By Its Cover!

In a study included in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine children were shown to overwhelmingly prefer the taste of food that comes in McDonald’s wrappers. The study had preschoolers sample identical foods in packaging from McDonald’s and in matched, but unbranded, packaging. The kids were then asked if the food tasted the same or if one tasted better. The unmarked foods lost the taste test every time. Even apple juice, carrots, and milk tasted better to the kids when taken from the familiar wrappings of the Golden Arches. “This study demonstrates simply and elegantly that advertising literally brainwashes young children into a baseless preference for certain food products,” said a physician from Yale’s School of Medicine. “Children, it seems, literally do judge a food by its cover. And they prefer the cover they know.

 

The science of advertising is often about convincing the world that books can and should be judged by their covers. These kids were not merely saying they preferred the taste of McDonald’s food. They actually believed the chicken nugget they thought was from McDonald’s tasted better than an identical nugget. From an early age and on through adulthood, branding is directive in telling us what we think and feel, who we are, and what matters.

 

But lest we blame television and marketing entirely for the wiles of brand recognition, we might recall that advertisers continue to have employment simply because advertising works. That is, long before marketers were encouraging customers to judge by image, wrapping, and cover, we were judging by these methods anyway. When the ancient Samuel was looking for the person God would ordain as king, he had a particular image in mind. In fact, when he first laid eyes on Eliab, Samuel thought confidently that this was the one God had chosen. But on the contrary, God said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

 

The study with the preschoolers is startling because adults can see clearly that a carrot in a McDonald’s bag is still inherently a carrot. Yet how often are we, too, blindsided by mere wrappings? Is the mistake of a child in believing the food tastes better in a yellow wrapper really any different than our own believing we are better people dressed with the right credentials, covered by the latest fashion, or wrapped in the right belief-systems? Covered in whatever comforts us or completely stripped of our many wrappings, we are the same people underneath.

 

According to the apostle Paul, there is one exception. Paul writes of a kind of clothing that changes the one inside them. “[F]or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). Clothed in the righteousness of the man Jesus, a person is wrapped in the identity of one without sin. They are given new packaging, new life, new robes worn only by Christ, and thus, like him, they are fitted to approach the throne of God.

 

Unlike the catch and costliness of well-marketed wrappings, the robes Paul describes are free. Christ requires only that we come without costume or pretense. The many robes we collect, the covers with which we judge the world, we must be willing to release. He takes from tired shoulders robes of self-importance and false security. He tears from determined grasps those garments of self-pity and shame. And then he clothes the needful soul with garments of salvation, arrays us in robes of righteousness, and reminds us that we wear his holy name from the inside out.

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An Unobstructed View!

What a relief to remember that no amount of expertise on our part can ever diminish the glory of God or cause us to outlive God’s fatherly indulgence.

 

One of the most humbling moments in my life happened during a soccer match. At a critical moment in the game, I had to decide whether to go it alone or let a better positioned teammate attempt an almost guaranteed goal—a rare treat in soccer. Sadly, the split seconds available for the decision were enough for my ego to override my better judgment. Unwilling to pass on the glory of my scoring the winning goal, I made the wrong decision and lost the ball, costing the team an important game in the process.

An unobstructed view of our lives reveals the fact that we all owe debts that we can never repay. We will never begin to worship God until we recognize that we are bankrupt debtors, for an attitude of humility is an indispensable impetus to worship.

Ironically, I am inclined to believe that the consequences for me would have been much worse if I had managed to score the goal. Though quite humiliating, that terrible mistake gave me a glimpse into my own soul in a way that might have been impossible if I had actually led the team to a win. While it is hard to assert our egos in the midst of failure and hardship, the ugliness of our self-centeredness can be easily camouflaged in the motives and methods of our success, leaving us blind to our own insuperable finitude. When our pursuit for success is severed from a healthy sense of our chronic indebtedness, achieving success can instill in us a measure of entitlement foreign to our true identity. Such a pitfall is even more consequential in our spiritual lives since it is harder to distinguish between self-serving motives and genuine zeal for God. Unlike the gaping sins of the prodigal son, the dutiful son’s alienation from the father comes neatly packaged in obedience and commitment, the very treasures some of us long to lay before our heavenly Father.

But everything we know about ourselves and our world speaks loudly against this tendency to self-sufficiency. As human babies, we all begin our lives at the highest level of dependence, and none of us really outgrows all degrees of dependence. We depend on parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and others to open doors for us in life. From the inventions that give us comfort in this world to the young soldiers who give their lives in the battlefields to protect our livelihoods, an unobstructed view of our lives reveals the fact that we all owe debts that we can never repay. We will never begin to worship God until we recognize that we are bankrupt debtors, for an attitude of humility is an indispensable impetus to worship.

In spite of the fact that Jesus prayed fervently for unity and love among his followers, the visible church is often a conglomeration of competing factions, each equally convinced of its solitary possession of divine favor. Those who seek signs and wonders through the Holy Spirit are usually suspicious of those who emphasize exegetical approaches to the Scriptures. Christian scholars are sometimes content just to talk to each other, and the uncanny tendency of apologists to sniff out what they deem rotten doctrine is not always appreciated.

As a result, not only do we squander valuable benefits of dedicated teamwork within the household of faith, we also lose our edge in a broken world. Despite the monumental gains made in biblical research and translation, biblical illiteracy is still a high-ranking concern, and the frequent outbursts of oft-unfounded accusations from our detractors succeed in rattling the cage for not a few followers of Christ. While outcasts and sinners braved insults to seek refuge in Jesus, they bolt from the divided efforts of Christians and reject God because they mistake us for God.

Probably the best antidote to such spiritual calluses among loyal laborers in God’s vineyard is a healthy appreciation of the all-sufficiency of our Father and our exalted status as his humble children—a theological gem that is beautifully captured by C.S. Lewis in his book Prince Caspian.

When being right becomes an end in itself, we lose sight of our own need for God’s grace—a need that would be there even if we were faultless. Instead of recognizing that orthodoxy, though indispensable, is only the map of a journey which we must travel towards God, confidence in our knowledge of the truth becomes the missing link in our quest for self-sufficiency. We partition God’s comprehensive program for his people into various segments and guard our turfs with Herculean zeal. With a little practice, we become so adept at applying our preferred standards that we can accomplish the feat with our eyes closed. Having zeroed in on what we are certain to be God’s most vexing pet peeves, we stand poised not only to pronounce the verdict on those who offend but also to pound the gavel on God’s behalf. Before long, we, like Elijah, become convinced that we are the only ones who are faithful to God while all of his other children have lost their way.

Probably the best antidote to such spiritual calluses among loyal laborers in God’s vineyard is a healthy appreciation of the all-sufficiency of our Father and our exalted status as his humble children—a theological gem that is beautifully captured by C.S. Lewis in his book Prince Caspian. When the children are reunited with Aslan after many years, Lucy expresses surprise that Aslan looks bigger. Aslan responds, “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger. What a relief to remember that no amount of expertise on our part can ever diminish the glory of God or cause us to outlive God’s fatherly indulgence!

Pure, unadulterated motives may lie beyond the reach of even the most devout among us, but the intentional recognition of our humble place in deference to the majesty of our Maker is an indispensable ingredient in our service to God and others. It was neither out of false piety nor enslavement to sin that both Daniel and Nehemiah included themselves in their profound prayers of forgiveness on behalf of their sinful people (see Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 1:6). While I do not subscribe to the relativistic “never judge anyone” maxim that greases the engine of the spirit of the age, I am also convinced that “The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him.”

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The God of the Old Testament!

One currently fashionable pretext for repudiating the God of the Bible is to question God’s character, especially as God portrays Himself in the Old Testament. In contrast to the allegedly irresistible meek-and-mild New Testament deity depicted by Jesus, the God of the Old Testament is assumed to be a capricious, vindictive, and insatiable Being who exerts prompt reprisals on his enemies upon the slightest of provocations.

 

Such a reading of the biblical text betrays discomfort with the fact that God is God and that human autonomy must be recognized to lie somewhere beneath God’s sovereignty. That is to say, whereas a human being cannot rightfully determine the length of time allotted for another in this world, the Creator has the sovereign prerogative to number our days—a fact we implicitly recognize whenever we accuse others of “playing God.” Moreover, without a morally perfect Being responsible for the creation of the universe, we have no grounds for recognizing any act as immoral, so any such pronouncements must be made on the basis of God’s moral nature and commands.

 

Apart from the misconceptions inherent in the above claim, one could also assess the testimony of those who were closely associated with God in the Old Testament itself. Did they think of God as a vindictive Being? The answer is a resounding no. Examples abound, but let us highlight just a few. Given the choice whether to be punished by God or by his enemies after sinning against God, David replied, “Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Samuel 24:14). Jonah preferred to end his life in a treacherous sea rather than take the message of judgment to the Ninevites. His reason? He knew that God is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). In other words, he feared that God might be too nice to his enemies should they choose to repent.

 

But Moses provides one of the most striking examples of what those who knew God in the Old Testament really thought of this God. In Exodus 33, God threatens to abandon his plans of accompanying the Israelites to the Promised Land. Since God is faithful, He vows to keep his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by giving the land to their descendents. He would send an angel before them to drive out their enemies and the land would still be flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 33:1-3). Did you catch that? They would not even have to fight for the land, and its provisions would still be available. The catch? God Himself would not be among them. Now there’s a real jackpot! Imagine the possibilities—having all of God’s blessings without God telling you what to do with them! Many popular expressions of Christianity today rarely rise above the attempt to manipulate God into relinquishing his blessings without much regard for God Himself.

 

But Moses goes into the tent of meeting and says to God, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). Is Moses under the spell of a vindictive, malevolent spirit, or has he learned that God is worthy of being loved with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind—the Absolute Object of infinite delight? C.S. Lewis was right when he said that he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God alone. Nothing short of chronological snobbery would make us think that in contrast to God’s biblical followers we are better placed to judge the character of God. Biblical saints expected God, the judge of all the earth, to do what is right (Genesis 18:25), and it was not out of delusion that their hearts panted for God as the deer pants for water.

 

God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is worthy of all our devotion and love. We must also remember that God executes perfect justice, as both the Old as well as the New Testaments demonstrate. Not only is the innocent, sinless Son of God sacrificed for the sake of humanity, but the just reward of eternal separation from God incessantly sought by those who reject God is also affirmed in the New Testament. Until the Spirit and truth of the gospel strips us of all our fleeting fortitude, presenting us before God bereft of any hope outside his mercy and grace, we will never lack excuses for resisting Him.

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How to Begin a Relationship with God!

The world is filled with competing theories about God, religion, and salvation. Alternate views of Jesus vie for our attention at every turn. Different paths to different gods market themselves in the ever-changing desert of ideas. Yet in the midst of this world of contradictory claims, Jesus Christ made a bold assertion: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

In a confusing world filled with signs pointing us down different roads of philosophies and religions, can we be sure we’ve placed our feet on the right path? The answer to this question comes from the all-time bestselling book, translated into more languages and read by more people than any other book in human history. The Bible marks the path to God with four essential truths.

Our Spiritual Condition: Totally Depraved

The first truth is rather personal. One look in the mirror of Scripture, and our human condition becomes painfully clear:

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

We are all sinners through and through—totally depraved. Now, that doesn’t mean we’ve committed every atrocity known to humankind. We’re not as bad as we can be, just as bad off as we can be. Sin colors all our thoughts, motives, words, and actions.

If you’ve been around a while, you likely already believe it. Look around. Everything around us bears the smudge marks of our sinful nature. Despite our best efforts to create a perfect world, crime statistics continue to soar, divorce rates keep climbing, and families keep crumbling.

Something has gone terribly wrong in our society and in ourselves—something deadly. Contrary to how the world would repackage it, “me-first” living doesn’t equal rugged individuality and freedom; it equals death. As Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)—our spiritual and physical death that comes from God’s righteous judgment of our sin, along with all of the emotional and practical effects of this separation that we experience on a daily basis. This brings us to the second marker: God’s character.

God’s Character: Infinitely Holy

How can God judge us for a sinful state we were born into? Our total depravity is only half the answer. The other half is God’s infinite holiness.

The fact that we know things are not as they should be points us to a standard of goodness beyond ourselves. Our sense of injustice in life on this side of eternity implies a perfect standard of justice beyond our reality. That standard and source is God Himself. And God’s standard of holiness contrasts starkly with our sinful condition.

Scripture says that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is absolutely holy—which creates a problem for us. If He is so pure, how can we who are so impure relate to Him?

Perhaps we could try being better people, try to tilt the balance in favor of our good deeds, or seek out wisdom and knowledge for self-improvement. Throughout history, people have attempted to live up to God’s standard by keeping the Ten Commandments or by living out their own code of ethics. Unfortunately, no one can come close to satisfying the demands of God’s law. Romans 3:20 says, “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

Our Need: A Substitute

So here we are, sinners by nature and sinners by choice, trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps to attain a relationship with our holy Creator. But every time we try, we fall flat on our faces. We can’t live a good enough life to make up for our sin, because God’s standard isn’t “good enough”—it’s perfection. And we can’t make amends for the offense our sin has created without dying for it.

Who can get us out of this mess?

If someone could live perfectly, honoring God’s law, and would bear sin’s death penalty for us—in our place—then we would be saved from our predicament. But is there such a person?  Thankfully, yes!

Meet your substitute—Jesus Christ. He is the One who took death’s place for you!

[God] made [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

God’s Provision: A Savior

God rescued us by sending His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins (1 John 4:9-10). Jesus was fully human and fully divine (John 1:1, 18), a truth that ensures His understanding of our weaknesses, His power to forgive, and His ability to bridge the gap between God and us (Romans 5:6-11). In short, we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Two words in this verse bear further explanation:  justified and redemption.

Justification is God’s act of mercy, in which He declares righteous the believing sinners while we are still in our sinning state. Justification doesn’t mean that God makes us righteous, so that we never sin again, rather that He declares us righteous—much like a judge pardons a guilty criminal. Because Jesus took our sin upon Himself and suffered our judgment on the cross, God forgives our debt and proclaims us PARDONED.

Redemption is Christ’s act of paying the complete price to release us from sin’s bondage.  God sent His Son to bear His wrath for all of our sins—past, present, and future (Romans 3:24-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In humble obedience, Christ willingly endured the shame of the cross for our sake (Mark 10:45; Romans 5:6-8; Philippians 2:8). Christ’s death satisfied God’s righteous demands. He no longer holds our sins against us, because His own Son paid the penalty for them. We are freed from the slave market of sin, never to be enslaved again!

Placing Your Faith in Christ

These four truths describe how God has provided a way to Himself through Jesus Christ. Because the price has been paid in full by God, we must respond to His free gift of eternal life in total faith and confidence in Him to save us. We must step forward into the relationship with God that He has prepared for us—not by doing good works or being a good person, but by coming to Him just as we are and accepting His justification and redemption by faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We accept God’s gift of salvation simply by placing our faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins. Would you like to enter a relationship with your Creator by trusting in Christ as your Savior? If so, here’s a simple prayer you can use to express your faith:

Dear God,
I know that my sin has put a barrier between You and me. Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die in my place. I trust in Jesus alone to forgive my sins, and I accept His gift of eternal life. I ask Jesus to be my personal Savior and the Lord of my life. Thank You. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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The Carpenter’s Hands: The Touch of Jesus!

They must have been rough, the hands of the village carpenter. In an age without gloves or skin creams, He shoved stones into place, absorbed splinters, hewed timber, and gripped lumber with bare-fisted fingers. In a day without sunscreen lotions, He labored under the blistering Middle Eastern sun. In an era without modern machinery, He raised houses, erected buildings, fashioned furniture, and repaired children’s toys. His hands must have developed a thick layer of protective hide that was obvious to those who shook His hand or felt His touch.

But, oh!—what gentle hands. Never squeezing too hard, touching too roughly, or overzealously slapping another’s back.

And what powerful hands! The trace of a single finger could restore sight to the blind, bring life to the dead, heal a leper’s skin, or lift a suffering soul from life’s dust.

And what wounded hands! They bore the scars that no lotion could heal and no oil could help. They were the hands of Jesus.

The Gospels use the words “hands,” “fingers,” and “touch” nearly two hundred times, and the words often refer to Jesus: “Jesus put out His hand and touched him . . . So He touched her hand . . . . He went in and took her by the hand . . . . Then He touched their eyes . . . .. Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand . . . Jesus came and touched them . . . . Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray . . .”[1]

Our hands should convey love. In His parable of the prodigal son, Jesus described the reaction of the father to the homecoming of his wayward boy:Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NLT). Many parents truly love their children, but don’t always convey this love in a way that makes their kids feel secure. Hugs, hair-tussling, pats on the back, even horseplay and rough-housing—all are ways we can communicate affection to our youngsters.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to touch others. Leprous skin didn’t repulse Him, nor did He hesitate to handle the filthy feet of His disciples in the Upper Room. Now He wants to use our hands to send the same message of love, humility, and acceptance.

Psalm 104:28 says that when God opens His hand, we’re filled with goodness; and Psalm 145:16 echoes the thought: “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Are your hands open? Generous toward a needy person whom God brings across your path? Toward His work that needs support? Toward those depending on your provision?

We must use our hands to help others. At the beginning of Christ’s ministry, we read in Luke 4:40: “When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.”

How can our hands become a blessing to others? Perhaps wiping the brow of a fevered child? Cooking a meal for a lonely single? Typing a note to one needing encouragement? Cutting flowers for a neighbor? Wiping the noses of infants in the church nursery? Handing out bulletins with a smile and a handshake on Sunday? Knocking on the door of someone needing the Lord? Your hands can do His work every day!

I can visualize our Lord’s rough-hewn hands resting in a posture of prayer, palms together, fingers pointed upward as the Carpenter of Nazareth took time to beseech God’s blessings on the work of His hands.

Oh, to be like Jesus. To have the same touch, the same grip on life, the same openhanded generosity, the same beautiful, beckoning hands as our Lord. Look down at your hands right now. May God take them and use them for His glory! Let’s pray with the hymnist:

Let my hands perform His bidding,

Let my feet run in His ways;

Let my eyes see Jesus only,

Let my lips speak forth His praise.

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Heaven in Deed – Assurance of Ownership!

As Christians, we’ve been given a genuine deed to heaven—the promise of eternal life, an inheritance, and a mansion that can never be foreclosed on. Our ownership in Christ is documented in the Word of God, and our names are registered in the Lamb’s Book of Life. But many Christians fear that a thief—the devil—is going to rob them of their title deed. They have little assurance of ownership.

Paul’s attitude was, I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Job said: I know that… after my skin is destroyed… that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).

The Promise of Eternal Life

Jesus gives us the promise of eternal life in John 10:28: “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

Our salvation is guaranteed because Christ himself paid the price. He “purchased (us) with His own blood” (Acts 20:28) once for all—“For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). He said, “I give them eternal life.” No mights, ifs, ands, or buts.

The Protection of Eternal Life

We also have the protection of eternal life: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

When we accept Christ as our Savior, we’re placed in His hand. And His hand is in the hand of the Father, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

We’re in a hand within a hand—safely enclosed in the hand of Christ, and the hand of Christ is securely encased in the hand of the Father. No one can pluck us out of those omnipotent fingers!

The Psalmist said, “Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” But we can say, “Because I am in His right hand, I shall not be moved”—not moved, afraid, insecure, or worried.

The Proof of Eternal Life

How, then, can you know you have eternal life? In John 10:27, we read, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

Christians are not perfect, and all of us do sin along the way. But genuine Christians hear His voice and follow Him. As a Christian, when you know God has told you to do something, you do it. If we love Him, we’ll keep His commandments. A person who is genuinely saved is going to obediently hear what the Lord says.

God has given us His Word to assure us of our relationship with Him so that we may walk as Christians with confidence, knowing that our salvation is in Him. The aged apostle John put it this way at the end of his first epistle: “This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life…. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11, 13).

Your heavenly home was bought for a price, and that payment results in a title deed that can never be lost through foreclosure. You can go joyfully into your day’s activities and rest peacefully tonight knowing that your salvation is secure and your home in heaven is being prepared for you! “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14).

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In Defense of the Helpless!

The church of the twenty-first century needs to awaken from its moral slumber. In this age of “enlightenment,” we have been taught to be tolerant. We have gone soft on the exposition of the Scriptures. We have learned to ignore sin rather than deal with it. We have adopted the flawed notion that God’s grace somehow covers a carnal lifestyle. What a horrible misunderstanding of grace!

Let me be blunt. Far too often within the Christian home, wives are battered, husbands are neglected, children are abused, and dark, shameful forms of sexual depravity occur. As the prophet Jeremiah said of the people of Judah: “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15 NIV).

The one vestige of hope in the home used to be the innocent child. But now, not even children are safe. Many are used for sexual exploitation. Children are raped by relatives . . . girls are abused . . . boys become victims of incest. In their own homes, helpless children are molested—and by the very ones who should be protecting them!

Even Scripture reveals such awful carnality among God’s people. After King David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, David’s son Amnon lusted after his half-sister, Tamar. Amnon faked an illness and requested that Tamar bring him food in his bedroom. When she arrived, he grabbed her and—because he was stronger—raped her in spite of her resistance (2 Samuel 13:6–14).

Following this abhorrent act, this dear girl was awash in her grief. “Tamar put ashes on her head and . . . put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went” (2 Samuel 13:19 NIV). When her father David heard of it, “he was furious” (13:21 NIV). But that’s it! He only got mad. David never got involved in the crisis.

When Tamar’s other brother Absalom heard of it, he told her: “Be quiet now, my sister; [Amnon] is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart” (13:20). Can you believe those words? What stupid counsel! Don’t say anything? Keep silent when God’s law says Amnon should be stoned? But what could she do? Her brother said to hush, and her father did nothing. Tamar had no person to go to with her pain.

Both then and now, when such violations occur—with no one to act in defense of the helpless—the child faces a threatening future of moral confusion, personal shame, spiritual disillusionment, emotional scars, and family anger.

It is time we speak up in defense of the helpless. The innocent victims of sexual abuse need a safe place to share their stories . . . and they need direction toward the emotional and spiritual healing found in Jesus Christ.

The world has never provided a safe and secure place from those who would abuse children. That’s why the church must be that place. Yes, it is possible, in spite of the negative headlines. It is the responsibility of church leaders to make sure the church of God remains a place of trust and respect. A haven where no one is touched inappropriately. A refuge where hurting individuals can confide in a teacher, in an elder, in a pastor, or in an older friend. Shepherds must protect the sheep.

If for some reason your church (or your home) is not a safe place, you need to know that we are here for you at ChristsWarriors. We will give you counsel and help you understand in practical terms what steps you can take in your specific situation. Your circumstance may be very hard . . . but it is not hopeless.

If you are a parent or family member of someone who has been abused and you need guidance of how to come alongside this person and help the situation, we want to assist you. Whatever your situation, we believe in dispensing grace and mercy along with insight and direction. As difficult as it may be, the perpetrator needs to face criminal charges so that the crime is not repeated. While we cannot offer legal advice, we can direct you to those in your area who can help.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, if you feel afraid to speak and need someone with a heart of compassion who will listen, we will be neither insensitive nor judgmental. We will believe you . . . and we will do all we can to help!

Many today are living like Tamar did, with ashes of shame and humiliation on their heads, weeping aloud with no one to hear.

My prayer is that reaching out to someone for help will be the beginning of a new chapter for you. If you have never been heard before, you will be heard. You have an advocate with us.

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A Reason to Smile!

Joy—it makes people wonder at your secret. Yet joy is no secret to the trusting Christian. When we choose to grow closer to God, resting in His character and provision, joy spills over into our lives so that others can’t help but notice.

Do you want to be a person of joy? Silly question, isn’t it? We would love to live above our circumstances. Or have a great attitude. Or laugh a lot. But joy goes beyond all these things. Let’s learn from God’s Word the lovely facets of joy:

1. Joy is the fruit of God’s Spirit. More than a great attitude or an indomitable spirit, joy comes from God (Galatians 5:22). Our joy increases in direct proportion to our intimacy with Christ. And when sin keeps us from that relationship, it also robs us of our joy (Psalm 51:8, 12).

2. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances. Paul wrote Philippians—often called “the book of joy”—from a jail cell. He was criticized, tired, and misunderstood. But instead of allowing his horrible circumstances to choke out God’s Word and God’s Spirit (as Mark 4:19 describes they often can), Paul chose to concentrate on the joy of knowing Christ (Philippians 2:17). Next time you read Philippians, picture Paul’s jail cell . . . and his face.

3. Joy is a choice. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). Here’s the reality—read it carefully. Life’s painful trials are not joyous in themselves, but when we walk through them, we should be filled with joy. Why? Because of the good God is developing in us and in the situation. We can know real joy while in the scariest storm when we fill our minds and hearts with truth about God.

Joy becomes a transaction between you and God that others can’t help but notice. It’s God’s life spilling over the brim of your life and into others’ lives. When you trust Christ with the details of your life, you experience His life in wonderful excess, and it can’t help but give you reason to smile.

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The Greatest Influence!

Several years ago, someone interviewed the contemporary artist Marc Chagall for a PBS program. The young, arty interviewer started the session with a question about influences. His question was very long and involved and exhibited his own learning along the way, giving everybody, including Chagall, a lecture on the nature of influences on the artist.

When the young man finally gave the artist a chance to answer for himself, Chagall said, in the simplest way possible, that his greatest influence was his mother. It took the poor young man a bit of time to get his bearings after that.

I know of no more permanent imprint on a life than the one made by mothers. I guess that’s why Mother’s Day always leaves me a little nostalgic. Not simply because my mother has gone on (and heaven’s probably cleaner because of it!), but because that’s the one day the real heroines of our world get the credit they deserve. Hats off to every one of you!

More than any statesman or teacher, more than any minister or physician, more than any film star, athlete, business person, author, scientist, civic leader, entertainer, or military hero…you are the most influential person in your child’s life.

Never doubt that fact!

Not even when the dishes in the sink resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa…or the washing machine gets choked and dies…or the place looks a wreck and nobody at home stops to say, “Thanks, Mom. You’re great.”

It’s still worth it. There never would have been an Isaac without a Sarah, a Moses without a Jochebed, a Samuel without a Hannah, a John without an Elizabeth, a Timothy without a Eunice, or a John Mark without a Mary.

These men were the men they were, in great part, because of the mothers they had. The hidden secret of that winning combination? Mother with child — just that simple. So, please…please, stay at it!

A mother’s influence is so great that we model it even when we don’t realize it, and we return to it — often to the surprise of others.

As I think of my own mother’s influence on me, two words come to mind: class and zest. My mother, being a classy lady, was determined to keep our family from being ignorant of the arts or lacking in social graces. I have her to thank for my love of artistic beauty, fine music, which fork to use, and no gravy on my tie. She also possessed such a zest for life. I am indebted to her for my enthusiasm and relentless drive. Her indomitable spirit got passed on, thank goodness.

And so, mothers, don’t ever forget the permanence of your imprint. The kids may seem ungrateful, they may act irresponsible, they may even ignore your reminders and forget your advice these days. But believe this: they cannot erase your influence.

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Mother’s Day!

If there’s one attitude families are guilty of more than any other when it comes to mothers, it’s presumption…taking them for granted…being nearly blind on occasion to the load moms carry. This was reinforced in my mind last week as I was thumbing through a row of crazy greeting cards at a local drugstore. Time and again the joke in the card drew its humor from this obvious attitude that pervades a household: Forget the housework, Mom. It’s your day. Besides, you can always do double duty and catch up on Monday!

Like this one: On the front of the card was a beleaguered mother. Draped over her neck were three unmatched socks and at her feet was an enormous stack of unwashed clothes. On the stove was a hot skillet burning the food. A cold, stained coffee pot needed attention. The refrigerator door was ajar and milk had spilled in it. The dishes, naturally, looked like a homemade Eiffel Tower reaching out of the sink. Inside the card was scribbled: “Look, lady, nobody said it was gonna be a free ride!”

But my favorite was a great big card that looked like a third-grader had printed it. On it was a little boy with a dirty face and torn pants pulling a wagon-load of toys. On the front it read: “Mom, I remember the little prayer you used to say for me every day…” and inside, “God help you if you do that again!”

Jimmy Dean, the country-western singer, does a number that always leaves me with a big knot in my throat. It’s titled “I Owe You.” In the song, a man is looking through his wallet and comes across a number of long-standing “I owe yous” to his mother…which he names one by one.

Borrowing that idea, I suggest you who have been guilty of presumption unfold some of your own “I owe yous” that are now yellow with age. Consider the priceless value of the one woman who made your life possible — your mother.

Think about her example, her support, her humor, her counsel, her humility, her hospitality, her insight, her patience, her sacrifices. Her faith. Her hope. Her love.

Old “honest Abe” was correct: “He is not poor who has had a godly mother.” Indebted, but not poor.

Moms, on Mother’s Day Sunday we rise up and call you blessed. But knowing you, you’ll feel uneasy in the limelight. You’ll probably look for a place to hide. True servants are like that.

If you don’t watch it, you’ll be planning lunch during the sermon. But that would be a waste of time. Especially since you’re going to be taken out to eat (which will add to our indebtedness!). But in all honesty, it won’t come anywhere near expressing our gratitude.

So, live it up on Sunday. It’s all yours.

My advice? Shake up the family for a change. Order steak and lobster.

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