful stewards of their material blessings. Luther writes:
...One one hand, we are forbidden to do our neighbor any injury or wrong in any way imaginable, whether by damaging, withholding, or interfering with his possessions and property. We are not even to consent to or permit such a thing, but are rather to avert and prevent it. On the other hand, we are commanded to promote and further our neighbor's interests, and when he suffers we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes.
Obedience to this command will also lead, Luther asserts, to being charitable to the poor. He cites the words of Proverbs 19:17:
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.
This commandment in all its implications should indicate what God's primary object for us is: That we live in a community of love and mutuality rooted in Him. Love, in God's eyes, is very practical business and it includes safeguarding the material stuff that's been entrusted to us.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Steve Goodier Talks About 'The Best Gift Ever'

Author and speaker Steve Goodier has written this piece called The Best Gift Ever. Its topic doesn't represent the best gift ever, as far as I'm concerned, but I love the piece for its good advice and because it includes one of my all-time favorite anecdotes, from former President Jimmy Carter. You can receive regular mailings including Steve's writings by following the directions at:

Merrill Markoe once quipped, "It's like magic. When you live by yourself, all your annoying habits are gone!" But the bigger question is: Can you still have annoying habits and be accepted anyway?

Author Francine Klagsbrun asked a select group of successfully married couples the secrets of their happy marriages. Often they replied, "We don't expect perfection." Even though their spouses had qualities they would like to see changed, they had learned to accept
those qualities because, as one woman said, "The payoff is so great in others areas."

Former president Jimmy Carter discovered a surprising benefit when he chose NOT to try to change his spouse. He once told how NOT criticizing Rosalynn actually enhanced his marriage (READER'S DIGEST, July 1989). This is what he said:

"Perhaps because of my Navy training, punctuality has been almost an obsession. Rosalynn has always been adequately punctual, except by my standards. A deviation of five minutes or less in our departure time would cause a bitter exchange.

"One morning I realized it was Rosalynn's birthday and I hadn't brought her a present. What could I do that would be special for her? I hurriedly wrote a note: 'Happy birthday! As proof of my love, I will never make an unpleasant comment about tardiness.' I signed it and delivered it in an envelope, with a kiss.

"More than four years later, I still keep my promise. It has turned out to be one of the nicest birthday presents for Rosalynn -- and for me."

His last sentence is telling. It turned out good for Rosalynn AND for him! The surprising benefit of accepting others without wishing that they were different is that you, too, will be happier.

What a wonderful present to give to somebody -- complete and unconditional acceptance! And its just too good a gift to wait for a birthday.
And what do I think is the best gift ever? Jesus Christ! He forgives us and then makes it possible for us to accept and forgive others...for good.

Nobody Should Be Shocked

Matt explains why.

Update: Having concluded that we shouldn't be shocked that the Netherlands would produce a group of pedophiles openly striving to legitimize their lifestyle, I can hardly endorse this reaction. As Christians, our mission and hope is to call all people to repentance and new life through Jesus Christ in the hope that they won't meet the fate which this writer apparently wishes for some. See here, here, and here. Obviously, unrepentant pedophiles can't expect a share in God's kingdom. But one can hardly feel gleeful over the thought of people rejecting God's grace!

"Today it hit me; I am really in prison"

That's from Seif al-Islam, one of six Egyptian bloggers believed to have been targeted by that country's government and thrown into prison after their arrest at a pro-democracy rally. The Washington Post has an extensive story on the Egyptian crackdown on bloggers.

Here you'll find ways you can contact the Egyptian embassy in Washington to petition for the release of the bloggers mentioned in The Post article.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Would It Matter If Mary Magdalene Was Married to Jesus?

My blogging friend, Danny Miller, left a comment on my post regarding Listening to The DaVinci Code, where I called the book a bad piece of writing:
I couldn't agree more with the above assessment of the book (even though I never got that far with my audio copy). It just seemed like really lousy writing, from the first sentence on. Is that sour grapes on my part (I haven't exactly sold 40 million copies of anything I've written)? I think the film is equally absurd and offensive on all sorts of levels. But one thing I don't get, not being a Christian, is why on earth it would even matter if they could somehow prove that Jesus did have a relationship with Mary Magdalene. I still don't see why that should have a negative impact on his message or his teachings.
Danny raises an important question, one that, as I continued to listen to the audiobook of the Dan Brown book yesterday, I thought I should address here.

In a nutshell, it wouldn't have had a negative impact on the Church or the teachings of the Gospel if Jesus had decided to marry Mary Magdalene.

Of course, a key premise of the Brown book is that the Church covered up "the fact" of a marital relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. To paraphrase The DaVinci Code character, Sir Leigh Tiebing, the Church proclaims a divine Jesus and for such a Jesus to have had children would have made him too earthy. The character also claims that the Church invented the lie that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute in order to discredit her and safeguard its version of Jesus.

A few facts:
  • No Christian preacher or scholar I know of ever has described Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Although I'm sure that somewhere in the two-thousand year history of the Church, there have been some misguided Christian leaders who have said this, the Bible never makes this claim. It says that Jesus first encountered Mary Magdalene when He cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 16:8-10).
Of course, the portrayal of Mary of Magdala as a prostitute has become a convention of movie presentations of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Anne Bancroft even plays her this way in my favorite film about Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zefferelli and co-written by novelist Anthony Burgess.

As far as I can tell, the portrayal of Mary as a prostitute is one of those pieces of popular folklore that has arisen around the Bible. It's akin to the mythology of three wise men leaving gifts for the baby Jesus, even though the Bible is silent on how many "wise men" (Matthew calls them maji, magicians or astrologers) there were. Some people even believe that there was a "little drummer boy" who played for the baby Jesus, something that would have really broken with what popular myth has always insisted was a "silent night."

The fact is that every Christian preacher I've ever heard address the subject--including this one--has tried to correct the false impression that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before she encountered Jesus. There were people whose pasts were shady to whom Jesus brought forgiveness (the woman caught in adultery and Zacchaeus, the extorting tax collector, are two who immediately spring to mind), but Magdalene was never called a prostitute in the Bible or, so far as I know, by the Church.
  • The divine Jesus is also an earthy Jesus. For the Christian, one of the great mysteries of the faith is that in Jesus Christ, God became human. This is what we call "the incarnation" or "the embodiment." "The Word became flesh and lived among us," John proclaims in the prologue to His Gospel. An ancient confession of the Church, still recited by Christians, the Nicene Creed, calls Jesus "true God and true man." God doesn't disdain the world, although some passages of Scripture--particularly some in the Gospel of John--use the term "the world" to describe a systemic rejection of God and His love that's the result of sin.
  • God is earthy. God invented the earth. He also invented sex, part of the creation He describes as being "very good." Sex, according to the Bible, was designed by God to be used by married couples for three reasons: as a sign and seal of their commitment to one another; as a means of enjoying each other's sexual physicality; and, in some instances, as a way of making babies. (See here.) Neither the Bible or the Church, so far as I know, has ever called sex or earthiness bad things. What is bad, from a Biblical point of view, is the misuse of sex, including sexual intimacy outside of marriage or rape.
  • Jesus therefore, could have chosen to wed Mary Magdalene and enjoyed sexual intimacy with her without in any way negating His mission as the pure, perfect, sinless Savior of the world which we Christians confess Him to be. Sex between a husband and a wife is not sin. It's God's plan.
  • The problem with the assertion of the characters in Brown's book that Jesus was married is that there simply is no credible evidence to support the idea. In fact, the Bible portrays Jesus as being single.
  • As to the notion expressed by Brown's Sir Lee Tiebing that Jesus, as a good Judean, had to have been married by the time of His crucifixion, this is simply not true. Ancient Israel and Judea had a custom surrounding marriage which belies this idea: A man was expected to become economically established before arranging a marriage to a much younger woman. The negotiations over these arrangements involved the prospective groom and the bride-to-be's parents, usually the father. Men rarely married before they were thirty and most scholars agree that Jesus was between the ages of 28 and 33 when He was crucified.
Why then, did Jesus forego marriage? We can only speculate, of course. Two possible, interrelated reasons:
  • So that He could focus on His mission. (My colleague, Pastor Mark Roberts writes about that here.)
  • So that He could spare a prospective wife functional widowhood. I describe it in this way because we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, yet He later ascended to heaven, which had He been married, would have left a wife whose life would have been like that of a widow behind.
While I'm certain that Jesus never married, it would not have changed our proclamation of Who He is if He had.

Monday, May 29, 2006

I Love This Picture...

my son snapped of the building facilities of Arabic Baptist Church in Washington, DC. I love the way it combines a hint of traditional Arabic architecture with the look of a church building.

There's a congregation in Sidney, Ohio, First United Methodist Church, which recently underwent a renovation. Although the people of that area were historically of German extraction, when the church building was remodeled, it was given a hint of Spanish architecture, much of which was influenced by Muslims from the Middle East, of course.

The world is increasingly being homogenized.

I Had the Exact Same Thought

I love Arthur Conan Doyle. But why wouldn't Google also honor the dead on Memorial Day. This from a company that happily complies with a murderous regime in China in suppressing information. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking to the Goldberg piece.)

Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene?

No, say some people in Japan, he was married to a Japanese girl named Miyuko.

This phenomenon, is further proof that some, if not most, people prefer a Jesus Who marries and lives to a ripe old age than deal with the realities of His cross and resurrection. And it isn't just because we're suckers for "happily ever after" fairy tales either!
  • A crucified Savior Who never sinned demonstrates the depths of human sin and how desperately we need saving. We can't save ourselves and that threatens our human egotism, as well as our unwillingness to admit that we have sin.
  • A risen Savior demonstrates that Jesus is bigger than we are and we chafe under the thought that there's Someone bigger than we are to Who we're accountable.

(Thanks to John Schroeder for linking to this post.)

Mark Roberts Writes of the God Who Finds Us in Times of Trouble

He seems to read my mind and then articulate my thoughts better than I in these sentences:
One of things I like about the Bible is its realism about life. So often spiritual writings are obnoxiously positive. They look on the bright side. They employ happy-speak and wishful thinking. This might work for you if you're in a great place in your own life. But that great place won't last. The time will come when the naïve, unrealistic platitudes of happy-face religion just won't cut it.

But the Bible, now there's a different story. From the beginning, Scripture is clear about the real struggles and sufferings of this life. Consider the fact that one of the first stories in the Bible is about a brother killing a brother out of jealousy (Genesis 4). As we continue to read through Scripture, we find more division within families and murder, not to mention rape, parents grieving over their dead children, starvation, adultery, disease, hunger, famine, the slaughter of innocent children, discouragement, and despair. It's all in the Bible, and much more besides.

And I say I like this? Yes, indeed I do. Because this is what life is like. To be sure, there are glorious times, times of blessing and joy, times of rich celebration. Life isn't only hard. It's also good, sometimes very good. But I like the fact that when I read my Bible, it makes sense of real life today. It doesn't force me to pretend as if everything is hunky-dory.
A book this realistic is credible when it tells you about the God Who cares about you just as you are. At least the Bible's realism is what helped turn me from atheism to faith in Christ.

Read the whole thing.

JFK Birthday Falls on Memorial Day

In addition to being Memorial Day, today is also the eighty-ninth anniversary of the birth of President John Kennedy. During World War Two, Kennedy was the commander of a Navy PT-boat in the south Pacific. The boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and in spite of sustaining a broken back when that happened, JFK saved the lives of several of his crew and then, along with them, endured a wait to be rescued.

Kennedy rightly arouses more than a little ambivalence as a political figure. But there can be no doubt that he was a hero of the Second World War, like so many others who were killed or who survived.

There is an irony to his violent death here at home eighteen years after the end of the war in which he was nearly killed.

(See this piece written on the anniversary of Kennedy's assassination last November.)

The Deeper Lie of 'Arbeit Macht Frei'

I'm watching the replay of EWTN's coverage of Pope Benedict's trip to Auschwitz.

It was both interesting and moving to me that this German pontiff visited the notorious Nazi death camp, meeting some of the survivors. I was especially interested in his visit to the cell in which Father Maximillian Kolbe, an evangelist, died, volunteering to die in the place of a Polish soldier who had been sentenced to die of starvation. When Kolbe did not die after two weeks of being denied food, he was killed by lethal injection. (I shared one account about Kolbe here.)

I was struck by another thought as I watched the Pope's car pass under the famous entry to the Auschvitz camp where, rendered in wrought iron in the German are the words, Arbeit Macht Frei (Work will make you free).

I reflected for the first time, that this phrase was a lie in at least two ways. The first way is obvious, of course, is that most who were brought into this place of horrors did not gain freedom. The sign that "welcomed" prisoners to Auschwitz was a bitter irony. I've thought about this many times.

But here is the deeper reality I'd never thought about in connection with those words: Work never brings freedom. Jesus said that the "truth will set you free." Jesus here wasn't talking about facticity here. He was talking about the truth of Himself. "I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus said, "No one comes to the Father, but by Me." In John, chapter 8, Jesus contrasts Himself to the "father of lies," the devil.

The point? Freedom from sin, death, and purposeless living come from the only sure foundation on which--on Whom--we can build our lives, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." We are only made free by entrusting our lives to Jesus Christ, the Truth on which all of life and love is built!

Work cannot set us free. But Christ can.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Savior Who Prays for Us

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 28, 2006.]

John 17:6-19
In twenty-two years as a pastor, I've done what I'm about to do only a handful of times: Repeat a sermon. So, if this message from three years ago seems like a re-run, congratulate yourself for having a good memory. If it sounds completely new to you, you're having an experience similar to that reported by President Ronald Reagan after he learned that he had Alzheimer's Disease. "The great thing about Alzheimer's," he told someone, "is that you meet new people every day."

One of the most inspiring things about being a pastor is the opportunity God gives to me to be with people in times of crisis or difficulty. It’s in these times that a person can most clearly see God at work in people’s lives—helping them, encouraging them. Often when I visit with folks going through hard experiences, I can tell them, “There are a lot of people praying for you.” And usually, they will tell me, “I know that. I can feel their prayers. There is no way I could have gotten this far without people praying for me.”

Our Bible lesson for today indicates that it isn’t just other people who pray for us. Someone has said that maybe the one thing that makes the Church unique is that it’s the only gathering of people for whom Jesus has prayed. As believers in Jesus, you and I are beneficiaries of His prayers for us. That includes all believers in Jesus, whether we feel that we are worthy of His prayers and His love for us or not.

Some of you have heard me tell of my visit one day with an elderly woman in a nursing home. She was almost eighty, had a strong mind and while somewhat frail, still functioned well. When she knew that I was coming and would be offering Holy Communion, she got into her Sunday best and awaited my arrival.

But after I had shared a passage from the Bible and spent a little time visiting with her, she refused to take Holy Communion. I asked her why. She told me that she was unworthy of receiving Jesus’ body and blood. She insisted that she was too horrible a sinner. I tried to explain that whatever her sins might be, if she truly repented—in other words, if she truly wanted to walk away from her sins—she could be sure that she could walk into the welcoming, forgiving arms of Christ.

Though we talked for a long time, she remained convinced that the God could never love or forgive her. But she was wrong. And if this morning, you think that God can’t forgive you, you are wrong too.

In today’s Bible lesson, Jesus prays on behalf of all believers. At one point, He says, “I have made Your Name known to those whom You gave Me from the world.”

The late, great Lutheran Bible commentator R.C.H. Lenski says that in this part of His prayer, Jesus is saying that, in His very Person—in Who He is and what He does—Jesus has revealed the heart of God.

Jesus said as much at another time. “I and the Father are one,” He said. And near the beginning of the book of the Bible from which today’s lesson is drawn—the Gospel of John—we’re told:
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, Who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.
Martin Luther said that if we truly want to understand Who God is and what God is like, we should look at Jesus on the cross.

In a dog-eat-dog world where we feel that we must always prove ourselves, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we must prove ourselves to God. What’s worse, we might, like the woman in the nursing home, think that our violations are too horrible for God to forgive. It may even be a so-called Christian who gave us this idea. But the Savior Who prays for us makes it’s possible for you and me to be forgiven. It’s possible for us to have a healthy, whole relationship with God. It’s possible for us to be freed from our pasts.

We could spend a lifetime talking about the wonderful things Jesus reveals about the heart of God to us. But I want to focus on just three of them this morning.

First of all: Jesus reveals that God is for us. In His famous encounter with a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said that He had come into the world not to condemn the world, but so the world could be saved from sin and death by Him. This will come as a disappointment to some judgmental people.

A man was bitter about the wife who had left him for another man. He cornered me one night at a party and wanted me to tell him that his ex-wife and her new husband were both headed for hell. “I can’t say that for certain,” I told him. “But they sinned,” he said. “You’ve never sinned?” I asked him. The man allowed as how he had sinned. But he seemed to feel that their sins were worse than his. “Besides,” he said, “they’re still together. So, they’re just committing adultery every day.”

I countered by saying that I had known couples who had begun their lives together in just that way. They regretted what they had done. But they were committed to not repeating their sin. They had turned to Christ and received forgiveness and the power to go on living with God in their lives. That man was disappointed because Christ shows us that God is for us. I tell you what: I’m not disappointed by that! I’m grateful for it because I’m a sinner grateful for the forgiveness I receive through Jesus Christ.

Second: Jesus reveals that God understands who we are and how difficult our lives can sometimes be. Once, you remember, Jesus came into the little town of Bethany, where three of his friends—the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—lived. Lazarus, he was told, had died. Jesus’ response? He wept. He wept for those who mourned without hope for the resurrection. He wept too for the dying his friend had experienced.

The New Testament book of Hebrews says that Jesus has experienced everything that you and I go through in our lives. The cross where He died confirms that. Yet, Jesus promises to be with us always. The Bible also tells us that nothing can separate us from the love God offers us through Jesus. Can Jesus forgive you and me? Of course He can; He understands who we are and how difficult our lives can be.

Third: Jesus reveals that God has compassion for us. Jesus was often surrounded by people hungry for His love and His touch. Once, the Bible says, He looked on the crowds and felt compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Life can sometimes leave all of us feeling that way: harassed and helpless.

Once, a man came to me to talk. He’d been sent by a counselor at a local agency. “Mark,” he told me, “this guy is at the end of his rope. He’s made a lot of mistakes in his life. Our sessions have gone pretty well. But I’ve realized that there’s a spiritual dimension to his problems.” When the man arrived, he looked haggard, disheveled. After awhile, we came to the nub of things. “I can’t believe that God will help me. I’ve screwed up too many times.” We talked for a long while. Eventually, as some of you who know me well will understand, I turned this man’s attention to Romans 8, where the preacher Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

I’m not exaggerating when I say that as we read those words together, that man’s face lit up. “Would you write that down for me?” he asked. I wrote the passage down on a 3-by-5 card and handed it to him. I urged him to look at the card periodically each day. I don’t know what happened in that man’s life from that point. But I do know that it came as really good news to him to know that God has compassion on us and that while we may walk away from God, the God we know through Jesus Christ will never walk away from us.

Early in my ministry, a woman approached me with a big concern. It was about my preaching; she didn’t like it one bit! Why, she asked, was I always talking about how wonderful God is? Shouldn’t I be bawling people out more for their sin?

Sin is serious business. God hates sin. But God hates sin because of what it does to us. It separates us from Him. It brings death. It destroys our relationships with others. It distorts our humanity. If we allow sin, rather than Christ, to be in charge of our lives, our sin will send us to hell. But God is the loving Father Who wants to welcome us home today and forever. Every time we’re tempted to see God as a cold, distant deity, we need to remember that when God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, He was loving, compassionate, and involved.

There are many mysteries in life—suffering that doesn’t go away, prayers that seem unheard, temptations that dog us, and others. But Jesus demonstrates beyond all doubt that each of us matters to God. Jesus’ resurrection says that in the end, God will act lovingly and decisively on behalf of those who believe in Jesus. The Savior Who prays for us will never walk away from us. We can count on that!