There’s All Kinds Of Ways Of Sinning



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Sin goes to the core of human nature, but the actual sins we commit, look drastically different from those of someone else. To the point that we might be tempted to think, I don’t want to be with all the bad people, so I’m camping out here where all the good people like me hang out. If the place we’re talking about is church, we’ve missed the point.

Church is not a place filled with good people. Rather, it’s filled with forgiven people, and we’re all in process, trying to learn how to become like our Father who adopted us into His family.

We should have special affinity for our brothers and sisters in the family of God, but not because they are good people, not because I think I’m one of the good people.

As people saved by grace, Christians should, in fact, live by grace, too. That’s what Paul says in Colossians:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (2:6-7)

I find it interesting that thanksgiving is an element of living in grace, but that’s not connected to the main point here. Rather, I think it’s really important to recognize God’s forgiveness. But the problem there, is this: to thank God for His forgiveness, we must also admit our sin and ask for forgiveness.

And if we think we are in the happy group of good people, it’s hard to admit we may have a life that looks different from the guy in prison. But we are both sinners, and we both can be saved by grace.

Our spiritual well-being is dependent upon God, not on the way we pretty up our lives to make us look good. I don’t think we need to turn every sin into a public confession, either, but we should definitely tell God and then thank Him for His forgiveness.

I’ll give you an example. I mentioned here a week or so ago that I’ve been struggling to stay on task. I finally realized that I was giving in to my own personal desires just as surely as if I was doing drugs or watching porn or whatever. Every time I say, I understand what you want me to do, God, but I don’t really want to do that, so I’ll do this other thing, I’m sinning.

No, I haven’t killed anyone or hated anyone or gossiped or got drunk. My sin, though, simply looks different. It is nevertheless, me saying no to God and going my own way.In other words, I am taking the reigns of my life and being my own boss. I’m essentially saying to God that I’ll get around to His agenda when I’m good and ready. Because what I do depends on what I feel like doing.

So, no, my sin won’t look like someone else’s.

But sin, it is.

Like all sin, it is saying no to God, even if I’m saying, Not now, or, Later.

Too often we think of sin as us hurting other people, and certainly there is an element of that. In fact, the consequences of sin can vary greatly, depending on the way we work out our sin.

For instance, Jesus said that to hate someone was as sinful as committing murder. But a murder has immediate and widespread consequences that hatred does not have. Sure, when you hate someone, you might ruin their lives. You might even ruin your own. But not necessarily. On the other hand, if you murder someone, they are dead.

I think of King David with this illustration, because he actually did murder a guy. He basically ordered a hit job, for one reason—he wanted to hide the fact that he was an adulterer. He slept with this guy’s wife and when she got pregnant, he tried a couple ways of covering his tracks that didn’t work. So he had the guy killed, and married his wife.

Later he repented. But the guy was still dead.

The thing that caught my attention, when David was confessing in one of the Psalms, he said, speaking to God,

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge. (51:4)

Earlier he’d told Nathan the same thing when he confronted David about what he’d done.

All this to say, I think we too often see our sin as an offense against people. In our society, the central principle seems to be, Do no harm. So if our sin is a “victimless crime” in which no one else is hurt, we sort of have adopted the idea that it’s not so bad. Not really sin. It’s like the “little white lie” concept, as if the little lie is not really sin.

Maybe the little act of stealing, like pirating books or using images that aren’t ours, falls into this category. We tell ourselves things like, nobody cares, I’m sure they can afford it. That sort of thing.

The real issue is what James says in chapter 4 of his book: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (v. 17)

To know the right thing to do and then choose to go our own way, not God’s right way, is sin. No matter how it might look to other people.

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Published in: on August 29, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments (7)  
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God And Senseless Shootings



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Recently, when I was looking through the archives, I saw this post, but I assumed it was too dated to run again. Sadly, as it turns out, with the new rash of shootings (and one stabbing here in SoCal), it seems as relevant as the day I wrote it in response to a shooting in Arizona some eight years ago. So without revision here is the article that I ran in January, 2011.

When something tragic happens—man’s willful, wanton violence on man—such as happened a few days ago in Tucson, Arizona, I can’t help but wonder why everyone doesn’t believe in a God of justice.

Atheists make sense in a situation like that, their reasoning being that if God existed, He wouldn’t allow such horrific events. They, at least, accept the idea that God should be just.

But there is a group of people who claim to believe in God, even claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but who reject the idea that God is just. These people seem out of touch with reality when someone opens fire on a crowd, killing a nine-year-old, a number of senior citizens and others, and sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.

How can someone think God will overlook this?

No, these false teachers who reject God’s right to serve as Judge of the world He created, might say, God doesn’t overlook such acts. Jesus came to show a better way, and we’re simply slow learners. I’m not sure how this position helps the victims, or the criminals. Some might even say Jesus came to bear the penalty for all Mankind, so the nihilistic, chaos-seeking mass murderer is forgiven like everyone else.

The latter view overlooks the conditional aspects of forgiveness in Scripture. There is the belief requirement:

    • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:30b-31

 

    • that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved – Rom. 10:9 [emphasis added]

 

    • But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Gal. 3:22

 

    • This precious value, then, is for you who believe – I Peter 2:7a

 

    • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name – John 1:12

 

  • He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. – John 3:18

There is also the forgiveness requirement:

    • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matt. 6:12

 

    • For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. – Matt. 6:14

 

  • And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. – Matt. 18:34-35

In other words, a forgiven person forgives. He doesn’t go out and gun down a bunch of strangers.

Non-Christians understand and require justice, though their human efforts often turn into vengeance instead.

Finally, Christ’s death on the cross only makes sense in light of God’s justice. Unless the sinless Messiah was paying for the sins of those under condemnation of death, then He died senselessly. He would be a tragic figure—a great teacher cut down in his prime, a noble example turned victim, a caring mentor taken from those he discipled. The best anyone could say about him would be, He died well.

But the truth is that Jesus became the sin bearer who satisfied God’s just wrath. He is the substitute for everyone who believes.

Those who don’t—those who reject God’s sovereign right to rule and to judge—will stand before Him one day and receive justice. Think of them as perpetrators of cold cases that will assuredly be solved.

The Extent Of The Mercy Of God


Lots of people underestimate the severity of sin. In turn that propensity turns into a similar response to the mercy of God: we underestimate it also!

One of the things that makes God’s mercy so great is that He covers all our sins, not just the socially acceptable ones. So He can forgive gossip, and He can forgive mass murder.

I know some people don’t think that’s fair.

I think this idea of “not fair” comes from a) not grasping the fact that all sin, any sin is open rebellion against God, and therefore a major problem. No sin is minor. No sin is not serious.

But “not fair” also comes from b) believing we are capable of covering over, at least in part, our own sin. That we can earn most of our way to heaven and only need God’s help with that last little part. People who aren’t as good might need a little more of his help, and I might actually need him to give me a boost at the beginning, or to set the foundation for forgiveness, but after that, I can take over.

Both those ideas miss completely what is truly happening.

Instead of committing minor infractions, all of us have made ourselves rebels. We are spiritual terrorists. We would usurp the King’s rule if we could, and install ourselves in His place. That’s the truth about a).

The truth about b) is that we have a bomb vest locked around our waist, and we simply cannot take it off on our own. We can pretty it up, make it look like a special accessory, but that doesn’t make it less deadly. We can hang out with the bomb squad, but that doesn’t get that killer-vest off. We can run as far from all the major population centers in our state in order to minimize the damage to others, but we’re still going to blow ourselves up if we don’t let Someone who is able, disarm the monster we are wearing.

Our merciful God comes to us, takes the vest from us, and throws Himself over top, taking the blast Himself. For us. In our place. To protect us. And to protect all the people we would harm.

It’s the most selfless act anyone could ever do—to die in someone else’s place. But God in Christ died, not for a buddy who He was fighting with. He died for a terrorist who wanted to sit on His throne and to rule in His stead. He died for the enemy.

Paul spells it out in a clear way in Romans:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (5:6-10)

What does that say about God’s mercy? First that it’s limitless. He doesn’t have a cut-off line where any who commit too many sins or ones that are too horrible, are no longer able to obtain forgiveness.

He also extends His mercy to the most undeserving: not to friends or people who like Him or who are on His side. We may fool ourselves into thinking we are one of those, but the truth is, as long as we refuse Him kingship in our lives, we are His enemies.

Then too, God’s mercy does what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul says it this way in Titus:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (3:4-6)

Our glitzy resume of good deeds doesn’t change the fact that in our hearts we are terrorists until we accept God’s love and kindness which will do for us what we so desperately need: to be freed from the burden of sin and of guilt strapped around us.

When we take God at His word, when we believe what He says, then this truth becomes our reality: “[Christ] Himself likewise also partook of [flesh and blood], that through death He might rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14b-15)

God’s mercy is not only vast, not only available to the undeserving (which is all of us), but it is deeply personal. He sent Christ to the earth because He loves the whole world, but not in a generic way.

Jesus showed us that. His mercy is for the woman with five husbands he encountered at the well, for the cheating tax collector, for the Jewish leader bent on capturing Christians and dragging them to trial. He came for the prostitute and the leper and the children even His own followers tried to shoo away. He came for the thief who hung on a cross next to His at Golgotha. Jesus may have fed crowds, but He didn’t give mass absolution. He dealt with people one on one. As He does today.

It’s part of God’s mercy. He sees us. He knows us. He cares for us, as individuals, with personal needs and questions and even doubts. Ask Thomas.

Published in: on May 14, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Severity Of Sin


Some years ago a group of protesters I’ll call Occupiers because of their propensity to camp out for days in various places, sometimes waved signs before cameras to draw attention to their complaints. They weren’t speaking with one voice about much, but their early 99% signs and the choice of Wall Street as a starting place, tagged them as protesting corporate greed. Why, I began to wonder, weren’t they protesting the greed of the shoppers who pushed and shoved and cursed and pepper sprayed their way to “big savings” on Black Friday?

It’s all in the proportion, I suppose. As long as someone wasn’t bilking thousands of people out of their life savings, then their greed wasn’t alarming. In fact, their greed probably looked a lot like our greed, and our greed is “normal.”

After all, everyone wants the best buy they can get, right? If I have to elbow someone else for the last sale item on the shelf, then so be it. The fastest, most pointy-elbowed chick won the day, right? Shopper beware.

The thing is, the mentality is no different than the corporate exec raking in his millions in bonuses even as thousands of his employees end up jobless. The craftiest, business-wise guy won the day, right? Entrepreneur beware.

In truth, we tolerate greed, or pride, or gossip, or anger, or lying, or any number of sins just as long as they a) don’t hurt us directly; and b) don’t end up beyond some culturally acceptable line. We can hurl abuse at players of an opposing team, and maybe even throw a (plastic) cup of beer at him, but when someone beats up a fan of the opposing team and puts him in the hospital, that’s over the line. Some abuse is tolerable, too much is criminal.

The acceptable limits, I believe, exist because we are constantly comparing ourselves with ourselves. We start with an understanding that nobody’s perfect. So we’re all in the category of mess-ups, and it’s just a matter of finding our ranking—the lower the better. As long as I believe there are more people ranked above me than below me, I’m in good shape. I’m normal. Acceptable.

The normal part is true, the acceptable part, not so much. The real problem is we don’t have an understanding of how deadly sin is. How much exposure to anthrax is acceptable? How much cyanide is safe to ingest? We understand these to be lethal and do what we can to avoid or counteract them. Sin is lethal too, in small doses or large. There is no acceptable level of wolf’s bane, and there should be no acceptable level of sin.

We don’t think there are direct effects of sin, however. We understand that people die, and that’s a fact of life, no matter how good or bad a person has been. That should be our clue: nobody’s perfect, and everybody dies. Those are about the only categorical statements we can make about humans. Why is it we miss the fact that there’s an association between them? The Bible states it clearly: The wages of sin is death. Little sins, big sins, greed that hurts one or greed that hurts many—the wages are the same.

Which initially might not seem fair. I mean, if some people do their best to go along without hurting others, shouldn’t they get some credit for it? That’s like asking if someone who was only exposed to anthrax for a day should be considered better off than someone who was exposed for a month. Both are deadly.

But we don’t understand this deadly nature of sin. We don’t understand because we can’t grasp the offense sin is to Holiness.

Yet we’re offended at corporate greed. And I feel sure that people who were pepper sprayed at the mall were offended at the greedy shopper. Perhaps others were offended when they were pushed and shoved or cursed.

Our offense seems justified, though we push and shove too, though we cheat on our taxes or on our spouse or in a game of cards with our friends. We who are sinful find sin against us offensive. What, then, must a holy God feel when He is sinned against?

And there’s the real point. Every one of our sins is against Him. Sin after sin after sin. We may stay in the normal range, but think about the hateful attitudes, pride, envy, greed, lust that piles up in one person’s heart over a week, a year, a decade. Each of our sins is toxic. Not that God can be hurt by them but they are like water to His oil. They cannot mix.

On the other hand, sin is toxic to us, even in the smallest measure.

But God who loves us provided the antidote. More precisely, He provided the substitute. Physical death is still part of our experience until Christ returns, but because of His willingness to stand in my place, I am free from the permanent effects of sin if I put myself at His mercy and ask Him to rescue me.

God, because of Christ, has promised He will forgive those who confess their sins:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Does God’s forgiveness mean sin isn’t really such a big deal after all? Hardly. Sin is as toxic as ever, but God’s power is greater. Consequently, Christ, the Sinless One in Whom the fullness of Deity dwells, paid in our stead … if we confess, if we continue in the faith.

Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23a).

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November, 2011.

Published in: on May 13, 2019 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Evils Of Idolatry


Most of us in the western world are unaccustomed to the idea of worshiping a statue. I mean the Psalms and the prophets pretty much put an end to the idea that carving a figure out of wood or precious metal and then praying to it, was a good thing.

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them. (Ps. 115:4-8)

Other passages refer to a person taking a log, using part of it to build a cooking fire, part to make a fire for warmth, part to make a god. Worshiping an inanimate object seems ludicrous in that light.

The temptation, then, is to think we “enlightened” people have idolatry licked. We can cross out “Have no other gods before you” from the list of Ten, because we’ve got that one under control. No golden calves for us! No little fertility statues, no household gods, no gods on some nearby high place.

I know some Protestants point fingers at Catholics and say they are idolatrous because they “worship” the images of saints and Mary. But I tend to think this issue of idolatry is much bigger than some statue.

I was thinking about the “rich young ruler” in connection with a couple sermons about the use of money. This Biblical figure is often referred to in such contexts as evidence that having money isn’t the problem; rather, loving money is.

But here’s the context: This ruler comes to Jesus and asks Him what he has to do to “inherit eternal life.” In other words, he’s concerned for his eternal destiny. Jesus answers in a surprising way.

You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” (Luke 18:29)

The other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark, record this same event and Jesus answering the ruler in the same way.

The guy responds, I’ve done those ever since I was young.

At that point Jesus had him. I mean, I think the point of this exchange was to show the guy that he had need of a Savior, not need of more things to do. Jesus had purposefully referenced the part of the Ten Commandments that have to do with how we treat each other. He had not mentioned the first four that deal with how we are to relate to God.

The first one is pretty simple and straightforward:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

This foundational command was followed by, Don’t make any idols, keep the Sabbath holy, don’t take the LORD’s name in vain.

In many respects, those three are subsets of the first command. Moses elaborated a little to make this point clear:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5

Israel was not to love God, plus any other god or any other idol.

So when Jesus called the ruler on the subject of keeping the commandments, the first four really centered on whether or not he loved God in an exclusive way.

Chances are, if Jesus had asked him if he kept the Sabbath or avoided using God’s name in vain, the guy probably would have said, Yep, I’ve kept those commandments, too.

What he needed to see was that he didn’t love God exclusively. In fact he loved his wealth more. So much more that he was willing to leave Jesus, knowing that his original question involved his eternity, that loving God first and best and only was the way to what he desired, and yet he was unwilling to give up his . . . idol.

Because clearly, what the man loved most was what he was actually worshiping.

We in the western world can sin in the exact same way. Our wealth might not be the thing we love more than God. We might love our reputation, or our education, or our good job, or our country, or our family, or our religious affiliation, or our boyfriend, or our community (race, ethnicity), or our sports team. Those are all things that aren’t sinful until we make them idols. Of course we can also love our sin more than we love God. We can love our pride or our porn, our lust, our prejudice, our dirty jokes, our selfishness, our laziness, our addiction.

The issue is really where we put God in our priority list. If I love God first and best, it will have a profound impact on what I do.

I can’t imagine telling a spouse, I love you, honey, but I really don’t want to spend time with you everyday. I don’t want to get you a present for your birthday. I’d rather spend Christmas with my buddies. And yet we say those types of things to God all the time: I love you, God, but I’m kinda busy right now. I’ll catch you later.

The problem is much more serious, because the more we make other things our priority, the more we look at the whole world through the gray glass of our skewed value system.

Over and over the Old Testament prophets warned the Hebrews that they needed to stop pretending to love God when in fact they had a stack of idols that they looked to. I can’t help but think that there might be a number of professing Christians who are in the same boat.

Things Aren’t Always The Way They Seem


Jeremiah prophesied at the end of Jewish rule. Israel, the northern kingdom, had already suffered defeat and its citizens, for the most part, were forced into captivity by the Assyrians. Judah, by God’s grace, survived the Assyrian assaults and continued in the land, sometimes following God and sometimes succumbing to idolatry.

Finally, within the last fifty years of their existence, God sent Jeremiah with His final words of warning. This time, Babylon was the nation God designated as His instrument of judgment on His people. The people of Judah ignored the warnings.

At one point Babylon defeated Judah, deposed the rightful king, set up another king to be their puppet and to send them tribute, and carried into exile all the leaders—the priests and the army officials and the men of means.

Scholars suggest that Daniel ended up in Babylon because of this first, partial exile.

Eventually the puppet king rebelled against Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar sent his army to finish the job of defeating and removing Judah. So began a siege of Jerusalem that lasted for a year and a half.

Here’s the thing. When those first captives were taken from their homes and exiled to Babylon, I imagine that the people in Judah all felt like the lucky ones, the ones who experienced God’s favor (or the favor of whatever idol they might have been worshiping). That wasn’t actually true.

We know from the book of Daniel that the young men who showed promise were treated well, given an education, put in prominent positions in government. Sure they were exiled from their homeland, but they had their lives and had, as Daniel did, some amount of freedom to worship God, to work and earn a place of respect within the Babylonian system.

In truth, the people left in Judah were the casualties of the war, not the exiles.

They lived on meager provisions because God turned His back on them. They were living in their homeland, but they were not free. They paid a tax or tariff of some kind that undoubtedly further impoverished them. When they rebelled, they faced war again, and then the siege.

Babylon simply waited them out while food grew scarcer and scarcer. Things got so bad that people were eating the dung of birds. At one point a couple women agreed to eat each other’s children. How desperate did a person have to be to make such an agreement, let alone actually carry it out?

What was Jeremiah saying during this time? Stop fighting. Give yourself up to the Babylonians. The siege was from God. The destruction of Judah was from God, but the people who stopped fighting and surrendered would not die.

Sadly, the Jewish king refused to listen. As a result, he was forced to watch as the Babylonians killed all his sons and the other nobles. Then they blinded him and led him away to be imprisoned. Apparently that king and his advisors looked at exile as the worst possible evil. But it wasn’t. They didn’t realize things aren’t always as they seem.

Jeremiah experienced this truth in his own life. At one point people became angry at him, claiming he was discouraging the troops with his prophecies. One guy even lied about him, saying he was trying to go over to the Babylonians, when he was not. They arrested him and held him from that time on. And fed him a loaf of bread a day until the bread ran out.

What looked like a defeat for this prophet, actually turned into a means for his daily provision.

All these examples are a mere shadow of the most notable “not what you think” event, that being the death of Jesus Christ.

The disciples thought all their hopes for the Messiah were over. The end. The crucifixion finished any chance of Jesus taking the throne and fulfilling the promises of the prophets. But His death was not the way it seemed. The cross was actually a gateway to the resurrection.

I wonder how many times I miss what God is actually doing because I focus on what I think is happening. That tendency to rely on our own thinking is deadly and shows why it’s so important to hold fast to the word of God. If Scripture says He’s good, then He is, even though the circumstances around us might not seem as if He’s good.

God’s word is true, and it’s the anchor we can hold to so that we don’t get pulled under by the way things seem. Instead, we can know, things aren’t always the way them seem.

I know atheists who have a hard time accepting this idea. But it’s really simple. Our understanding comes down to the answer to this question: who’s in control? If the atheist things humans are, then they will always rely on their human perceptions of a thing. But if a Christian say, God is, they should always rely on what God reveals in His word. Unfortunately we Christians are fallible and weak and sometimes deceived, so we don’t always live the truth that is available to us, but we should.

We might not remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jeremiah, but we should remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jesus. Paul said, if God didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, why should we think He will not give us everything else we’ll need? In other words, Jesus is the One we should look to, not our own understanding.

Published in: on April 25, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Issue Of Identity


Setting aside the upheaval that the gender identity crisis has created, especially among the young, I realize we’ve been having an identity crisis of a different sort for years, even decades.

I don’t have the exact timeline, but at least for two decades according to one blog article I read, kids have been receiving participation trophies for involvement in youth sports. One article in the Baltimore Sun ties the proliferation of trophies to the push for self-esteem. “In the 1980s, self-esteem building became an educational priority really kicked off by the state of California.”

Apparently there is some debate about how healthy receiving these awards have been. I mean I read articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that discussed the subject, and the one above is reporting on a league that has decided not to give them out any more. Then there are bloggers defending Millennials who have been called The Participation Trophy Generation.

The argument seems to be entitlement and learning from not coming out on top versus low self-esteem.

All this has much more far-reaching affects than what anyone may have realized when they first came up with the idea that it would be cool to give all the kids a trophy—win or lose. For instance, some of this “everyone wins” thinking may explain why socialism seems appealing to a certain age demographic. But I have something even more serious in mind.

I wonder if there aren’t serious spiritual ramifications, not just from participation trophies, but from the entire self-esteem push. I wonder if we aren’t training kids to lie to themselves.

I’ve heard more than once, contestants on some “reality” TV game show, like Survivor—people who did something mean or really, really foolish that caused them to get kicked out of the game—say that no, they didn’t regret how they played; they were actually quite proud of themselves for their involvement. At the time, I was confused. I thought, You made such horrible mistakes and you don’t regret even one of them?

But now I’m thinking that’s what we are teaching our kids, and the adults who grew up with this self-esteem emphasis.

What’s also interesting is that teaching our kids to love themselves and that they all deserve a trophy for being on the team doesn’t seem to be producing happier people. Teen suicide hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, teen suicide has increased in the US by 30% since the year 2000.

Mental Health America, in an undated article, reports,

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

Science Daily reported a year ago that “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression.” We’re talking kids aged 6-17. Six!

Off hand, I’d say, the push for higher self-esteem isn’t working. I mean, what I see is closer to people feeling bad about themselves but unable to deal with the cause because they’re supposed to be winners.

I realize that’s an oversimplification. Like any problem, it undoubtedly has multiple contributing factors. But I don’t think we should ignore the fact that we are living in a culture that tells kids they aren’t sinners, that they do deserve . . . pretty much whatever they want. The word deserve continues to be advertisers’ favorite, I think.

But here’s the truth about each and every one of us. We are made in the image of God, though marred by sin. Not the individual acts of sin we do—those are results, not causes. The sin that we inherited from Adam makes us wonderful image bearers who walk away from the One who created us. We are, in essence, kind of schizophrenic.

But for the grace of God.

He was not content to let us turn our backs on Him without putting into motion a rescue plan. A plan that declares how loved we are, how forgiven, how washed, how renewed, made alive.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

We are the princess, saved by the knight in shining armor. We are the citizens of Metropolis rescued from destruction by the Superhero who saved the day. We are the servant girl pursued by Prince Charming.

The point is, our identity comes because of our relationship with God.

Some years ago I attended a Dodger baseball game with some friends, and our seats were one level up, right behind home plate. They were the very best seats. But I only sat there because my friends had company tickets. I was ushered into the primo section of the stadium, not because of my standing, not because I was someone special. I got there because of who I was with.

That’s an incomplete picture, to be sure, but spiritually speaking, I am not in relationship with God because of my merit. I’m in relationship with God because I am in Christ. I’m with Him.

And where is He? Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3)” And I’m with Him.

That’s actually a transforming identity. No longer dead in my trespasses and sins, but alive, living in freedom from sin and guilt and the Law.

Funny how I could never enjoy this identity if I didn’t first admit that I can’t get there on my own.

Easter Starts With Sin


In many respects, sin is a pivotal moment in all of history, but certainly Easter starts with sin. No sin, no need of a Savior—no Christ, no crucifixion, no resurrection. No Easter.

As western culture moves more and more toward the secular, fewer people celebrate Easter as a day of remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus. Now we have schools that take Spring Break, not Easter Break. We have a holiday that is known for Easter eggs and flowers and bunnies and pastel colors, especially pink and yellow and green. Yes, falling as it does after the spring equinox (officially Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox), the secular version of Easter has become a celebration of spring.

But even such an understanding recognizes the end of the bleak winter months—the cold, the gray days, the bare trees, dead grass, flowerless gardens. Spring signifies life after death.

And of course the ultimate life after death took place that first Easter morn when Jesus took on His resurrected body and came out of the tomb. I’d say, walked out of the tomb, but I don’t think He necessarily did walk. But more on that another day.

For now, I want to focus on the truth that so many people don’t like—we all, every one of us—have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

I’ve been shocked by a number of people who don’t want to accept this fact, even as they will whole-heartedly agree that nobody’s perfect. As I see it, that’s just another way of saying, Since we can’t be perfect, we’ll accept close enough, and God should do the same.

Because most of the “nobody’s perfect” crowd see themselves as a little better than most of the others. Or at least on average. Sure, the rapists and murderers might be sinners, but not the adulterers or people fudging on their taxes.

That perspective is not one God shares:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11)

Sin is simply not a minor offense with God, even if we look at it that way. Later in James He says, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17). So even neglecting to do what we know we should do, carries the same weight of guilt and lawbreaking as any of the “thou shalt not’s.”

I remember a time or two when I was a child waking up to a blanket of new snow covering the yard. It was so perfect . . . until my dad walked out and began shoveling the sidewalk. Of course we needed him to make the way clear, but every step on the pristine white coating our property, marred it, spoiled it, left a blemish, a mark that could NEVER be removed.

Sin is like that. It simply can’t be undone. And no matter if a dog left a little trail across the snow, or we had a roaring good snowball fight that left pits and ditches of chewed up snow, that yard was never going to look as it had in the morning right after the snowfall.

Sin is like that, too. One little disobedient act. One bit of defiance, or multiple acts of waywardness. Makes no difference.

There is One and only One answer to the problem of sin. And it isn’t by doing multiple acts of kindness, as helpful as those are and as grateful as many may be for them. The acts of kindness can’t erase the acts of disobedience.

But there is hope:

“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18b)

Only the cross can do that. Which comes before the resurrection.

So Easter, to be understood properly, must be seen in the light of humankind’s fall into sin.

I suppose the term “fall” comes from the idea of falling from grace or from a favored position in God’s eyes. But it really is a little misleading. I mean, generally when people fall, they do it by accident. They didn’t actually mean to fall down the stairs, but they slipped. That sort of thing.

But this fall was more of a walking away. Adam, who was not deceived as his wife was, purposefully and willfully chose against God. Yes, he knew what God had said. Yes, he understood the consequences. He was going to do what he wanted anyway. That’s rebellion, in a nutshell.

Because of this willfulness, humankind has been separated from God, and only because of God’s persistence and His desire to fix what was broken, to bring life to what was dead, is there any hope in the world, any Easter to look forward to.

Published in: on March 18, 2019 at 5:06 pm  Comments (9)  
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Living In Joy?



Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

In Isaiah 55 the prophet says, “For you will go out with joy/And be led forth with peace.” In Nehemiah this governor of the returned exiles tells them, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” King David write in Psalm 16, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” In fact, the various psalmists write about joy a lot.

Even the writers of the New Testament have a lot to say about joy, and those who penned the gospels report that Jesus mentioned it more than once. Yes, sometimes they speak of future joy, as Isaiah did, but sometimes they talk about joy in the immediate, even in the midst of trials.

James is a case in point when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

Of course Paul includes joy among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, in essence saying that every Christian has joy.

We do?

I was listening to Pastor Greg Laurie this afternoon. At the end of the program he interviewed a guest, Pastor Levi Lesko, author of I Declare War. He mentioned that often we reach a crossroad in our day at which we can choose.

Interesting that another sermon I heard at breakfast mentioned how under sin, we had no choice. Meaning that sin controlled us. Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from sin. We are no longer slaves.

And here was Pastor Lesko saying, we have a choice to live in a funk or to believe what God says in His word. Things like, the joy of the LORD is our strength.

He then told us about how casinos in Las Vegas are built. Apparently when you’re on the outside, the entrances are clearly marked and the access is easy. But once you get inside, in the middle of the casino, it’s constructed like a labyrinth and finding your way to sunshine is like walking the maze.

I don’t know how true that is, but the illustration certainly seems to apply to sin and specifically to choosing joy over its counterpart—despair, regret, discouragement, depression. Sin, even though we are free from its mastery over us, is still compelling. It’s gained strength over the days and years and has created habits that are easy to fall back on.

This is a really simple example, but I’ve decided I want to treat other drivers (and here in the LA area, we all have to drive all the time, everywhere, or so it seems) with more courtesy and respect. Which is good. Until someone cuts me off in traffic. At that point all the frustration and anger at someone not willing to wait his turn flares inside me.

It’s a habit. For far too long, I’ve been an angry driver, always in a hurry, more aggressive than is good for me, and wanting every other driver to play by the rules. Breaking that habit doesn’t come over night.

Instead I have to let the word of God inform me what is true. Behind the wheel of that car is someone who Jesus included when He said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

But I don’t love that guy even to the point of giving him a little grace on the road. In truth, I don’t know what the driver’s problem is. God does, though, so instead of steaming about his bad behavior, maybe I should bring him to God in prayer.

That’s the cool thing about joy. Yes, joy. We can actually choose joy in the same way that we can obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s not by trying harder. It’s by reminding ourselves, by preaching to ourselves—really by letting the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance—what God’s truth is.

And His truth is that no matter what circumstances we live under—financial pressures, wayward kids, unhappy relationships, unemployment, open disdain for our faith in Christ—we have the joy of the LORD. Not, we can have. Not, we will have some day. No. The Holy Spirit lives in every believer and gives us all His fruit, which includes joy.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is part of the abundant life. Jesus painted a metaphor in which He said He was the door to the sheep pen. But then He goes on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Sin does steal and kill and destroy. For one thing, it steals our joy. But we have this fountain of joy in us through the provision of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a kid we sang the little chorus,

I’ve got I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart to stay

There’s so much truth there, but it’s so easy to forget, so easy to let the old habits dictate and confuse, so easy to let sin steal that joy.

God’s truth makes it clear: we can live in the light of His word—and live according to the joy in our hearts—not in a maze of darkness and confusion

What Happened to a Just God?


Is God just? Scripture says He is, but you would hardly know by reading some of the literature coming from Christians these days. Or by listening to some of the sermons broadcast over the airwaves.

Interestingly, some years ago in my church’s weekly newsletter, they included a select number of high schoolers’ credal statements based on a meditation of Matthew 16:13-20—including Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” While three published statements focused on things like God’s love and our purpose, the fallen nature of the world, salvation, and our eternal destiny, one started out like this:

I believe in a jealous God, one who demands our complete faith.

I believe in a wrathful God, an all powerful God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with burning sulfur and fire, and snatched away every first born son of the Egyptians.

I wonder how many Christians would include those two statements in a personal credal statement, let alone start with them.

But isn’t God’s character as a just Judge as much at the center of the gospel as is His love and mercy? For without His jealous demand of an exclusive relationship with those He loves, without His unbending judgment against sin, why would we even need a Savior?

Who needs to be forgiven when no offense has been recorded? Who needs Jesus when sacrifices to some statue will do, or when looking deep inside for the secret in all of us will bring us to a higher plane, or whatever the latest road to spirituality proclaims?

Make no mistake. The God of the Bible hates sin, to the point that He punished two of His first priests, Aaron’s sons, by putting them to death. He brought plagues on His people for disobedience, caused the ground to swallow another group of rebels, and sent fire from heaven even on their families.

For some reason, perhaps because of God’s mercy extended through His Son, many today discount the clear evidence of God’s wrath. Even when He says, Vengeance is mine, I will repay.

Somehow, lost in the preferred image of Christ as the mild-mannered cool dude, is the truth that Jesus clearly taught that those who rejected Him would be judged accordingly. He said it in parables, He said it in exposition, and He said it to the faces of the Pharisees (“how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” Matt. 23:33b, NASB).

So in this day of tolerance, do such strong statements and stories of judgment (such as God’s clear decree that the people of Israel were to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek) embarrass Christians? Are we ashamed because our God is jealous? Because He punishes sin? After all, the rest of the world seems to be all about tolerance and acceptance and understanding.

Ah, make no mistake. God understands. Therein is the missing piece—He knows the hearts of Humankind that they are desperately wicked, deserving of death.

We, on the other hand, have convinced ourselves that we humans are actually good and entitled to riches and pleasure and a life of comfort and ease.

It’s just that this mean ol’ god spoils it for us. Why won’t he cooperate and make life better, especially since I’ve done my part? He ought to step up, to come through with his end of the bargain. And honestly? I’m furious with him for missing opportunities. Why is he taking so long to give me my blessing?

Apparently, we don’t believe in a wrathful God, but wrathful humans, we have no problem with.

From the archives: this post is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in October, 2009.

Published in: on February 27, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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