Living In Laodicea

LaodiceeBack in my younger years one of my favorite singers, Steve Camp (who banned me from his blog some years ago—but that’s a different story, though I’m happy to announce, I just posted a comment and apparently the ban has been lifted!), put out an album called Fire and Ice. One of the songs he included was “Living in Laodicea.” In particular, the chorus was a challenge to me:

For I’ve been living in Laodicea
And the fire that once burned bright, I’ve let it grow dim
And the very Word I swore that I would die for all has been forgotten
As the world’s become my friend

It’s scary to think of the world becoming a friend. James says, friendship with the world is hostility toward God! The King James word is “enmity,” a term that rightly pictures opposing sides. That’s an accurate picture of living in Laodicea.

And yet, the message from Jesus to the church in Laodicea starts with a metaphor that seems to say God wants them to either be for Him or against Him but no standing in the middle. Happily, my former pastor, Dale Burke, explained a little about the cultural context.

Laodicea was located far from fresh water that would be cold coming from mountain streams. Their imported water instead gave them tepid water, not hot like the water in the nearby hot springs and not cold like the mountain runoff. Their water was not good for what you needed cold water for and it was not good for what you needed hot water for. It was nauseously lukewarm.

The contrast would be between usable water and not usable water. The Christians in Laodecia had become “not usable” for the things of God.

How so? Primarily because of self-sufficiency. They believed they had what they needed and did not realize how lacking they were, how much they needed God. They were rich, apparently, and trusted in their wealth.

Christ lays it on the line, though. Their condition was far from OK. They were destitute spiritually, they were naked—without the robe of righteousness—and blind.

The answer to their conditions was simple. They needed to go to Christ to cover their nakedness and to put salve on their blind eyes.

Christ concluded His specific admonition to them, with one of the best passages:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:19-20)

How kind of Him to clarify that He loved them, that it was because of His love He was saying pointed, hurtful things to them. How clear He was that He wanted relationship with them.

And isn’t it interesting that the “behold I stand at the door and knock” picture which we so often see associated with Christ making an appeal to an unbeliever, actually is His appeal delivered to believers in need of repentance.

Once again I find the promised reward for the overcomers to be astounding. This time Christ says, those who overcome will sit on His throne beside Him, even as He sat with His Father on His throne.

That’s too hard for me to wrap my head around. As if it isn’t enough for Him to give us a robe and a new name and to bring us before the Father and His angels. Now we’re, like, with Him. Really with Him.

I don’t know how it all works. But I do know, none of it will happen without repentance. And that’s why persists and pursues us. He is an unrelenting God. Praise His Name!

Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 6:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?

The_Crucifixion001I read a new thing about forgiveness today—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

Are We Paying Attention?

Oklahoma_TornadoAnother disaster hit mainland USA. No, it wasn’t of the epic proportions that Japan experienced in 2011 when a tsunami followed a devastating earthquake which triggered a nuclear crisis. But these natural disasters are adding up. Noticeably.

2012 147 died – Hurricane Sandy
2011 160 died – Joplin tornado
2011 346 died – Six state tornado outbreak
2011 20 died – Flood Mississippi River
2010 20 died – Flood Arkansas
2008 59 died – Five state Super Tuesday tornado outbreak
2007 14 died – California wildfires
2005 1,836 died – Hurricane Katrina

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Add to these, school shootings and mall shootings and movie theater shootings and race bombings, and America is reeling. Or ought to be.

F4_tornado_damage_exampleThe latest disaster is the category F4 tornado that swept through Moore, Oklahoma yesterday, killing as many as 51 people, though most reports expect that number to rise, while wiping out blocks and blocks of homes. I mean wiping out.

I’ve seen earthquake damage and wild fire damage, and the pictures I saw of the effects of the Moore tornado were every bit as destructive.

Of course those who espouse global warming, also known as climate change, believe all these tragic events are caused by Mankind’s careless use of the environment. I have no doubt that we are to blame, but I think there’s something greater at work.

When Israel and Judah wandered away from God, He brought calamity on them for the specific purpose of getting their attention. He was calling them to repentance, warning them of judgment. When they continued to go their own way, He brought on them the disasters He’d told them about through His prophets.

Here’s one example from Jeremiah:

if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it…Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds. (18:8, 11b)

The devastation Israel and Judah faced included an earthquake, three and a half years without rain, famine, and multiple attacks from other nations.

Daniel summed up the Jewish people’s response to God’s efforts to bring them back to Himself:

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. (Daniel 9:13)

Before I go any further, please understand, I am NOT saying the people of Oklahoma brought on this disaster because they were particularly sinful.

Jesus answered this very charge when His disciples asked Him about similar circumstances in their day:

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 — emphasis added)

These people who died tragically were not suffering some judgment from God. But their deaths served as a warning to everyone else that they needed to repent because judgment awaited them.

Is America paying attention? Can we think that God is uninvolved in what’s happening, that He doesn’t want us to wake up, come to our senses, and repent?

He has told you, O Man, what is good,
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

If we took any one of those three–justice, kindness, walking humbly with God (bowing to His sovereign reign over our lives)–I think we wouldn’t have to go far before we see that the course of our nation is bent in the wrong direction.

“Justice” has turned into a court game of “who can win,” with truth playing only a small part, if any. And that’s when a case actually makes it to court. How about all the crimes that go unreported or the criminals who are never apprehended? What about intimidation that creates protection rackets, child pornography, sex trafficking, gang activity, welfare fraud, insider trading, bribery, corruption … And that doesn’t take into account the ways in which we are now calling evil, good and good, evil.

When I think about what we are as a society, I think, how can God stomach all this? And I haven’t even examined how we measure up in the kindness or humility departments.

Isn’t it clear that we as a nation, as a people have some repenting to do? How can we not pay attention? How can we think God is so uncaring or so absent that we can continue ignoring Him? It seems to me, the only people who can miss His hand at work in our land are those who think “Mother Nature” is to blame or who limit our responsibility to crimes against our environment, not to sins against our Creator.

Published in: on May 21, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on Are We Paying Attention?  
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The Grown-Up Christian Is …

Last week I posted about a topic we dislike–sin, ending with this line: “Man is sinful and in need of God alone who can save us.”

The problem is, too many people don’t understand what God’s work of saving us means on a practical, everyday level. There might be an idea that we start attending church and that we will go to heaven, but little else.

Even Christians may not be clear on the “what next” part of things. Are we supposed to clean up our language? Start doing “holy” things? Put on a serious expression and stay away from anything that’s fun?

Well, no.

The grown-up Christian life is actually characterized by abundant joy, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who came to Him privately to ask his questions, He said that to come to God we must be “born again.” Jesus created this metaphor to illustrate that coming to God is the beginning of life and just as we grow physically from immaturity to maturity, we do the same spiritually.

So coming to God through Jesus Christ is the “birth.” From the point that we confess with our mouth and believe with our heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, we have a new life.

How great if at that point God waved His hand over us and changed our desires, so that what we once hated, we now love; what offensive things we once loved, we now hate. But life doesn’t work that way. Babies don’t settle in the day they come home from the hospital and begin driving–or trading stocks on E-trade.

Instead, they have things to learn. They need time to grow. They need proper food and abundant rest, and yes, they need their messy pants changed. They need to be potty-trained. It’s a process.

The Christian life is no different.

A brand new Christian is not going to turn into a mature Christian over night. We don’t transform ourselves into mature Christians by imitating what mature Christians do, no more than a toddler can become a man by using his toy tools on his toy car in imitation of his dad working on the real thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Imitation has value, but it should not be mistaken for actual maturity.

So what is maturity? If we are in need of Christ’s redemptive work because of our sin, does maturity then mean Christians no longer sin?

I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people believe–some Christians and some non-Christians. Why else are Christians vilified for doing what everyone else in the culture does?

According to one poll, 85% of those answering the questions said Christians are hypocrites. Meaning we don’t live according to our beliefs.

And we don’t, not perfectly. We are in a battle to accomplish that very thing. What we believe is that we should follow Jesus–we should love God and love our neighbor. What we do is, live too often for ourselves, forgetting God, ignoring our neighbors.

So how are we any different from the rest of the world? In some respects, we aren’t. We still sin. On the other hand, we are growing up to salvation. We’re taking baby steps away from conformity to the world; we’re allowing God to transform us into His image.

It’s just not a done deal, so when we mess up–and we will–we stand exposed for the world to see our imperfection.

The thing is, if no one expected us to be perfect, our exposure as not perfect wouldn’t be a big deal.

Mature Christianity, then, is actually refusing to pretend that we are what we are not. Not that we go out with the intent to sin or celebrate some false notion of being free to sin if we want because God’s already picked up the bill.

Actually the opposite is true. When a mature Christian sins, it breaks his heart because he knows it breaks the heart of His Father. He knows that he should walk worthy of his calling (see Eph. 4:1) that he should please God in all respects (see Col. 1:9).

His sin, then, will drive him to his knees. He will bring it to his Father to claim the forgiveness He has already given. He will let God teach him and correct him and shape him.

In this way his life begins to take on a distinction that marks him as someone like Christ. The thing is, the more like Christ he is, the more he’ll want to serve and repent and learn and grow. He won’t parade an imagined perfection in front of the world. He won’t take credit for what God has done.

Published in: on June 11, 2012 at 6:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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Is God Listening?

Yesterday was the US National Day of Prayer. I didn’t hear much about it … didn’t write about it myself, but I suspect there were events that took place on the local level throughout the country. Prayer breakfasts, perhaps, with the mayor and the city council. Or gatherings of businessmen, led by a prominent pastor.

It sounds so good, like the Senate chaplain opening in prayer or the prayer in schools we wish we could enjoy.

Except … I wonder. Does God hear the prayers of those who don’t believe in Him? When President after President, for example, ends a speech, “God bless America,” does He hear and answer, even when the President invoking His name doesn’t know Him?

These thoughts came to mind when I was reading Hosea. During a relatively peaceful time in Judah’s history, Hosea, prompted by God’s Spirit, prophesied of God’s coming judgment against them and against Israel.

He said their sin had affected their relationship with God.

When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered…
And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.

Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. (Hosea 7:1-2, 13)

The key verse is the next one, I think. Apparently when trouble would come, then the people turned to God, but it wasn’t Him they wanted. It was the stuff He could provide.

And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me. (Hosea 7:14)

“Fake praying.” Saying the words, sounding religious, maybe even spiritual. But that’s not talking to God. There’s more:

Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the LORD has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins (Hosea 8:12-13a)

Their religious exercise didn’t bring God delight or them forgiveness. They were going through the motions, and God turned His back on them.

Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15b)

I’m stunned by that verse. God, who loved Israel for Abraham’s sake, said He had come to hate the northern kingdom because of their sin.

So, was He listening to their prayers?

As the enemy swoops upon them like an eagle, this was what Hosea said:

They cry out to Me,
“My God, we of Israel know You!”
Israel has rejected the good;
The enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)

In short, God doesn’t listen to the selfish prayer or the insincere prayer, not even from the religious. Here’s the prayer He wants:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

God’s listening, yes, but He doesn’t always hear. He won’t be manipulated or used, but He gladly responds to our repentance.

I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:4)

Published in: on May 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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Ethics, Scandal, And Doing What’s Right In Your Own Eyes

The US federal government has been hit with a double whammy. First the GSA scandal, then the one involving the Secret Service.

I actually had to look up the General Services Administration because I’d never heard of them. How in the world could they be wasting a million dollars (the amount I heard projected for the lavish conferences they were due to hold this year) of taxpayer money and I’d never heard of them?

In researching the organization ever so briefly, I discovered this:

GSA employs about 12,000 federal workers and has an annual operating budget of roughly $26.3 billion. GSA oversees $66 billion of procurement annually.

So apparently wasting a paltry million dollars is no big thing to them.

How ironic that there’s an effort to raise taxes, nationally and in the state of California, which some of us oppose on the grounds that the money going to government isn’t being spent well.

And speaking of money not being spent well, do you think tax dollars went into procuring the prostitutes for those Secret Service and military attachés?

Lust or greed, which is the worst scandal?

The thing is, none of this should surprise us. We taught a generation of our children that they are valuable, important, and deserve all the best there is. What’s more, we reduced morality to not getting caught.

So those children grew up and conceived of ways to get what they wanted by using government and business to their own advantage, legally or illegally. Mitt Romney went into corporate raiding — legal, to be sure, but ethical? Good for the people who worked at the companies being gutted?

And we had a President who felt no compulsion about lying to the grand jury to cover up his sexual liaisons, and another candidate for the Presidency who saw no problem with using campaign funds to provide for his mistress so that he could keep her hidden.

Greed and lust.

Our athletes and movie stars are role models for lust. Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Wilt Chamberlain — these are the Lakers stars who have won championships for the city of LA, but they were also involved in sexual scandal at some point in their past. Movie and TV stars are apt to change sex partners or spouses as often as they change roles.

Greed we see in every commercial that tells consumers they just have to have the next new gadget that is faster, shinier, cooler, hotter, flashier. When do we have enough? Never. Not as long as our economy depends on us spending. So greed needs to be ramped to a fever pitch as often as possible: Get those consumers confident so they’ll go in debt some more.

All of it is so reminiscent of the days before Israel had a king. In reality, God was to be their King, but instead, every man did what was right in his own eyes (see Judges 17:6 and 21:25).

Scripture catalogs gang rape, rampant homosexuality, murder, civil war, sex trafficking, hypocrisy. These were supposed to be the people of God, but they were choosing to live like the peoples around them who worshiped idols.

God would give them over to conquerors, but in His graciousness, when they cried out to Him in repentance, would then send a judge to rescue them.

If only we in the US would recognize the road we’re on — it leads to destruction. There’s only one way off, and it has nothing to do with electing the right people in November. It has everything to do with getting on our faces and repenting for doing what is right in our own eyes rather than listening to and obeying God and His Word.

Published in: on April 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm  Comments (4)  
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Christians Are Sinners, To Our Shame

While some Christians isolate a few New Testament verses to validate a doctrine known as sinless perfection, others use Biblical freedom from sin and guilt and the law as a license to sin with impunity. Like the Corinthians, they revel in what they perceive to be their right to do as they please.

To my last post on the subject of Christians and sin, Jason commented, “If the apostles admonish believers to good behavior, it cannot hold that they are incapable of bad behavior.” An excellent point, but there’s a natural corollary that belongs with that statement: if the apostles admonish believers to good behavior, it holds that believers will want to respond with good behavior.

Paul addressed this wrong thinking in Romans 6:1-2a. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” Later in the chapter, he explains further:

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

In light of this concept, that we are slaves to whomever we present ourselves, Paul pointedly states in chapter 12, the Christian’s responsibility:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (emphasis added)

To the Church in Colossae, Paul wrote that he was praying that their knowledge of God’s would increase “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (1:10a). Later in the chapter he said

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 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 that you have heard (vv. 21-23a – emphasis added).

Clearly, Paul taught that the Christian would respond to his salvation, not by sinning to his heart’s content in the belief that he was forgiven, but rather that he would do all he could to obey God and look to Him in faith.

The entire book of James is dedicated to this very theme. In his introduction, James states that his “beloved brethren” are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” These are the evidences of faith as he explains in chapter 2:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

Useless faith, dead faith, a slave to what we present ourselves — Scripture does not hold back. The Christian is not a forgiven sinner who continues in a lifestyle of sin, willfully and confidently taking the throne to do as he pleases because he knows he’s forgiven.

Rather, he lives to please God who is his Lord as He is his Savior. As the Christian submits to God, he becomes more like Him. As he obeys, he wants only to obey more. And when he falls short, he weeps and mourns even as he runs to God to cleanse his hands and purify his heart.

Two extreme positions — sanctified perfection or freedom to sin — and both misrepresent what the Bible actually says.

May we Christians eagerly ask God to search us and try us. When He does shows us our sin, may we put “aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.” May we “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.”

In other words, may we deal with the sin in our lives promptly so we can again enjoy the fellowship of our loving Heavenly Father, waiting for us with arms open wide.

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 8:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Christian And Sin

I’ve been reading in 1 John recently, the book of seeming contradictions. It’s interesting to see how some believers resolve the passages that deal with sin — passages like verses six through ten of the first chapter:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

What’s the problem, some say. The passage is clear. We sin, we need to repent.

But John goes on to say in the third chapter

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. (vv 4-8)

Well, that passage is clear, others will say. Christians won’t sin, and the test of who a real Christian is will be whether or not they sin.

Aren’t the two sections of the same letter, written by the disciple of Jesus, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in contradiction?

No, one camp will say. The first passage is talking about our pre-Christian state. Repentance in those verses is what the unbeliever must do, not the Christian who is walking in the Light.

No, the other camp says. In the second passage the “practices sin” indicates the habitual, consistent life-style of sin, not a sin act resulting from the “not yet” state while we are being sanctified and shaped into the image of God’s Son.

In other words, neither camp sees a contradiction because both take one passage or the other and interpret the second in light of the position they hold regarding the first. Both claim to believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God.

I’ve said from time to time that it’s important to consider the whole Bible, and not simply a handful of proof texts. I’ve been trying to do that more and more in my personal study. What I see is amazing consistency, even in places like this that seem to take honest, truth-seeking Christians in opposite directions.

Why are we stumbling if the Bible is consistent? That would be a worthy topic for another day.

Right now, I want to suggest, the way out of these quagmires is to look at God’s person and character.

We know that He is eternal (outside time) and that He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). We also know that He said, “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 – emphasis mine).

Does it seem consistent with the nature and person of an eternal God to forgive up to a point and not beyond, in light of His promise? Is He limited to cleansing us in a moment in time in the same way that He forgives us? I suggest He is not limited and that His forgiveness covers a lifetime.

But if God forgives past, present, and future sins, does that mean the Christian can sin with impunity? Hardly. This was the very issue Paul was addressing in Romans when he said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (6:1-2)

Some may think we’re right back where we started, but Paul’s emphasis seems to be on what we should do. Are we to continue in sin, he asked? No, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin (v 11). We are not to let sin reign in us (v 12). We are not to present our bodies to sin (v 13). We are to present our members as slaves to righteousness (v 19).

These seem very choice oriented — things we are expected to do, things we are now capable of doing, but things we must do and do and do again.

The bottom line is this: sin enslaved us until Christ freed us. Our nature had been the same as the dog returning to its vomit, but now I have the mind of Christ, and I have the Holy Spirit living in me, convicting me of sin and pushing me to repentance, teaching me what it means to be Christ-like, increasing in me the knowledge of God.

Will God finish this work in me here and now? I wish, and I’m sure my friends and family do too. But sanctification is a process, not a finished product as is the right standing I enjoy with God. That’s a done deal. My becoming like Christ –that’s a work in progress.

Published in: on August 19, 2011 at 7:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Will There Be a Fund-Raising Concert for Pakistan?

Until the last day or two I heard nothing on the network news about the flooding in Pakistan. I first became aware of the devastation and the desperate need for help from the BBC news broadcast carried by PBS.

Why is this, I wondered. It’s not like the US has no interest in the region. I mean we have military troops on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border and have long sought help from the Pakistanis in our fight against the Taliban.

It’s not like America has been stingy in responding to other world crises, whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, a tidal wave, or what have you. It’s not like we only respond to those close to home or to those who have governments friendly to ours.

Then why, when reports are that the flooding in Pakistan is a greater tragedy than Katrina and Hatti combined, are we not hearing more about relief efforts?

In deed, it seems the US military has done some air drops using their helicopters, but it seems a feeble effort in light of the wide-spread tragedy. Already people are dying from cholera and suffering because of dehydration. Is starvation far behind?

Acres and acres of crops are under water. The few refugee camps that are forming have no food.

But the leading headline for today’s LA Times online? “Court orders furloughs back on starting Friday.” That’s an article about a uniquely Californian problem, something that’s not a surprise in a California paper. However, the next two articles are about Iraq and General Motors. In fact, I don’t see a single mention of Pakistan on the entire home page. (For the record, the NY Times is little better, including only a link to an article about Pakistan aid lagging.)

Why this omission? I could theorize, but maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe all that counts is that Christians rise up to come to the aid of those who are suffering by supporting the organizations who are involved in relief efforts.

And even more important, we need to be praying for God to use this tragedy for His purposes, for His glory. Could this “natural disaster” be yet another call for the people of the world to repent of our sins?

The Old Testament is filled with instances when God brought or allowed crises to bring peoples to their knees. Sometimes they repented and turned to God. Sometimes they hardened their hearts and refused to acknowledge Him as God.

Can we not pray for a work of His Spirit to bring people to a knowledge of His Son and repentance for their disregard for Him? Can we not pray for God to be merciful and bring help in time of need? Can we not be Christ’s hands and feet (and pocketbook) to the Pakistanis so that they learn about our compassionate and loving heavenly Father through us?

Or will we trust that eventually the entertainment community will put on a Pakistani Relief Concert to provide the hundreds of thousands of dying people a little clean water?

Published in: on August 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm  Comments (9)  
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Warnings Galore

Not two months ago I wrote about Earthquakes and God and included these lines:

But ultimately disasters wherever they occur should make us look to ourselves. Jesus’s words to those reporting the local news to Him should drive us to our knees: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Last night—actually early this morning, at 4:04—a quake hit Southern California. If those of you living in another country or another part of the US didn’t hear about this, don’t be surprised because this temblor was small—only 4.4, compared to the 8.8 Chilean quake and the 7.0 Haitian quake. No buildings down, no people hurt, trapped, or dead. In fact, very little damage.

But for me it was a wake up call. Well, not really because I was already awake and reading.

The one important point I haven’t mentioned yet is the epicenter of this quake. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the report came in that it was under my apartment building.

The first thing I felt and heard, simultaneously, was a crash as if a large something had slammed into the side of the building. Then a shaking as if a giant had gripped the building in two hands and was shaking it like someone would a tree in an effort to bring down an apple in the top branches or a ball that was lodged among the leaves.

It didn’t last long–ten seconds maybe.

But here’s the thing. Amid car alarms blaring into the morning darkness, I turned on the TV to find out where the epicenter was (close, and nothing to worry about because I’d felt the worst of it; or far, and there might be considerable damage).

Turns out, I was about as close to the epicenter as it felt. This quake was approximately three miles closer to me than the Whittier Narrows temblor some twenty plus years ago. That one, centered about five miles from me, killed eight people and caused millions of dollars of damage.

But back to the TV and the point of this post. Every morning news program carried coverage of this quake at once. They knew when and where and how hard and even how deep (a little over ten miles down so it was felt over a far range even though it wasn’t that hard). And they started taking phone calls, asking people what they felt, if it had wakened them, and if they were prepared.

The media puts big stock here in people being prepared for “The Big One.” We are all to have an emergency supply of water, clothes, food, batteries, radio, and now, apparently, a generator, since several of the callers mentioned that.

All this “be prepared” talk is about weathering the days after a devastating quake. No talk about preparing to die. No talk about the spiritual implications of something so uncontrollable as a quake or a string of quakes. Why aren’t we talking about where God is in all this?

Oh, I suppose most Christians were scared off the topic by what Pat Robertson said after the quake in Haiti. But God makes it clear in places in the Bible like Isaiah that He brought war and famine and drought and natural disasters as a warning to the nations or as punishment for their sins.

There are so many passages I’d like to quote, but let me finish with this one:

Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place; Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation And His tongue is like a consuming fire;

His breath is like an overflowing torrent, Which reaches to the neck, To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve, And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin.

– Isa 30:27-28

Preparation? The only preparation that matters is for us to go to our faces before God and plead for his mercy and for revival in our land.

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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