Joy To The World


California is still reeling from the recent wildfires, and here in SoCal we are bracing for an expected rainstorm. People in the burn area are sandbagging, and voluntary evacuations are in place, because everyone knows that following fire, rain brings mudslides.

What’s ironic is, we need the rain because we’ve been in such a prolonged drought. So we want rain, but we don’t.

On top of this, the people in Thousand Oaks are still a bit shocked by the shooting that killed so many who were minding their own business, spending time with friends, that fateful evening they were attacked.

Then there are others who are mourning.

We lost our last President of the US from the Greatest Generation last Friday, so in some ways the nation is mourning.

Joy to the world?

I’ve had it, some people are saying, Christmas is over. Who can celebrate when the world is in such turmoil, when sorrow is so present, when there seems to be so little to engender joy?

But isn’t this precisely why we must celebrate Christmas? Not the Christmas of Santa and Fa-la-la-la-la or Black Friday Greed. Not that Christmas.

What we need to celebrate is God, come down to rescue us from the trauma of sin that puts puts evil intent in the hearts of people and corrupts the very fabric of our planet.

Christmas is proof that God hasn’t left us to cope on our own, that He has a solution.

Good news! the angel said to the shepherds, that night Jesus was born; this joyful announcement is for all people–you have a Savior.

Who needs a Savior? Not those living contentedly, convinced of their own ability to heal the woes of Mankind. Not those untouched by fear or grief or devastation.

Who needs the joyful announcement, The Savior has come? People aware of their need for a Savior.

In the midst of an obviously broken world, Jesus appears with comfort and assurance. For those who trust Him, He gives His presence through the dark and His promise that things won’t always be like this. Sin won’t win. There is a future and a hope.

That’s good news, joy for the whole world.

This post is a partially rewritten article that appeared here in December, 2012.

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Published in: on December 4, 2018 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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Who Needs A Savior?


John MacArthur, president of the Master’s Seminary here in SoCal, has begun airing a series of sermons on his radio program, Grace to You, about parenting. He’s said more than once in these early broadcasts that parents’ number one job is to help their children understand they are sinners. OK, that seems wrong.

Until I reflect on my own experience as a young child, trying to reason my way out of being part of the all in “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I didn’t want that to be descriptive of me! I figured, if I could just think of one person in the Bible who had not sinned (besides Jesus, because I understood He was God), then maybe I could be like that person. I hadn’t really dealt with what any sins I’d committed up to that point, made me.

So, yes, in my own experience, I needed convincing that I am indeed a sinner.

But why is that important?

Without an understanding of my situation—that I am a sinner, separated from God, destined for hell—I won’t comprehend my need for a Savior. Why would someone who is not drowning need to be pulled from the pool? Why would someone without a heart problem need a heart transplant? Why would someone not incapacitated by debt need debt relief?

Simply put, only those who recognize their problem will also recognize they need an answer to that problem.

To be honest, this great cultural shift we have experienced in the postmodern and post-truth era has harmed the gospel more than we may realize. People now a days have argued with me that no, we are not sinners. Never mind the clear evidence. Never mind that we have not stopped saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” Never mind that the logical deduction from the simple Biblical statement, “The wages of sin is death,” can only be that we are all sinners, because we all die.

But believing the lie that humankind is actually good, not sinful, not in need of a rescue plan, the idea of a Savior seems old-fashioned, out of date, unnecessary, quaint.

I’ll admit, I don’t like it, but I think MacArthur is right. Children, and adults, need to be convinced they are sinners.

Sadly, some people consider telling a child about hell to be a form of child abuse. After all, they might have nightmares, they might not be able to fall asleep at night, they might begin to worry and fear the future.

Well, children can also get nightmares, have a hard time falling asleep, and worry or fear the future, if we tell them they will be going to school when they turn six. In other words, just because something they must face may have unpleasant consequences, we should not pretend it doesn’t exist, that it won’t happen. School happens to kids in one form or another. We would not be helping a child by saying, don’t be anxious about school, don’t stay awake at night thinking about it, put it out of your mind because school is a non-issue—it’s somebody’s idea of a sick joke, and they should be prosecuted for child abuse if they told you anything else.

The good parent does not withhold information about hard things. They prepare their child for them instead. They pass along the secrets that will make their school experience a plesant and productive one. And they walk through the difficulties with them.

Why would a parent do less when it comes to their children’s eternal destiny? “Let’s not talk about it” is not an answer to the need of a child’s heart.

Am I a sinner? Do sinners suffer death as a result? Can I escape this fate?

I remember one night crying. I was sick and I had begun to think about death. My mom came to my bedside, wanting to comfort me. Why are you crying, she wanted to know. Because I don’t want to die. Oh, Becky, she said, you’re not going to die.How relieved I was! Until I realized she was referring to me dying from my present illness. But I meant, I don’t want to die, ever! The comfort I felt moments before was snatched from me. I didn’t have an answer to my problem.

Who needs a Savior? The better question is, who doesn’t? Who won’t face death? Who isn’t a slave to sin? Who has hope for eternal life without a Savior?

Nobody, no one, none of us.

So are we doing children any favors by withholding the truth and in the process withholding the hope that having a Savior brings?

I think not. The sooner we realize the situation of our eternal souls, the better, I think. Hard as it sounds, we simply cannot get to grace without first coming face to face with our need for grace. We cannot accpt God’s forgiveness until we realize we need to be forgiven.

We all need a Savior, and I think telling a child they are just like the rest of us, is a good thing.

Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Holiness Of Jesus


I’ve written about God’s holiness before. I’ve written about the fact that we humans miss the mark when we try to attain His standard of purity. I’ve discussed the need for Christians to take seriously the Scriptural admonition to “be holy for I [the LORD] am holy.” But I think I may have overlooked the holiness of Jesus.

I was stunned a week or so ago (stunned, I tell you!) when in the atheist/theist Facebook group I belong to, a member identifying himself as a Progressive Christian said, more than once, he believe Jesus sinned.

At the time I didn’t ask him why he thought that. The current discussion was centered on something else and he made the comment more in passing than in anything else, as a response to something one of the atheists had said.

I’ve thought about it a lot since. I don’t know why this person would come up with such a notion. Clearly he is either unaware of what Scripture says about Jesus and sin or he doesn’t believe what it says. I’m not sure which. Either way, the fact is, the Bible is very clear about the holiness of Jesus. Take 1 Peter 2 as an example:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (vv 21-23; emphases here and in the following verses are mine)

Of course there is also the testimony of people who observed Jesus, such as the thief who turned to Him for salvation:

And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41)

The centurion—a Roman, who would typically have hated the Jews—came to the same conclusion:

Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent” [the word literally means righteous]. (Luke 23:47)

The Apostle Paul stated Jesus’s relation to sin in the clearest language:

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

The writer to the Hebrews had the same understanding:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

In fact, the writer to the Hebrews built one of his main points on the reality that Jesus was without sin:

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; (Hebrews 7:26)

Because Jesus did not have His own sin to deal with, He could serve as our perfect High Priest.

As if these witnesses are not enough, the Apostle John gives voice to the same truth in his first letter:

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

All this to say, anyone claiming that Jesus sinned must not know what the Bible says about Him, or has decided not to believe the Bible.

The question I have for someone who makes this claim is, Why would you call yourself a Christian? I don’t understand the point of adopting the name of a religion while rejecting its main tenets.

Actual Christians believe the Bible. We hold to it as the source of authoritative truth. We also believe that Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world. But as the writer to the Hebrews said, He couldn’t do that if He had his own sins to die for. The only Person qualified to stand in for someone else is a Person who would not have to forfeit His life for His own sins. Everyone else, living under the clear truth that the wages of sin is death, would have to die for his own sins.

So if Jesus sinned, there would be no redemption in Him. No one would be saved. So why would those people claiming this false idea call themselves Christians? They can’t believe in the substitutionary atonement. That means they are still living in their sins, they haven’t accepted the free gift of grace provided through Jesus.

In short, Jesus was holy or there is no salvation and no Christianity. Such a nonsensical idea that we could have a sinful savior. Such a fallacious idea that someone could claim to be a Christian and not believe in Jesus’s saving power.

And atheists wonder why I say that not everyone who names the name of Christ actually knows Him and believes in Him.

What’s So Horrible About Sin?


Well, actually, I’m wondering why some people react so negatively when they hear or read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

You see, to them, it seems, saying they are sinners is a great offense. And we know how cruel you have to be to give offense to someone else! That’s why universities have safe zones.

It’s almost like the idea that we are all sinners is a punch in the face.

And honestly, I don’t understand. I’ve said it before—no one disputes the fact that nobody is perfect. We don’t have to witness every single person on the planet making a wrong choice or displaying a bad attitude or doing a wrong thing. But we know that all the people in our circle are not perfect. The people in the news and at the Olympics and in the movies and on the playing field—not perfect. So it’s an easy conclusion. Nobody’s perfect.

And the reverse? All have sinned.

But somehow that statement is heinous, shocking, unforgivable, even bigoted.

It’s not as if a Christian says, You’re a sinner and I’m not. On the contrary, Christians easily and readily admit they are sinners (except for a small group who believe in sinless perfection, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So why do people who reject Jesus think saying they are sinners is such a horrible affront?

I’m convinced that being confronted with their sinful condition flies in the face of the point of view of the world that Humankind is good.

We may not be perfect, they say, but we’re good.

Which means that “good” actually means “sorta good.” Not all the way good, but mostly good. More good than bad.

Which works fine in a culture that gives trophies to all the kids who participated. You don’t have to be on the best team or a starter or even one who made every practice—you still deserve a trophy. Because you’re good. And we all know you can be whatever you put your mind to.

The promise seems to hang in the air, that you might even become perfect one day.

And then along comes a Christian who says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Fall short? Who says?

Well, God does.

Who’s God?

That’s the question Pharaoh essentially asked Moses during their first encounter. But he wasn’t asking for knowledge. He used the question to express his disdain. He actually didn’t care who God was. He’d already made up his mind what he was going to do and he didn’t care what God wanted.

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

That’s where so many are at today. Who cares what God says is good or evil. I say it’s good, so it’s good. I don’t need to worry about hitting his mark. I’ll just move the target closer if I’m falling short. Or I’ll make a bigger target. That’s it! None of this narrow road stuff for me. I want a big tent, a broad way, and a manageable target to hit.

Then I can declare with conviction, I’m not a sinner, you’re not a sinner. Actually I’m OK, and you’re OK. (Unless you’re a hypocrite Christian).

All humor aside, we’re losing our moral compass. What used to be a given when I was growing up is now up for grabs. “Sin” is now in the eye of the beholder, and repentance not needed.

But that’s not how God sees us. He has clearly stated we all fall short of His glory, which makes us sinners. And there’s only one remedy for sin.

Denying that we are sinners does not change the fact. Wishing sin away—no affect. Trying harder, doing good things to compensate, none of it can change our nature, which is the real problem.

It’s like we’re a glass of muddy water. Pouring clean water into the muddy water may dilute the mud, but it doesn’t get rid of it. Washing the outside of the glass does not get rid of the muddy water.

That glass needs a clean start, and no one can give that except Jesus Christ, the Fountain of Living Water. He washes, He cleans, He fills us with Himself.

And the sins so many try to deny or ignore?

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

What a choice—pretend sins aren’t there or have them removed? This one seems like a no-brainer. Of course, have them removed! But for some, the idea that they have sin seems too horrible to admit, to devastating, to offensive.

The crazy thing is, the offense is not saying we have sin. Actually the sin itself is the offense. That’s what God has told us. But we humans like to have our self-esteem pumped up. And admitting sin doesn’t do that.

Kind of reminds me of my friend whose toe got infected, but he didn’t want to go to the doctor. Until he admitted that he could lose the toe, maybe the foot, even his life, he didn’t get proper treatment.

So too with sin. As long as we refuse the label of sinner, we won’t look for a Savior.

Published in: on February 27, 2018 at 6:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise


christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

This article first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Comments Off on Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise  
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Determining Right And Wrong: Moral Judgments, Part 3


In this short series about moral judgments, I concluded in the first post that we all make them and in the second that there needs to be a standard by which to make them besides what do I like?

Thankfully, such a standard already exists, so we don’t have to invent the wheel. We do have to accept it, however, and we do have to learn to use it correctly.

If you’ve hung around A Christian Worldview of Fiction for any amount of time, you already know what I’m about to say — the standard by which we should make moral judgments is the Word of God.

Think about it for a moment. If there is a standard of right that is more than a politically correct idea, it’s right whether or not the majority of people believe it to be so. It’s the flat earth/round earth debate. How ridiculous it would be to take a vote on that subject. No matter how many people down through the centuries may have stated emphatically that the earth was flat, it would still be round.

There is a standard of truth, a level of fact, a moral right which is not up for grabs. Green is green and it’s not going to be orange. Two plus five is seven and it isn’t going to be nine. God is love and He never will be hate. And Man is to obey God, never ignore Him.

In other words, there are certain unshakable absolutes in the world. God’s Word communicates just such unshakable absolutes. But of course we have to believe that the Bible is what it says it is.

Perhaps most pertinent to this discussion, the Bible says it is inspired—breathed—by God. In other words, God chose to communicate with us in a clear and relevant way—through language. He did so before Christ came, sometimes speaking directly to people like Abraham and Gideon and Samuel and Elijah. Sometimes He spoke through dreams to people like Joseph and Daniel. Other times He spoke through a prophet like Ezekiel or Jonah or Jeremiah.

Then He sent Jesus, the Living Word. His language was His life as well as His stories and sermons. His was the whole package. But for us who live all these years later, we have the words of God to the men and women of God which He preserved for us.

But here’s the point. What God chose to communicate is one of those absolutes. We don’t get to pick and choose what we like and what we dislike from all He’s said, Genesis through Revelation.

When I was growing up, I didn’t like those “rod of correction” verses that informed my parents about good discipline. When I was a young adult, I didn’t like the “to die is gain” verses that reminded me that this world is not my home. Regardless of my attitude toward these things and many others, they remain true. They remain God’s standard.

Consequently, I don’t get to say, Love God — check; love my enemy — NO WAY!

I am not the authority passing judgment on the rightness of God’s moral standard. That is completely backwards. Rather God’s moral standard reveals my heart and shows me how far short I fall from His Holiness.

Which is why I need a Savior.

This post, part three of a short series on moral judgment, is an edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2012.

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 6:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Love That Tells The Truth


U_Wash_Quad__04Years ago when I was in college, a friend of mine was up for election. They posted the results on the window of the dining commons when I was in line for dinner. Inside, my friend sat at a table watching those of us on the outside cluster around to see the results. My friend didn’t win, and I made the fatal decision to go in and tell her. The problem was, she thought I was kidding. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to their friend and say, Sorry but you lost. I had to say it with some vehemence because she really thought I was yanking her chain.

I thought at the time I would have been better off to pretend I didn’t see her. At least that way I wouldn’t have been the bearer of bad news. “Don’t shoot the messenger” has become a cliché for a reason. People are apt to turn on the one who tells the sad tale even though they had no hand in creating the event that caused the sadness.

It’s awkward to tell the truth when you know what you say is unpleasant or hurtful. Telling the truth can put a relationship in jeopardy.

What’s more, we live in a society that is confused about the truth. The relativistic principle now ruling the majority of Millennials, says truth is whatever you want it to be. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, watch this short video.

These college students seem to be intelligent, yet they are unwilling to stand up and tell someone the truth—no, you’re not 6’5″, you’re not Asian, you’re not a woman, you’re not seven.

The truth is, the DMV will not go along with a ten year old claiming she’s eighteen. Movie theaters aren’t going to let a thirteen year old into an R-rated film, voting registrants still need to be over eighteen as do those who volunteer for the military. States still have a legal age for someone to drink—twenty-one in most places.

As to height, no NBA team will look at a 5’9″ man as a potential center for their team just because he is 7’1″ on the inside. Amusement rides aren’t going to change height requirements for young children just because they feel as if they are as tall as their daddy.

In other words, facts remain facts, and the truth matters. Those who love, tell the truth.

It is not loving to let someone think one way, only for them to discover that what they had believed, was not true. It is not loving to let someone turn onto a street in front of a bus simply because they thought the way was clear: “Well, I didn’t want to offend her by telling her she needed to stop.” What friend would say that?

Apparently a good number, because young people who are doing themselves harm are regularly allowed to do so by their friends. The excuse so often is, She’ll never speak to me again if I tell her to stop drinking, stop taking drugs, stop sleeping around, stop wasting so much time watching TV, or whatever the unhealthy behavior might be. We are more concerned that we keep status than that we tell the truth.

That fact extends to the truth about our spiritual condition.

I know there’s a bit of a fine line. No one likes to be bossed around or made to feel like a little kid who can’t get it together. People often push back against those who tell them the truth: Who are you to tell me what to do? Look at your own life. You don’t have it all together.

Which is why it is important that we who tell the truth, first tell the truth about ourselves.

So here’s the truth that the Millennials need to hear, that Gen-X needs to hear, that the Me Generation needs to hear, that the Greatest Generation, that the latest generation (yet to be named) needs to hear: I am a sinner. I fall short of God’s standard of holiness. And so do you. We all fall short. We are not all winners in God’s eyes. We are lost children who have run away from home. That’s who we are.

And it is the most loving thing I can do to tell this truth far and wide. If someone doesn’t know he’s a sinner, why would he want to be saved? If someone doesn’t know he’s far from home, why would he want to return to the loving arms of his father?

I can say until I’m blue in the face that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. But if you don’t believe you are in jeopardy, that statement sounds like nonsense. Why would someone die for me? I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

At some point, if people are to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, they must realize they are lost, can’t figure out what is true, and are destined to die.

Christians should love in a way that is countercultural. But that love should be more than feeding the homeless, planting churches among the urban poor, translating the Bible into a tribal language, or giving shoes to poor children. True love also must say the hard things: if you continue in sin, you’ll separate yourself from God for eternity. Going your own way is sin. You need to repent, turn back, and accept God as your Lord—as do we all. I simply love you too much not to tell you the truth.

Published in: on April 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Good Men Don’t Need A Savior


church2Easter, which is the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is just ahead. Historically people who rarely go to church will make the effort to attend this coming Sunday. Many will hear Scripture read and sermons preached, all illuminating Jesus, alive from the dead.

Some smaller number will tie the resurrection to Jesus’s mission on earth—His sacrifice, His shouldering the burden of sin and dying that those who believe on His name might be saved.

The problem is, in western culture, most people don’t think they need to be saved. Trapped miners need to be saved. Kidnap victims need to be saved. Hostages in a botched bank holdup need to be saved.Puppies that fall into sewer pipes need to be saved. But the average, everyday person, living his life—going to work, coming home, watching a preseason baseball game on TV, having dinner, helping the kids with homework, turning in after the Late Show—the average, everyday person doesn’t need a savior, does he?

Actually, he does.

Because of the nature of time—a second ticking off without us really being aware of it, and us growing older without feeling all that different, until one day we start seeing the gray hair and feeling the stiff joints—because of the invisible eating away of our lives, we don’t realize we are in need of rescue.

Death is winning, though we try to ignore it or pretend it isn’t so. The irrevocable truth remains the same as the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God: the wages of sin is death.

Unless we’re rescued.

But who could save us from the certainty of death? How about Someone who already went through it and came out the other side with a new, glorified body?

Jesus, the resurrected Son of God can save us! Not from physical death—that’s a consequence that remains in place—but from spiritual death. From the grip of sin. From the strictures of the Law. From the accusations of guilt.

He can save us not only from, but to: to the hope of heaven, to a new and glorified body like Jesus’s, to life everlasting without the sadness and sighing we experience here and now.

There’s just one problem. Good men don’t qualify for rescue. Jesus came to rescue sinners.

The real problem, of course, is that there is no such person as a good man. Or a good woman. We are all sinners, but not everyone recognizes that fact. Some admit that they don’t do everything they should or that they did things they should have avoided. Their answer, though, it to simply try harder.

They determine, for example, to learn from their mistakes. And to make up for them. They might decide to donate money to a good cause or volunteer at a community center or even at a church. The problem is, good things cannot wipe out the immoral acts or wrong doing of our past. Or of our future.

The truth is, we were made for relationship—with God and with others. But sin bent that purpose. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. When He confronted them, Adam blamed Eve, and indirectly blamed God for giving her to him. Eve blamed the serpent.

What they didn’t do was fall on their face and say, I’ve sinned in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your child. They blamed and excused and tried to come off as if they were the injured party, not the one who was wrong.

Not much has changed. Come Sunday, I suspect a good many of the once-a-year churchgoers will walk to their cars after the service still wiggling and squirming out of the clear fact that they are sinners, not good men or good women. Who knows but a good many of the regular attenders will do the same thing. After all, they go to church every Sunday! That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

Well, no, actually it doesn’t. The good that we do can’t undo the wrong. Adam and Eve could have worked all day in the garden to cultivate it—a good thing. They’d be taking care of their environment. Oh, but wait. That’s the job God gave them to do.

But Eve could have accepted Adam’s authority and he could have loved her and clung to her and . . . and that’s also what God had told them to do. Every good thing was already normative behavior. There is no good thing that is above and beyond that can make up for a failing.

And of course we now have our sin nature to deal with as well, so the Bible now categorizes our righteousness, the rightness of our lives morally, as nothing but despicably filthy rags.

So we are left with two choices: confession or continued cover up. We can stop pretending that we’ll ever balance our wrongdoing with our good behavior, admit that we are sinners, and that we need a Savior. Or we can continue to try what has not worked in the past or pretend that the wrong we do isn’t really wrong at all. It’s society or our parents or our spouse or the police or the government or the church or . . . or . . . anybody but me, because I’m good and I don’t need a savior.

The sad thing is, God gives them what they want. They don’t want a savior, then they won’t have a savior. He’s not going to force anyone into His kingdom. He’s all about rescuing those who want out of the kingdom of darkness. Those who sit in the dark and call it light, who look at their evil thoughts and intentions and selfish, prideful actions and say, I’m good—well, there’s no rescue for them.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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Advent, Week 1 – Hope


Salem_United_Methodist_Church_and_cemeteryA good friend of mine attended a funeral today. The woman who passed away was a member of her church, a member of the group of ladies who go to Sunday lunch together after the service. And as it happens, this was the sixth member of that small congregation to die this year. My friend is not alone. Others have lost loved ones this year, too.

On a national scale, we have protests in Chicago and a(nother) shooting in Colorado. We have Presidential candidates saying divisive things (not just Donald Trump; Hilliary Clinton merrily declared Republicans to be her enemies in the first Democratic Presidential debate.) Then there is the tightened security around . . . well, wherever people gather together. Here in SoCal there was a Festival of Lights in Riverside that had beefed up security because of the crowd the event would draw. I mean, Riverside? Do most people even know there is a Riverside, let alone where it is? Apparently, no matter where we live, we’re facing this terrorist threat in one way or another.

Internationally there’s the scramble to contain/destabilize/degrade/destroy (pick your verb) ISIS, aka ISIL, aka Daesh. (Am I the only one concerned that our government continues to call the terrorist organization one thing when the rest of us call it something else and the people fighting them use a third name? I mean, we can’t even agree on their name?)

But this is the beginning of Advent. Christians are turning our focus on hope.

Despite personal, national, or international concerns, it’s right that we cling to hope first and foremost during the Christmas season, and beyond. But how do we get there?

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one, or fear, or worry to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here, or because this event happened or could happen again.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter, and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a Merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the forever praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the peace, the safety, the generosity, the creativity, the activity—none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And an end to the worries and fears. That is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmastime and some may worry or fear, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas, our worry and fear to joy and peace.

We of all people have hope beyond the temporary merryness of the season because we look to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 7:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Reprise: Sin Is Not The Problem


_A_volcano_on_the_Yemeni_island_of_Jabal_at-Tair_erupts_in_the_early_morning_hours_of_Oct._1,_2007Well, of course, sin IS the problem, but believing that sin is the problem has become a greater problem.

Western culture paints the belief that people sin in the worst light: If only oppressive religion didn’t make people feel so guilty. If only we realized our real potential. If only we weren’t so critical and judgmental. If only we looked for the good in others.

It all sounds so nice, so kind.

And it makes religion—Christianity in particular—seem so repressive, so intolerant, so blameworthy.

Yet no one holding this view seems concerned with what ought to be an overriding question—where did the first act of intolerance come from? How did the whole round of judgmental behavior get started?

Christian and non-Christian alike recognize that we all are not perfect. Yet somehow, the problem has become our feeling guilty for the wrong we do, not the wrong itself. The problem has become our judgment that others do wrong, not the wrong they do.

And we wonder why the lost world doesn’t want a savior.

Simply put, our culture has removed the need for a savior. Because, I’m OK and you’re OK. Not lost. And certainly not sinful.

The only people that ought to feel guilty are the ones pointing out sin. Shame on them for making the rest of us feel bad (not sinful—We Do Not Feel Sinful. To feel sinful would be … well, wrong).

So you see, our culture no longer believes sin is the problem.

It seems Christianity has played right into this deviation. No more fire-and-brimstone preaching! We don’t want people to hate coming to church. We have to bring them in with a good marketing strategy. Make church sound like fun and Christianity like the solution to whatever problem you are experiencing.

That’s not the way the preachers in the Bible went about speaking. John the Baptist called his audience a brood of vipers. Peter told his listeners they had killed the Messiah. Stephen called his audience stiff-necked and accused them of resisting the Holy Spirit.

And of course they died martyr’s deaths.

Many of our forefathers died the same way. But somewhere along the line, western Christianity got comfortable. Now we have rights and feel affronted if someone says something mean about Christians.

And more and more, we’re becoming silent. We don’t want to offend others by our “radical” religious views. So we’ll keep the peace and concentrate on lifestyle evangelism, because surely, just as people can see God when they look at nature, they can see Christ when they look at my life. Can’t they?

Why does it seem more and more that sin is not the problem as much as my willingness to say sin is the problem?

This post first appeared here in February 2011.

Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 6:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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