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.

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Published in: on March 18, 2019 at 5:06 pm  Comments (9)  
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Are We Over-complicating Life?



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I’ve heard of oh, so many people who are stressed out, and any number of new books are hitting the shelves about managing our anxiety. I’ve even written blog posts on the subject (such as this one or this one).

Worse, the suicide rate among teens is on the rise, and there’s apparently so much pressure on kids to get good grades, to get into the right universities, that some people have simply thrown away the book on right and wrong.

What’s the matter with us? Our technology is supposed to make life easier, but teens are now getting killed because they allow their screens to dictate their lives. They get lured into places by dangerous people, they text while they drive, they tarnish their reputation by foolish pictures or comments or arguments.

And parents aren’t far behind. They work so hard to accomplish so much and then face their empty nest without a relationship with the kids they thought they were doing all their frantic activity for.

I didn’t mean to get started on the negative stuff. The fact is, even if we’re not living it, we rub shoulders with those who are.

But we ought to live differently. God put all people on this earth that He might enter into a friendship with each of us, that we can enjoy Him, that we can shine a spotlight on Him to show others how great He is.

Isn’t that what we do with our family? Pull out the phone and show pictures of the new baby or post the graduation shots on social media? We want people to know how great our kids are. How cute, how accomplished, how hard working. We want everyone to know what we know about them.

So, why shouldn’t we want to do the same about our Father? Our Heavenly Father? It’s a normal, natural family reaction—hold up the picture so everyone can see Him. Tell others how great He is.

Of course we can’t tell people about what we don’t know, so we need to wrap ourselves in this relationship and learn all we can about the God who made us, who loves us, with whom we will spend eternity.

Instead, we scurry and storm about trying to accomplish all the things the world tells us are important. We need to earn, accomplish, move up the corporate ladder.

But why?

If we were made for one thing, just one thing, why do we trouble ourselves with doing so many other things?

Jesus put it this way to His friend Martha:

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42; emphasis mine)

What had Mary chosen? To sit at Jesus’s feet and learn from Him. Enter into relationship with Him. Spend time with Him.

I don’t know how that would look for others living in western society in the 21st century. Each person has to decide that for himself or herself, but I’m pretty sure we all think there’s more than one thing that “is necessary.”

Jesus said, No. Only one is necessary.

The rest? We put them into places of importance, sometimes even crowding out the necessary to work on our other stuff.

Ironic. I recently heard a pastor preach on knowing God’s will. He gave something like eight questions that he asks to know what God wants for him—the ones he suggests everyone else asks in order to figure out God’s will. In the back of my mind I thought, Really? Jesus put two things before us: love God and love our neighbor. That’s what God’s will is. I don’t need to over complicate this issue. To Martha, He narrowed that down to one thing: the necessary thing.

We love God by sitting at His feet until we desire what He desires, until we do what He directs us to do. We love our neighbors by putting the needs of those who cross our paths before our own needs. I could give examples, but really it’s not up to me to define what this means for other people. I have to know what God is saying by His Holy Spirit, to me.

But it’s not complicated. Not really.

What God Has Said



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I might be wrong, but it seems to me as if here in western society, specifically here in the US, there has been a devaluation of the Bible. Certainly as the secular mindset becomes the norm, there’s a noted absence of religion in the realm of entertainment. There are some exceptions, but they are notable because they stick out as NOT LIKE THE REST.

But more than this change from “religion as expected practice,” is a change in the attitude toward the Bible. Once, Biblical references punctuated literature in various ways. In fact I’ve heard of some professors saying the Bible ought to be required reading so that students would understand the classics. And poetry, I might add.

But as the Bible slipped into this role of foundational to literature, its status as the authority to govern our lives has faded. Now, even among those who identify themselves as Progressive Christians, the Bible is treated as little more than interesting (and sometimes boring) myth about things we know couldn’t possibly have really happened.

I’ve heard over and over in my discussions with atheists, either here at my blog or in the Facebook atheist/theist group, that the Bible is simply not reliable, can’t be trusted at any level, and—worse—shows god to be hateful, vengeful, cruel.

I was first made aware that people looked at the Bible like this when I had a lengthy exchange some years ago with someone who was a professing Christian, claiming that god the father “repented” of his anger, which is why he sent Jesus, a loving, kind, and gentle version of himself.

Clearly that guy did not get his ideas from the Bible. They came from what Paul calls “philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

And that’s the problem. Some people still calling themselves Christians have given up believing the Bible, understanding it as God’s revelation of Himself—His Person, His plan, His work, His Word. They no longer believe it is authoritative. They don’t believe it’s sufficient for life and godliness either, or that how we respond to it determines our eternal destiny.

Sadly, this attitude seems to be seeping into the Church as well—not just the false church, but the true Church. It starts with parts we start labeling “cultural.”

Don’t get me wrong. One of the things atheists do, if they read the Bible at all—and many don’t—is take verses out of context and treat Christians as if we are waiting in the wings to implement the Law of Moses right here in the US. They have no understanding at all of how God, because of His grace, satisfied His just wrath by the blood of Jesus, and thereby fulfilled the law.

So, no, Christians don’t want to stone adulterers or disobedient children or any other sinners. Because, as Paul said, “Such were some of you.” We are all deserving of God’s wrath, but because of His great love He extended to us—to the whole world, Jesus said in John 3:16—those who believe have eternal life, not judgment.

In short, we are saved by faith, not by works. But faith that saves, works. That’s essentially what James says in his letter to first century Christians running for their lives from the persecution brought on by the religious Jews (like Paul, before he became a Christian).

Yet I’ve heard James’s letter challenged by a preacher who claims to believe the Bible. Just not that book, as if it was mistakenly put into the canon.

Other people challenge bits and pieces of Paul’s letters, as if he wrote them without really meaning them. There are whole chapters about how the gifts of the Spirit are to be used in the assembly of the Church, but today there are whole denominations that claim some of those spiritual gifts aren’t around any more. So where does that leave the instruction of the word of God? Apparently on the cutting room floor. There are other parts, too—wives submitting to husbands comes to mind, as does women serving as pastors.

Because these things don’t fit nicely into the way our culture is moving, we Christians now want to dump the authority of the Bible instead of doing the hard work of understanding the principle behind the words of Scripture. We forget that all Scripture is inspired by God. All. Not just the parts we like. Not just the ones that sound good. Not just the ones that promise hope and help.

Scripture tells us to deny ourselves daily. Scripture says we are to take up our crosses. We can’t XXX out those passages because we don’t like them, because they are countercultural or contrary to the image we want to project to the world.

God’s word is absolutely authoritative because God is Sovereign Ruler of everything. What He says is true and right and good. Even the parts of His revelation that are hard for us—hard for us to do, hard for us to understand, hard for us to accept. The world will scream at us that the Bible is old-fashioned, out-dated, irrelevant. But the truth is just the opposite. God wrote about gender wars back in Genesis 3 and Paul talked about how to solve those problems in multiple passages. But we want to ignore those solutions because, well, some people might misuse his council or it might make us look foolish to our culture or . . .

Yes, ignoring God’s council is no better than XXXing out the parts we don’t like. So when He speaks about gossip, we ought not chuckle behind our hands and double-down on our hatred of abortion. Abortion is a horrible sin and we should stand against it, but shouldn’t we stand against gossip just as strenuously? Or lying? I mean, if God’s authoritative word says He hates lying (and it does, more than once), why do we view that as an “acceptable” sin and homosexuality as an unforgivable sin?

I just heard a woman speak on Christian radio who was saved out of a homosexual lifestyle, and in the conversation the fact came out that some Christian colleges will not invite her to speak to their student body because of her past. Apparently they missed the “and such were some of you” part of the Bible. Or they’ve decided they only need to concern themselves with the parts of the Bible they like. Which actually makes them authoritative in their lives rather than God and His word.

Salvation And The Need To Forgive


Forgiveness is two-pronged—something we need and something we need to give.

One of the parables that used to make me uncomfortable is the one Jesus told in answer to Peter’s question about how many times they needed to forgive those who sinned against them. After giving the now-familiar seventy-times-seven answer, Jesus proceeded to tell a story to illustrate his point.

As it goes, a slave owed his master an insurmountable debt. When his lord decide to sell him, his family, and his belongings to recoup some of what was owed, the slave begged for more time.

The master turned around and forgave him the debt entirely.

Such a great story. Expecting deserved punishment, the slave pleaded for mercy and found grace. Complete grace that washed away his debt in its entirety.

But the story didn’t end there. The slave, upon leaving his master, ran into a colleague who owed him a modest sum, within the man’s ability to pay. The first slave required what he deserved.

The second slave asked for mercy—just a little more time, and he would meet his obligation. But the first slave was unwilling and had the man thrown in prison. When the other slaves saw it, they told their lord.

The master brought the first slave before him again and chastised him:

“Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
– Matthew 18:33

I said this parable made me uncomfortable. I just didn’t understand what this meant for salvation. Was God going to take back salvation if we didn’t follow his example, at least in this area of forgiveness?

And if forgiveness is a necessary action I am required to take, how then is grace free of my works and based upon faith alone?

Recently I heard a great sermon that explained the troubling story. Yes, I’d heard sermons that explained our forgiveness of others is a sign of our right standing with God, not a condition for it. But for the life of me, though I believed that to be true, I couldn’t see that teaching in this passage.

Well, the sermon I heard, from Allister Begg, most likely or maybe my pastor, explained that the first slave, if he had understood the concept of receiving unmerited favor, if he’d understood that he truly owed more than he could ever pay, if in fact he had humbled himself and received the grace his master offered him, would have extended his own small measure of grace to the second slave. By not doing so, he demonstrated that he had never grasped the enormity of his own debt and the grace his master held out to him.

In essence, by not extending forgiveness, he proved he didn’t “get it.” Though it had been offered him, he didn’t believe himself truly in need of his master’s grace, didn’t humble himself, and didn’t appropriate what his master extended to him.

My forgiving my neighbor, then, is not the cause of my salvation, not the root from which my salvation grows. It is the fruit, the product of my rooted-ness in God’s forgiveness of me. If I in fact humble myself before God, will I not also humble myself before my neighbor? Humility, I don’t think, is a trait that should come and go. I’m humble before God but demanding of others?

By insisting others pay me my due, I show my own nature, not the one God clothes His children with. I wish I’d learned this years ago.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in March, 2009.

Published in: on March 5, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (5)  
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About That Loving Your Neighbor Command


The Bible is really clear about how Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—are to treat our neighbors. Jesus broadened the command further by identifying our neighbor as the person we come across who is in need.

So love them. Give them what they need to reach a point in which they are no longer in need. Like the Good Samaritan did. He gave medical attention to the guy he came across who had been mugged. Further, he put the wounded guy on his own donkey, took him to a nearby inn and paid the man in charge to provide for the next layer of needs. I take that to be shelter and food and perhaps clothes. For how long? The Samaritan didn’t know, so he gave an open-ended promise. Whatever the innkeeper spent on the wounded man, above and beyond the money he’d already been paid, the Samaritan would cover the cost.

It’s a great story of selflessness and generosity and letting go of ethnic stereotypes. Of refusing to give in to prejudice.

But here’s what I’m thinking about. What if the Samaritan took him home instead of to an inn. What if the Jewish victim proved to be . . . difficult. What if he was unappreciative and demanding? What if he wanted to argue politics or religion? What if he was not someone the Samaritan liked?

More often than not, I think that’s our challenge today. We are fine if we can throw some money at a problem, as if our generosity equates with love. We forget that the Samaritan was committed to coming back, that he would be checking in on the wounded Jew, that his responsibility was more than a one-time donation.

We forget that he first took a risk. After all, he could have been walking into a trap. He set aside his own needs, even his religious ones—his interaction with the wounded man made him spiritually unclean, because it’s hard to imagine that he tended the man’s wounds without getting his hands a bit bloody and that maybe he’d be touching a dead body. Then there was the change in his plans. The delay, the inconvenience of walking while the Jewish man rode. The commitment to put him up and check in on him and to pay more if needed.

All this makes me aware that loving our neighbor requires some level of commitment, of interaction, of relationship.

Which brings me back to the question: what if our neighbor is someone we don’t like?

I don’t think our likes or dislikes change God’s command. We don’t get to say to God, Well, I’d love him if I liked him a little better, because You do know, He’s a Jew. Set aside for a moment that Jesus was also a Jew. The point is, He told that story particularly because love crossed the ethnic divide.

What if the Jewish man was cursing and complaining the whole way to the inn? What if he was demanding and simply had an irritating personality? Jesus doesn’t give us an out because someone is not easy to love. He simply says, love your neighbors.

So here’s what I think. Paul tells us that when we are weak, we are strong. Because when we are weak we turn to God and let Him give us the strength we need. My guess is, if a neighbor is hard to like, God will give us the strength to love them anyway, and maybe even to like them.

I’ve had that experience, more than once. When I was teaching, there were a few times that I had a student I didn’t really like. They were . . . annoying. But as soon as I realized I was having a hard time, I started praying. And in each instance, the student and I actually developed a close relationship by the time they moved on to another grade. In other words, God took my willingness to follow Him and my admission that I was weak and needed His strength, and He forged a better relationship than I could have ever imagined.

In truth, I would have been poorer if I had missed out, if I had let my likes and dislikes dictate who I loved or didn’t love.

God really knows what He’s talking about when He tells us to love our neighbors!

Published in: on March 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm  Comments (2)  
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Waiting


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When I was little I remember waiting . . . a lot. I remember waiting for my mom when we went shopping. I remember waiting for my birthday, which was hard. I mean, my sister had a birthday, and then four days later, my brother had a birthday. Mine? I had to wait another seven-plus months. Then there was Christmas. As soon as it was over, I remember waiting for the next one. I wanted one of those count-down calendars in the worst way. Anything to make the time seem like it was going.

Oh, and then there were the trips. We took a lot of car trips as a family. And I was one to ask with some frequency, are we there yet? I took up map reading as a way to answer my own question because I could tell, my parents were getting tired of it.

Surprise, surprise. Waiting is pretty much what the human race has been doing since the Fall, since sin entered into the world.

When God corrected the wayward pair in the garden of Eden, He introduced His solution to the problem:

And I will put enmity
Between you (Satan in the guise of a serpent) and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Say what? What’s this bruising on the head and heel stuff, and who is “He”? Other parts of Scripture shed light on this part of God’s corrective measures. Satan is the serpent, also identified as the dragon of old. His seed, would be one coming from him. In the same way, the seed of the woman would be one coming from her.

Now if a person is walking along and a snake bites them, it will likely be somewhere on the foot, here specified as on the heel. Not a deadly strike. On the other hand, if that person steps on the serpent’s head, he crushes him, kills him. The serpent, then will get his shot in, but it won’t be deadly; the seed of the woman wins.

But when?

It is this event humankind waits for and has been waiting for, from that moment on.

I don’t know when the Jewish people put the label “Messiah” to the one for whom they waited, but He appeared in the form of other types throughout history. Paul even called Adam a type of Christ, though kind of in the reverse sense. Adam brought sin, Christ brought grace. Adam, condemnation; Christ, justification. Adam, death; Christ, life (see Romans 5).

But all through history, people who weren’t The One, popped onto the screen of history, pointing to The One. Some of these types include Isaac, whose father was to offer him in sacrifice; Joseph, who came out of his prison to rule; Moses, who led the people of God to the Promised Land; David, who reigned with justice over Israel; Jonah, who was in the stomach of the God-prepared fish for three days and three nights.

In addition to the people, there was the yearly Passover Lamb, which symbolized Christ’s substitutionary death that gave life to God’s people. Add to that, the scapegoat who bore the sins of the people away from the camp. And the daily sacrifices, whose blood covered the sins of those making the offering.

What’s the point? All these types and these symbols pointed to The One God had said would crush Satan’s head.

Add to these sign posts, God also sent prophets who spoke from Him and specifically told the people that Messiah was coming. Daniel called Him the Son of Man, Micah said He’d be a king, the Psalms said He’d be greater than David. So many others. To the point that, when Jesus came, people had already seen a number of false messiah’s who claimed to be The One.

In other words, they’d been eagerly waiting for Christ.

And at long last, He came.

But not the way they thought He would. They’d overlooked all the types pointing to His sacrifice and all the prophecies about his suffering. Jesus Himself had to explain to his disciples, after His resurrection, what those Old Testament references meant.

In truth, when Jesus came, He did crush the head of the serpent of old. It’s just that the enemy of our souls is either unclear about the concept of defeat or he’s trying to take as many people as possible down with him.

But there’s another pertinent fact. Even though Satan who had the power of death, has lost his power, he’s still at large. He hasn’t yet been held accountable for his part in the fall of humankind. In addition, Christ hasn’t yet taken the throne.

He will.

He’ll return to reign in a way that will cause everyone to bow before Him.

But that’s not yet. So we . . . you guessed it, we wait.

Waiting isn’t easy, but God gave us some specific things to do. First we are to be on the alert, we are to watch, we are to be ready, we are to go and make disciples. This waiting time is actually prep time. God is using this time to bring in those who will sit at His banqueting table. And He’s using us to get all the invites out.

Published in: on February 20, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Satisfies


Years ago I read a book by author, speaker, psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb that left a lasting impact. He based his thoughts on Jeremiah 2:13.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

God gives living water. We need living water. But instead of staying beside that Fountain that provides in abundance, we take another tack. We go to our own wells which we have to dig for ourselves and which are actually broken and can’t keep any water in them.

This is a great picture of what we humans do.

God offers, we reject. But we still have our basic needs, so we turn to our own solutions.

Just recently I found another passage of Scripture that basically says the exact same thing. This one is in Isaiah:

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live (55:1-3a)

I’m guessing not many people know the word ho appears in the Bible. It’s an interjection and the Hebrew transliteration of the original is howy. It’s most often translated as woe but sometimes as ah or alas or even O. The point is, it’s not a happy word. It’s drawing the reader’s attention to something that isn’t really a happy circumstance.

I had been reading the first lines as a carnival barker might call out to the crowd: “Listen up, people. Step right up! I have a special you don’t want to miss.” But the following lines are not in that cavalier vein.

Rather, this portion of Scripture is sober and sobering. The offer of water is there, but this is more than water. It’s nourishment. It’s fulfilling. And it’s free. But then the questions upon which the verses turn: Why do you spend money (when you’ve been offered something for free) when it isn’t even anything that will sustain you? I mean, you need food. You need water. But you’re paying out for stuff that will not keep you alive.

It gets worse. You’re working long hours to turn your earnings over to someone selling stuff that gives you no satisfaction. In other words, you’re just as hungry, just as malnourished, when you finish eating as when you started.

Just like the broken cisterns.

What is it with us humans that we pursue empty goals, empty pleasures, empty dreams, empty relationships. If it’s empty, we’re all over it, like a miner panning for fools gold.

We bite on every offer for the next new shinny thing. We buy lottery tickets because, you know, instant millionaire! It looks so inviting. We drink too much because for that moment we feel so good about ourselves. We do drugs for the next high. We dabble or dive into promiscuous sex because it’s candy to our appetites.

On and on. We think we know what will fulfill us. Maybe it’s a younger wife. Or taking a little money under the table. Or cheating on our income taxes. Or a church that says God wants me to be rich.

Who wants a “follow me” message that involves denying myself and taking up a cross. My cross. A place where I am to die to myself. That sounds counter intuitive to fulfillment.

I suppose it is. God is that way. In fact He says as much later in that Isaiah passage:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)

This is where trust comes in. The way things look to me: if I want water, I need to go look for some, dig a well, collect it. What God says: Come to Me. Listen to Me and live.

My efforts give me mud, at best. Zilch, nada, nothing, at worst. In truth, we can’t live that way.

Then why do we spend money for what is not bread and our wages for what does not satisfy?

Are we afraid to trust God? Do we think Jesus was wrong when He said we should take up our cross daily? Do we really think we can do better than God?

The thing is, some people do look as if they are doing fine without God. They appear to have it all together. Except when we look at increasing instances of divorce, drug use, prescription drug use, anxiety, suicide, pornography, abortion, mass murders, homelessness—things that should not be in society if we were all happily fulfilled with our marriages, our jobs, our homes, our friendships.

It really is kind of astounding. As the anonymous quote says, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” That’s where mankind lives. We know going our own way does not satisfy, but we go our own way regardless.

I’d say that could be a result of a person not knowing there’s a different way. Not knowing seems unlikely in our western culture, at least. But I’m coming to understand that many who think they know about God and His way, really are mistaken. They have believed a lie. So they keep rolling the stone up the hill, trying to reach the top, even though it continues to slip into reverse and come down upon us as it returns to the bottom of the hill.

Why do we do it?

The solution to our cracked and broken wells, to our cycle of buying what is not bread and what does not satisfy, is not so complicated.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Constitutes Sin?


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One of the tenets of Christianity that cause people to stumble, it seems, is the idea of sin. After all, according to the prevailing thought in our western culture, people are good. All of us. We might have an addiction or a mental illness or we might be coming out of a life of abuse. But none of that is our fault. Really, people only do bad things because we have been raised in a dysfunctional environment and have learned anti-social responses. If we simply teach and train a person what is beneficial for them and for society, we will eliminate the undesirable behavior. Like terrorism. And mass murders. And drug trafficking. And kidnapping. And fraud. And blackmail. And pornography.

Oh, wait. That last one has been moved out of society’s list of anti-social behaviors into the column of normal and … well, not “beneficial,” but at least “acceptable,” conduct.

I suppose, if the world lasts long enough, whatever a person wants to do, even if it does harm to others, will still be considered an expression of their self-hood, and therefore, acceptable. The point is, we are eliminating sin.

The Church ought to help here, but it seem we are emphasizing happiness over holiness, so we don’t talk much about sin. Sins are things that don’t make us happy. That keep us from our goals.

A six-year-old study by the Barna Group examined a women’s faith self-assessment, and discovered that most of those in the survey group reported spiritual fulfillment and an absence of anything the Bible identifies as sin. You know, things we once called “the seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

The Bible addresses all those things, but Jesus took the concept of sin a step farther in His Sermon On The Mount. He said that murder wasn’t just murder, but hatred or anger was also murder and just as deserving of punishment. Same with lustful or greedy thoughts. In other words, not just sinful actions deserve punishment, but sinful thoughts do, too.

So which of us is without sin?

But we’re like the guy speeding down the freeway at 85 MPH where the speed limit is posted at 70 MPH. He’s not worried about “getting caught” because everybody else on the road is going just as fast, or faster. If we’re all doing it, it must not be wrong, or at least it must not be a punishable offense, the reasoning goes.

God doesn’t work that way. He actually treats us like adults. He tells us what’s what and expects us to do the right thing. If we don’t, He may remind us, warn us, or let us suffer the natural consequences of our actions. But He doesn’t baby us. He also doesn’t spoil us. He doesn’t look the other way.

Because He doesn’t correct us immediately, a lot of people think God doesn’t care or that He must not have noticed our sin or that He doesn’t think it’s so bad. But no. Isaiah addressed this issue:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (40:27-28)

God knows and He understands exactly what we’re thinking.

In truth, God is gracious and gives us time to turn to Him. Another passage from Isaiah:

For the sake of My name I delay My wrath,
And for My praise I restrain it for you,
In order not to cut you off. (48:9)

In other words, He purposefully waits so that all who wish to come to Him, will have the opportunity.

In addition, He waits to bring judgment until the Church is complete. Think about it. It God had brought the world to an end 500 years ago, or 1000, a lot of believers would not have been born, let alone had the opportunity to come to God through Christ. No Billy Graham. No Martin Luther. No Jonathan Edwards.

How many of us would be missing from the banqueting table?

Among other metaphors, God compares the Church to a temple, whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. But we are the “living stones” that go into the building. Think about that structure with all the missing stones if God didn’t wait patiently for us to come to Him.

The point is, delayed punishment for sin does not mean canceled punishment for sin.

Well, actually the debt of sin has been canceled by Jesus. But we must claim the free gift, and God waits for us to do that.

The fact is, He won’t wait forever. At some point a person who has chosen against God will die, and he simply will have run out of time to do an about-face. In addition, at some point God will bring this whole process to an end and say, Time to party, those who are My adopted children, those who make up the temple, those who have accepted the invite to the feast.

So what is sin? I guess the simplest way to understand it is, going my way instead of God’s. Going my way in my thoughts and my actions. Going my way in my desires and in my dreams.

The truth is we all sin, so we are all sinners. But the cool thing is, because of Jesus we who know Him, are sinners saved by grace. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on February 13, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Advantages Of Knowing Jesus


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Once upon a time I might have headed my list of advantages of knowing Jesus, with reception into heaven. Don’t misunderstand. Knowing Jesus does provide entrance into God’s presence for all of eternity. It’s very important. But it’s also very future. So when I think of Jesus in my life, I generally think of things here and now.

I think of His presence, through the Holy Spirit, living within my heart. In other words, I’m never alone. I think that’s huge in this day and age. Just the other day I heard a list of things that people were most troubled by, and loneliness was close to the top as one of the most difficult things they faced. But Christians are never alone, I thought. Never. Alone. We have comfort and encouragement and support and Someone to listen and a God to call in time of trouble, a God who will bring to our remembrance the things we need to know.

It’s kind of amazing to think of all that’s available inside me, every single day, hour upon hour. That I don’t turn to God more often is really the big surprise. He’s there, with me, in me.

Besides His presence, I think perhaps the biggest advantage of knowing Jesus is that He forgives my sins. Yes, that fact is closely tied to the point about entrance into heaven, but it’s more. I mean, Jesus “made purification of sins” (Hebrews 1) which has this snowball effect. His death is the means of my justification, my being set right with God, so that He now sees me as righteous, that is, as having right standing with Him. He reconciles me with God so that I not only enjoy His presence, but I enjoy His fellowship, His koinonia, which includes intimacy, partnership, joint participation, such as God including me in His work.

More than this, God’s forgiveness through Jesus, frees me—from slavery to sin, from the power of sin, from the fear of death, from the requirement of the Law, from guilt, from the devil who had the power of death (Romans 5-8; Hebrews 2). All of this sets in motion my sanctification, which is really just another way of saying, becoming like Jesus.

When I was a little tyke—I mean, not much more than a toddler—I had a toy broom, and I used to follow my mom around the house and mimic the things she was doing to clean. I wanted in the worst way to be grown up, to be able to do what my mom was doing. I wanted to mirror her.

That’s what sanctification is doing. It is molding me so that I will grow up to be like Jesus.

Just like any other relationship, if you know someone and like them, you want to be with them. Well, knowing Jesus makes me like Him more and more. The consequence is, I want to be around Him more. I want to read about Him more, hear about Him more, talk about Him more, include Him in all the stuff I do. Well, that last one—actually all of them—are works in progress. I want to include God in all I do, but I catch myself at times wondering why I didn’t pray about this or that thing I was concerned about. How much easier if I learn to take “everything to God in prayer” and not just the messes I make when I try to do stuff on my own.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder what advantages of knowing Jesus you would include.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious: Jesus is my friend. When I was young, one of my favorite hymns was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” I thought it would be fitting to find a good YouTube video of the song to put up. And I found one. A really good one. But I also found this “story behind the lyrics.” I had never heard it before. Well, it’s a story worth listening to. What an illustration of how a very present help in time of trouble our God is. Makes the words to the song that much more meaningful.

So, Groundhog Day


For whatever reason, I didn’t hear much about Groundhog Day this year. Until I looked it up today, I didn’t even know exactly when it was. Apparently I’m on an island. Deserted. Alone. Because thousands of people turned out this past Saturday to watch the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, look for his shadow. What’s more, these folks had to be up at the crack of dawn because the event took place at 7:25 AM. On a Saturday morning. In the dead of winter. During a cold snap—or polar vortex as the weather people all call it now. What’s more, the “event” was live-streamed.

It was more like a non-event from what I could tell. I mean, the guy in charge of the overfed rodent, set him down on a tree stump for maybe 10 seconds, declared he couldn’t see his shadow, then read from the scroll that said spring would make an early arrival.

We all know this is a lot of silliness, don’t we? I mean, Phil has only a 40% success rate over the last ten years. People would do better if they simply flipped a coin. And he isn’t really 133. He’s not the same groundhog from those early days.

Then why do people get so caught up in the spectacle? I mean, there’s no alcohol involved that I could detect. No commercialism. No one selling tee shirts or Happy Groundhog Day cards. No bumper stickers or commemorative hats. So why do people care?

I’ve never talked to a single person who is out there in the freezing cold waiting for the faux prediction about the coming of spring, so all I have is speculation.

Could be they’re bored. But that’s a bit of a stretch when there’s entertainment at every turn, and much of it indoors where the temps are some 60° higher.

Perhaps some actually believe in Phil. Maybe they’re driven by that need to know, and particularly the need to know before it actually happens which has driven the news industry for far too lon.

Do they want spring to come early so badly that they are willing to put their faith in a groundhog? An overfed rodent covered in straw?

Could there be something deeper here? Do people want to believe so badly in something these days so that they are willing to pretend to believe in Phil’s ability to predict the length of winter?

For whatever reason, the folks who show up, who belong to the club, who care for the groundhog all the year round, think this is fun.

But I can’t help but compare their “faith” with the real deal that Christians have.

One thing that jumps out at me is that the superstitious faith in Phil doesn’t depend on anything. Not whether he’s right, not whether the person shows up the following year, not whether any other groundhog agrees with his outcome. It’s sort of like playing the lottery.

Saving faith, based on the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, is lived day in and day out. It’s transformative and dependable.

Superstitious faith in Phil doesn’t cost a person anything, takes no commitment, except getting up early on a cold winter’s day.

Saving faith is an all-in proposition. Jesus said if we want to come after Him we must deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Him.

Superstitious faith in Phil is not life changing. A person can “believe” in the ground hog and still believe in the weather report on their phone app.

Saving faith, well, saves. It transforms a person from death to life. It begins a relationship with the living God. It ushers us into the kingdom of God.

In short, superstitious faith in Phil is meaningless. Nothing changes if he’s right or if he’s wrong, other than the guy from his fan club reading a different little scroll.

Saving faith, on the other hand, is the most meaningful decision a person can make. So it ought not be made lightly. It should be informed.

Superstitious faith in Phil is closer to guess work and not quite as accurate.

Saving Faith brings forgiveness of sin, freedom from the Law, from guilt. It gives believers peace within. Comfort. Help in time of need. Joy. Purpose. But above all it brings assurance. No guess work!

There’s more, but the point is clear. False faith—whether in Phil or in a Hindu god or in a cult or anything else that is not true—is markedly different from saving faith.

Published in: on February 5, 2019 at 5:56 pm  Comments (4)  
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