Thursday, April 26, 2012

Science: Friend or Foe

Psalms 19:1-4 (NIV)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

            I have always liked science. When I was a boy I was given a science kit. I enjoyed doing the experiments and discovering new things. I had a microscope with slides of a variety of things from a human hair to the wing of a fly.

            When I was in high school I went on a mission trip to Haiti. As a part of that trip we visited a mission hospital. God got a hold of my heart through that experience. I felt His undeniable call into ministry. Because of my experience in Haiti I assume that God was calling me into medical missions. So I set my sights on that goal. I chose to be a biology major in college, with the goal of becoming a medical laboratory technologist and returning to Haiti. I spent the next six years immersed in the world of science.

            Some people see science as a threat to faith. I see it the opposite way. When we study science with the foundation of faith, our faith is strengthened and enhanced. The more we dig deeply into this amazing world in which we live, the more we see the fingerprints of God. The precision, the diversity, the delicate balance all point to an intentional creator and not some random act of chance.

            Dr. Richard Swenson has written a book titled, More Than Meets the Eye. It is filled with amazing stories of our amazing world. He talks about just how vast our universe is; a universe that continues to expand. He also takes us deep into the microscopic world that most of us never see. A every turn he exposes the fingerprints of God.

            The Psalmist didn’t have the sophisticated equipment that we have today, but he was able to understand the message written in the heavens. As he gazed into the night sky he could hear the voice of God calling out to him. Even more, he realized that the language of creation knows no boundaries. A person did not have to live in a certain place or speak a certain language to understand the profound message; God is actively present in our world.

            In Psalm 8, David stands in awe of God’s interest in him and in his ability to connect with the God of the universe. He expresses the truth that God is reaching out to us through all that He has created.

Psalms 8:1-9 (NIV) 
            O LORD , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

            When I was in college my professors stressed the reality that all truth is God’s truth. If something is true, no matter who discovered it or where it came from, it is from God. We can manipulate truth and twist truth for our own ends, but that does not negate the reality that is something is true it comes from God.

            When Jesus said I am the way and the truth and the life He wasn’t just referring to “spiritual” truth. He was referring to all truth. The world we live in was created by Him and for Him. As we honestly explore this world we will discover more and more about the God we worship. Science should not be seen as an enemy to our faith. Instead we should enlist it as one of our greatest allies. For God has made himself known through creation. We have no excuse for not seeing Him.

Romans 1:20 (NIV)
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Up Close and Personal

                How seriously do we take the truth that God is present in our lives? It is so easy for us to live day by day as if God is not around. It isn’t that we don’t believe in God, it’s that we don’t really think about God. It is like the old saying “Out of sight, out of mind.” We can go through an entire week with little or no thought of God’s active presence. Then we come to Sunday and, for a very short time, acknowledge Him.
                One of the greatest truths of our faith is that God is not distant or detached from our world or our lives. God did not create this world, set it in motions and then go on vacation. God is an active participant in our world, whether we acknowledge His presence or not.
                Our very existence is sustained by the power of God. When Paul debated with the intellectuals of his day in Athens he pointed to the overshadowing presence of God. "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'” Acts 17:24-28 (NIV)
                So in a general sense God is actively present in the life of every human being on the face of the planet. But there is a more important truth here. We do not have to live in ignorance of God. In fact, we can have a very personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. We don’t have to view God as the great unknown. Instead we can know Him! That was the message Paul brought to the men of Athens.
                Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23 (NIV)
                The Triune God of the universe wants to have an ongoing, personal relationship with us. Jesus opened that door through his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit has come to make that relationship real to us. God wants to speak into our lives every day, not just on Sundays. So what does it mean to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus?
                We can discover clues to what it means to have a personal relationship with God by examining our human relationships. A personal relationship begins by getting to know the other person. As long as God remains at a distance we will never get to know Him. We get to know about God through what he has created. Paul tells us that creation is our first clue to the personality of God. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20 (NIV) But examining creation is not enough. It can help us understand some things about God, but it cannot really help us know God.
                God has given us two ways to move beyond knowledge about God to knowing God. The first is the Bible. The Bible is God’s instrument to speak directly to us. It is His e-mail or text message from heaven. In the Bible God shares His heart. He invites us to draw close to Him. The second way is through Jesus. Jesus clearly said that he came to bridge the gap between us and the Father. In Jesus the unknowable became knowable. Jesus is the physical embodiment of God.
                But there is another critical aspect of developing a personal relationship. We have to spend intentional time with the other person. It is not enough to be in the same room or observe that person from a distance. We have to take the risk to get close, to open our lives to the other person. We do this with God through reading His word and prayer. When we discipline ourselves to spend time every day listening to God through His word and speaking with God through prayer we really get to know the heart of God. He begins to speak truth into our lives and transforms us; restoring His image within us.
                But I am not done. Another aspect of developing a personal relationship is actively getting involved in the other person’s life. When we share life experiences we develop a bond. When we are willing to risk trying something new for the sake of the other person we build trust. The same is true with God. It is when we actively obey Him in loving service that we truly discover the bond He desires to develop between us.
                Deep down all of us have the desire to know and be known. That is the kind of relationship God wants to have with us. He doesn’t want us to worship Him from a distance, in some formal way. He wants us to get close to Him so that we can fully experience His love.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jesus is Present…Really?!

Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

            There is an old truism that goes like this: Out of sight, out of mind. How true that statement really is. I realized recently just how bad I am at staying in touch with friends who have moved away. I have a Facebook account, but I rarely check it or update it. I have Skype installed on my computer but have only used it a few times. I have access to e-mail and text messaging but often fail to use these in a personal way.

            I have a very close friend who now lives in Germany. When he was a part of our church we met together weekly for dinner. We did that for 13 years. I looked forward to that regular time of interaction. It was one of the highlights of my week. When his job caused him to relocate to another town our meetings became less frequent. Now that he lives in Germany I have had contact with him only periodically. He is still one of my closest friends, but I can go through the week and never think about him, because he is not present with me.  

            Jesus gave an amazing promise to his disciples. Whenever they gathered under his authority he would meet with them. I am sure that they hung onto that promise during the difficult years that followed Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. But I have to wonder if there were times when they got so caught up in life that they forgot that Jesus was present for them.

            Living in the 21st century it is easy for Christians to forget that Jesus is present with us, even though we cannot see him. I know that I can get so caught up in life that, for a time, I forget about Jesus’ abiding presence. I have to be reminded that I am not alone on this journey of faith. As I was preaching on Sunday I was struck by the reality that, if we take Jesus’ promise seriously, He was in the room with us as we were gathered in His name. What an amazing, humbling, overwhelming thought.

            In John 14 Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be our companion in life. He promised that the Spirit would take up residence in our lives. He would be present to guide us, instruct us and transform us. Yet, because we cannot see Him, we can live life as if the Holy Spirit is not present. When we forget that the Spirit is a permanent resident in our lives, we do things we know we should not, thinking we can hide them from God. We choose to follow our whims and desires rather than yield to the will of God.

            This is not a new development. Paul had to deal with this in the first century. Paul wrote to the Ephesians reminding them that the Spirit was their constant companion. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)

            In the letter to the Galatians Paul stressed our ongoing relationship with the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)

            It is an awesome reality that the very Spirit of God is our constant companion. I am humbled whenever I stop long enough to contemplate that God loves me so much he has chosen to take up residence in my life. In the busyness of our lives we can forget that truth. We can live as if God is not present, but he is.

            King David understood the overwhelming truth that we are never out of sight for God. He expressed that reality in Psalm 139. As I read that psalm it is both comforting and alarming. There is nowhere that we can go where we are disconnected from the presence of God.

            Psalm 139:1-24 (NIV)
1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,"
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

            Christ is present in my life…Really!!

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

            God has been at work in my heart this week and I don’t fully understand it. I had the opportunity to attend several meetings that both encouraged me and challenged me. I have also been reading a book that his stirred some things in my heart. I have found myself asking the question, “What is God doing in me?”

            In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. I feel like that is what I have been doing this week. I have been struggling in a positive way with what it really means for me to live out my faith on a day to day basis. There are two extreme ways of looking at this. We can choose the very radical idea that we are supposed to disregard all the “normal” things of life and just preach the gospel. The other extreme is to become totally consumed by the “normal” things of life and forget about God, except maybe on Sunday morning for an hour. As with most things, living at either extreme is not the right place to be.
            I have come to an understanding that working out my salvation is a process of seeking to conform to the will of God in every aspect of my life. What matters most is which direction I am headed. Am I heading toward Christ or away from him? I don’t have it all figured out, but I truly desire to live a life pleasing to God. I want to grow in my love for Christ and my love for others. I think God has been transforming my heart in this area this week. I firmly believe that I have the responsibility to do my part to bring my life in line with a Christ-like image. I wish I could say that I always succeed, but I do not. This discourages me at times. There are times when I feel like my spiritual life is static and dry. There are also times when I sense the power of God in amazing ways.

            This week I had the privilege of praying for the President of Bethel University at a meeting of our Board of Overseers. I sat next to the President as I prayed for him. I reached over and placed my hand on his shoulder, and as I prayed I was overcome with the power of the moment. Unexpected and uninvited emotions welled up as I prayed for God’s protection and guidance. When I finished praying I was humbled by the experience. I was asked to pray two more times this week and on each occasion I felt the hand of God upon me. My prayers were not “standard” pastoral prayers, but truly heartfelt expressions of gratitude and worship of God.

            The second half of Philippians 2:12-13 tells us that God is at work in us to do His will. One of my strengths is that I take responsibility for things I am involved in. The downside of that is that sometimes I take responsibility for things that I should not. This usually results in some form of unhealthy guilt. When I was a child, adults could make me feel guilty about things I wasn’t even involved in. This week as I read the book I mentioned above I started feeling those guilt pangs. What the author wrote is true and right but it is not necessarily my experience. I had to check the validity of my emotions. Then, in several amazing ways, God assured me that He is using me to further His kingdom.

            I have been reminded today that my faith is a journey that I am taking with Jesus. I am learning to work out my salvation in the different areas of my life. When I get discouraged I have to take the time to stop, turn around, and examine where I have come from. I can see God’s hand at work and the progress that I have made in becoming more like Christ. I am also learning to be more and more sensitive to the work of God in me. When He prompts my heart I need to respond. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. When I do respond I experience God’s blessing. When I fail to respond I miss out on God’s blessing.

            One of the things that God has impressed upon me this week is that I have a voice for Jesus that is influencing more people than I realize. I take that very seriously. I cannot let that paralyze me in fear of saying the wrong thing. At the same time I need to be diligent to speak the truth clearly and often. There are two passages of scripture that seem extremely relevant right now.

             And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

            And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:10-12 (NIV)

            I find myself in an exciting, confusing, challenging time. I sense that God wants to do something amazing through me and in me, but I’m not sure what it is. So I will continue to press ahead with fear and trembling and anticipation of God’s hand at work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


            Last week I hit my post Easter slump. After all of the intense preparations for that significant time I was drained. I was out of my routine and it took me a while to get refocused. I think I’m back on-line, even though this is not a routine week either. I have been struck by how much I depend on routines. Routines are comfortable, predictable and productive. The people who know me would not describe me as spontaneous. I am, like so many people, a creature of habit. I actually function best when I am following my routine. When something happens to break my routine it throws me off. For example, I am an Associate Chaplain at our local hospital. I am normally on-call certain times during the month. This past month a switched one of my regular days with another chaplain, which meant that I was on-call this past Monday. Monday is my normal day off. I don’t check my calendar on Mondays. I try not to even check e-mail. So I was embarrassed when the head chaplain called me at 5:00 PM and asked if I was coming in the pick up the pager. I had completely forgotten that I was on-call. The rest of the night I felt out of sync. 

            Routine is not a bad thing. In fact, if it was not for routine we would be overwhelmed by life. If we had to consciously confront all of the minor decisions that we face every day we would go crazy. Instead we develop a routine that we can perform with confidence and expertise without even thinking about it. In the business would they call these routines systems. Every efficient company has its systems that allow the company to function smoothly. The systems are nothing more than organized routines that can be performed without having to “decide” what to do. When this situation arises, this is how we respond.

            I think God understands our need for routine. God set up systems to help us function in our world and to relate to Him. It can be seen in the simple but profound command to honor the Sabbath. "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.” Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (NIV)

            When God established the sacrificial system it was built upon consistent routines. God did not leave the act of worship up to the individual to engage in worship in whatever way they chose. Instead God set up a system of uniform expectations in worship. This created a consistent and meaningful corporate experience.

            When the church was born they continued a consistent routine of worship. They met together daily for fellowship and they met weekly for worship. This routine of meeting on a weekly basis for worship continues today.

            It is good to break away from our routine from time to time. It is like putting the car in neutral and letting it idle. These are times of rest and renewal. But if you stop to think about it even these fall into a larger system of routine. In fact because these times of rest are programmed in we can actually relax and enjoy them. God did this for His people when He prescribed specific festivals that were to be observed at set intervals. These “out of routine” events helped to refocus the lives and the worship of the people.

            This week I am in one of these “out of routine” times. It is giving me the opportunity for a few days to pull away and engage in something different. Usually when I return from these times I am able to refocus on my routine in a more positive way. Life is a balancing game, which we all play. We live most of our lives in our routine, but we need to pull away from them from time to time in order to keep our routine from becoming mindless and meaningless. God has designed us for both.   

Friday, April 6, 2012


            I am an amateur woodworker. Several years ago I began woodworking as a hobby; just for fun. As most amateurs do, I began by taking on a much too adventurous project; I built a blanket chest for my son. I have to say that it turned out well, but it has all of the marks of having been made by an amateur. Over the years my skills have improved. I have built a number of other pieces of furniture, as well as many smaller projects. Most of them have turned out well. Their beauty though is due far more to the quality of the material I had to work with rather than the quality of the workmanship. Each of my projects bears the tell-tale signs of an amateur craftsman; a joint that is not tight, a chip in the wood, a rough edge.

            Jesus came into our world to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God on earth. He entered enemy territory and established a spiritual beachhead. He brought with him all of the raw materials needed to develop the Kingdom of God on earth. For three years he arranged his spiritual workshop; putting the tools in place to create something amazing. Then on Easter he entrusted it to a bunch of amateurs. The master carpenter stepped aside and gave these less than skilled men free run of his workshop. What is even more amazing is that he expected them to create something beautiful and amazing.

            There were professionals that he could have enlisted. The priests, scribes and Pharisees were, after all, trained religious practitioners. They had all of the right credentials. Many of them had honed their skills over many years of practice. They knew how things should be done. Yet they were unprepared to receive the new power tools of faith. Their “old wineskins” had no room for the new wine of the gospel. So Jesus turned to the amateurs.

            As the church was born and began to develop it bore all of the marks of amateur craftsman. There was much enthusiasm at first. The church exploded with growth beyond expectation. But that rapid growth highlighted the flaws in the craftsmanship. These amateurs made bold moves and bold mistakes. The connections in new relationships were not as tight as they should have been. So the Apostles learned to slow down and divide up the labor. Some tried to take short-cuts and the disciples had to go back and make repairs. Yet they continued to produce something of amazing beauty; something so beautiful that people were added to the church daily. It was not the skill of the craftsmen coming through; it was the beauty of the raw materials entrusted to them. The beauty patiently waited to be revealed through the sometimes clumsy hands of the amateurs.

            You would think that as the church developed God would move more in the direction of enlisting professionals. But that is not what He did. He continued to take the beautiful hardwoods of the gospel and make them available to an ever going shop class of amateurs. There were some pros among them, but even they knew that they were being asked to perform way above their skill level. Paul talked about that in his first letter to the Corinthian church. He boldly reminded them that they were all amateurs.
            Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV)

            Through the hands of these unskilled workers, God has produced something truly amazing, the Church. The Church has always been its strongest and most beautiful when its members remember they are but amateurs. The Church has gotten into trouble when its members embrace the role of professionals. As professionals pride emerges and disfigures the work of God. Make no mistake; the Church bears all of the marks of amateur craftsmen. Things are not as tight as they should be. There are still many rough edges and chips. Yet in spite of these things God produces a work of beauty that still attracts people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

            I have been a pastor for a long time. It is both my occupation and my vocation. I have become skilled at some aspects of ministry and am still learning others. Many people look at what I do and credit me with the skill of a professional craftsman. But make no mistake; I am still an amateur. My skills are rough and unpolished. I make many mistakes along the way. Yet God has entrusted to me such awesome and beautiful raw materials that even in my unskilled hands something of eternal beauty is created. I stand in awe in the midst of the master carpenter’s workshop and marvel that he allows he access to his power tools.  I am humbled and delighted to be an amateur in the service of the Master.

            Let us never forget that we are all amateurs.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


            This past Sunday was April 1, April Fools’ Day. My birthday is April 2. I have always been glad that I don’t have to live under the burden of being an April fool. As a child I tried to come up with pranks to play on others on April Fools’ Day. Most of them were pretty lame. Today I barely pay attention to the day, choosing to focus on the next day, which is, of course, much more significant.

            This morning I was talking with a friend about a particular TV show that we both watched faithfully back in college. At the time it seemed funny and tantalizingly provocative. We agreed that today we see the show differently. It seems immature and absurd.  The humor is crass and at times over-the-top.

            That conversation got me thinking about the way we approach life. We can live life as an absurd joke or as an amazing joy. The difference is in our perspective; and that perspective is shaped by whether or not God is in the picture.

            If we live without God in the picture, life can become an absurd, even cruel joke. If we are just an accident of nature, then our lives are meaningless. Everything we do become pointless. We might “improve” life in some way for a time, but in the end does it really matter? If God is not in the picture then we had better pursue as much carnal pleasure as we possibly can, because there isn’t anything else. The old adage holds true then; eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

            The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a clear picture of life without God. At the very beginning of the book, in chapter 1, verse 2 Solomon sums up the message of the whole book. "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Systematically he examines all of the things we spend our lives chasing after. In each case his conclusion is the same; this too is meaningless.

            Many people unknowingly live out Solomon’s philosophy. They live as if life is one big joke and the goal is to get as much immediate pleasure as possible. Why take anything seriously? There is no purpose to life. There is nothing after death. There is no higher authority to which we are accountable. So go ahead and live out the joke.

            On the other side of the equation is living life with God at the center. When God is in the picture life becomes a joy. Acknowledging God’s presence doesn’t rob life of its fun or pleasure. In reality it enhances every experience of life. When we understand that our life has purpose and meaning then it becomes a joy. Absurdity drains us, but purpose fulfills us. We can engage fully in the activities of life knowing that what we do matters. Our efforts are not wasted. There is someone who is taking notice and will reward us.

            Jesus tells us that part of his desire for us is that our lives would be filled with joy. In John 15 Jesus uses the illustration of the vine and the branches. In verse 5 he says this. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Then a couples of verses later, in verse 11 he informs us of his purpose. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” When Jesus is in the picture, he turns what can be an absurd joke into an amazing joy.

            The Apostle Paul picked up on this theme in 1 Corinthians. He wanted to encourage the Corinthian believers to continue to invest in their faith and in living for Christ. They were getting discouraged because those who lived without God seemed to be doing better than those who lived for God. Paul reminded them that this physical world is not the whole story. There is meaning and purpose that transcends our material existence. So he challenges them to embrace the joy of serving Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

            At best the world offers us life as an absurd joke. Someone summarized it with these words; life is hard and then you die. Jesus offers us life as an amazing joy. He summarizes it with very different words. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV) Which life would you rather live; a joke or a joy?