Faithful and Just

www.bible.com/1713/1jn.1.9.csb

While God is faithful is forgive us our sins (if we ask, since He has already paid for them by the blood of Jesus), it seems hardly “just”. It is probably the most unjust thing for God to do. Because our sins are the very epitome of injustice. Every sin we commit is an act of rebellion against a holy God. Every sin, blatantly committed to His face, even though we know better, is an affront to His Being and Love. Would you spit in the face of one you love? And yet this we do time and again when we sin.

No, to me it hardly seems just that such a God would both forgive and be just in His forgiveness, but He is. For He has already paid the price for such an affront by expressing His love for us in this: He sent His Son, Jesus, to live among, to teach us a new Way, and to give His life for us, not just because He willingly laid it down, but that we willingly took it from Him.

Our sin had so separated us from the Lord Jesus, the One, perfect human being, that we would have hated Him. He is so righteous and so pure, that none of us would be able to stand Him. None of us would be able to look Him in the eye. And His very existence would be testimony against us. We would have gladly participated in His murder, because our sinful selves cannot abide holiness. Don’t imagine yourself to be any different. Sin and Holiness are mutually exclusive. You cannot have both. And every Christian alive today knows the careful line we straddle between the two, and the struggle to stay on the right side of it. Temptation reaches across often, and often snags and tears us from that pedestal of holiness. Again and again, Jesus reaches back across to rescue the lost sheep, the believer who has lost his way, telling him how much He loves him, and wants him back.

My friends if you have never experienced this kind of love, then you don’t know Jesus’ love. If you’ve never felt the overwhelming love that comes from Jesus who again and again loves us despite our sin, because He loves us so much that He gave His life for us, shed His blood for our souls. He will not lightly let us go. For Him, justice is to pay for our nonredeemable sins. We cannot pay for them. We can’t. No amount of good deeds will ever justify us. We cannot level the balance. No matter how hard we try or how good we are, we will always fall short of perfection. Nobody’s perfect? No, no one but Jesus. And because He was, no one else is good enough. God does not grade on a curve, but He gives grace through faith and trust in His Son.

And this is the promise He extends to you. He wants you to experience His love, peace (from not being in conflict with Him), and righteousness (something we can never achieve on our own, but He freely offers by His grace). He offers all of this to you if want it. He is faithful to keep His promises, and He us just, because has already paid the price for your admission.

Dear Lord, I pray for my brothers and sisters who may not have felt this kind of love before, freely offered, at such great and terrible cost, just so that they come to belief and faith in Christ, and live eternally with You. There has never been anything so costly, and yet so personal. Please Lord, let all who read this take comfort in Your presence and grace today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

New Person

www.bible.com/1713/2co.5.17.csb

Have you ever been the new guy? When I transferred to Harney Elementary between semesters in my first grade year, I had to say goodbye to all my old friends and try to fit in to a new group. It was challenging, especially for someone like me who doesn’t make friends easily. I was “assigned” a friend by the teacher to help me out and show me the ropes at the new place, but it wasn’t the same. I did feel very much alone. Along the way, I did make some new friends, at least people I could sit with at lunch, but have always felt like the outsider.

And then about six years later, I converted to Christianity. Not that my parents weren’t Christians, but I took more time just because I was terrified of being drowned in baptism. Luckily, I made it. But something else was “wrong”. I wasn’t the same person. Oh I had the same body, the same eyes, still wore glasses and my clothes still fit, but my person was changed. it took time for that change to take effect, as I was only 12 and I wasn’t finished growing up yet, but began to see the world differently. Church started to make more sense. I became acutely aware of my sins and sinful desires.

You see, being a new person had nothing to do with the color of my skin, but the change in my heart. I intentionally chose the image above to make this point. We have brothers and sisters in Christ whose skin color doesn’t match our own. But it isn’t about the skin. It’s about the heart. When the heart has been changed, when we become that new person, we are brothers all the same.

I guess that’s all the point I have today. Just wanted to share that with you.

Lord, help me see past the skin, past the eyes and the cloak of racism that many are trying to cover us all with. Help me as a Christian to see others as You see them, for you do not look upon the outer man, but upon the heart. Help me hear the heart of my brothers and sisters. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

The Gift

www.bible.com/1713/2ti.1.7.csb

Have you ever received a gift so treasured, that you keep it with you at all times? I have bought many things for myself, my cell phone, my wallet, my keys, my Emmaus cross, that I always keep on my person, as often as I can. Even when I am asleep, I keep my phone and my watch close by. But something someone else has given me, nothing comes to mind right off. I’m sure your experience is different. I just don’t get gifts like that very often.

Part of the problem is that I just have anyone that close to me. I’ll be honest, I do tend to keep everyone at arm’s length. I just don’t let very many in. My wife and my children are probably the closest human beings I let in, but even with them I keep some things to myself. Maybe its because I’m an introvert and I maintain a private world. Maybe its because some of the few times I open up a little bit, all I get is confusion in return, so why bother?

So when I am given a gift as mentioned in today’s verse, it is a profundity that I have a hard time comprehending. Paul isn’t just writing about any spirit here, but he is referring to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t afraid of anything. There is nothing in this world that scares the Holy Spirit. I’m glad he’s on our side. Note the three qualities Paul mentions: power, love, and sound judgment. The Holy Spirit, because He is God, is Power. He holds all power to do as God wishes. He is Love because God is love. And in Him is all sound judgment, because God is the Ruler and Judge of this world.

So what does this mean to us? This Spirit is God’s gift to us. When we were baptized, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the Presence of God in us. This is God dwelling in us. So that in us, God works to mature us and help us grow in faith. It is when we aren’t close to God’s presence that we feel fear. When we are close to Him, we experience the sense of His power, feel and exercise His love, and sound judgment. We could even exercise that power if the Lord so wills.

Best of all, this is a gift that you can take with you wherever you, even if everything else was taken away from you. No power on earth can take God’s Holy Spirit from you, nor His power, love or sound judgment. It is the one thing you can carry with your wherever you go.

May I encourage you to consult with the Holy Spirit today? In this age of fear, let us remember that the Spirit is about power, love, and sound judgment. We are not powerless, apathetic, or foolish. We have a voice, and it needs to be heard, because God has something to say to this dark and evil world. He is the light and we are the lampbearers.

Lord Jesus, help me today to remember who I am, what I am to do, and to do so with grace and mercy, just as you did to me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

If You Then I

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.15.7.csb

I know when I read this verse, my mind emphasizes the last part more than the first. And it is a great promise we have from God here through His Son. It is a powerful promise, but it is also conditional. I may ask whatever I wish, and it will be done for me, but it does have one teeny-tiny condition attached to it. The Lord must abide in me and I do in Him. It is comparatively easy to ask than to abide.

For abiding means that God is living in You, taking up residence, eating out of your fridge and sitting on your couch. You and God are roommates. And few people carry that off well. It means God has the right to override your decisions. It means God can rightfully tell you what to do, as He is both Creator and Lord. Allowing Him to move calls for a profound change in your life and habits.

But that’s what it means to be able to ask for anything, because what you ask for is something you both want. When you and God agree, it’s a done deal.

Lord Jesus, help me to want what You want, and ask after Your will, so that we may work together to satisfy the will of God. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

In the Hood

www.bible.com/1713/col.4.2.csb

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that 2020 has not gone as planned. It seems everyday has become a feature news story. My only explanation that ties all of these various events together is that it is an election year, and every possible weapon (short of nuclear) has been expended to change the political landscape of America. However, if you’ve seen 24 (the TV show), nuclear weapons may still be on the table if America’s enemies figure it out.

I titled this blog specifically because of the image from the Youversion app. But I think it also speaks to where our attention is diverted today. We’re no longer concerned about social distancing in Minneapolis or in many other cities across the nation. So it will be interesting to see if COVID-19 is still a potent threat, or just a fear created by the media. I think at some point the media will have to start manufacturing stories about how protesters are testing positive for the virus and overloading the hospitals if they are to maintain their credibility.

But wearing a “hoodie” as this gentleman is in the picture doesn’t not constitute in and of itself an issue. I think many people could look at this picture and see someone who is engaged in serious Bible study. Others can look at it and see a criminal planning his next big score. It’s not what’s on the hood but under it.

The average person’s ability to make snap judgments these days is impressive. The ability to do a “hot take” on a single image I believe is what has driven most people’s understanding of George Floyd’s death based on a single image of a police officer holding Mr. Floyd down with his knee. Just like the image above, I don’t have context for it. I don’t know everything that officer and Mr. Lloyd did up to that point. I don’t know what context the officer had for holding Mr. Lloyd down. I don’t know what context Mr. Lloyd had for being held down in such a fashion. Do you? Can you confidently assert that you know everything about that situation? Do you know the course of events which led to each man meeting in such a way? I don’t, and I consider myself an intelligent person.

The Bible is wise in its advice. Be slow to speak. Be quick to hear. Be slow to anger. Be quick to listen. Two (independent) witnesses are required to verify testimony and they must agree. Don’t make judgment until you have enough information to do so.

Oh but the injustice! Oh but the racism! Really? Is that what this is about? Give me a definition of justice where the punishment far outweighs the crime. Oh but you don’t understand. This has been building for decades. They had it coming. Who had it coming? The shop owners whose businesses have now been destroyed twice, once by COVID and now by protesters? The “white folk”? There are WHITE people in the protests! The cops? All cops everywhere ought to be punished because some committed crimes? That’s like saying all blacks need to be punished because some committed crimes.

Something we need to remember is that all of us, all of us live in the ‘hood. Someone once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” I might ask the same, “Who lives in my neighborHOOD? Everyone does. There is no “us vs. them”, because it is all US.

Something to chew on on this Monday.

God, please forgive my neighbors who do not know what they are doing. Please forgive my nation because we have lost our way. Help me and my neighbors find the light again. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Happy Birthday, Church!

www.bible.com/1713/act.1.8.csb

Today marks another birthday for the Church. Today the church is 1990 years old (assuming an early date for the resurrection of AD 30). We mark today as the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, and the day that the Holy Spirit fell upon the early disciples and empowered them to deliver the good news to the people gather in Jerusalem. By contrast, Tabernacle/ Temple Judaism lasted from 1440 BC to AD 70, which was about 1509 years (you don’t count the zero year). From a group of 120 on the day before 3000 were added, to today, where a quarter of the earth’s population (about 2 billion) is considered Christian, that’s quite a feat. I think the Church is here to stay.

The church has suffered countless persecutions and been nearly wiped out in one area after another, and yet even today “the gates hell will not prevail against it.” The Church survives, thrives and continues. Jesus is that important. So a three-month closure of church buildings in the United States is not the worst thing to ever happen to the church. Asking Churches to close due to COVID-19 will not destroy the church.

I don’t know who said it, but I have heard the saying that the tree of liberty has to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots. I think that means that from generation to generation, there need to be tangible examples of why we continue to strive for freedom. I also hold that the same ought to be true for the church. For the church to resist complacency, there ought to be from time to time the onus of persecution placed upon the church. The church needs to suffer occasionally to remind everyone that we do not belong to this world. This world is not our home. We are citizens of heaven. And when Christians are made to stand out in a crown of their peers, mocked or even jeered, we find faith tested and made sure. Will you still believe when the world singles you out? Will you testify to your faith or duck behind the cover of conformity?

1900 years ago or so, Christians were ordered, along with everyone else, to pay homage to the Emperor by coming before an altar, pouring out a little oil or wine, and saying, “Caesar is Lord.” This was no casual usage of lord, as it was meant to say, Caesar is the almighty deity. Christians in good conscience could not do this. They could not bow to the will of the state. But not all. Some Christians reasoned among themselves that it’s only words. It’s only a little oil. And they looked down on their brothers who would not give such “respect” to the governing authorities. Those who refused were arrested for atheism (yes, that was a legal charge in ancient Rome) for refusing to worship the Emperor. Many were beaten, some even put to death. All because they wouldn’t pour out a little oil and say a few words.

I think we need this “light and momentary affliction” upon the church. We need a little persecution, and little inconvenience, to put our faith to the test. Do we really believe what we believe, or is it just words? Do we really believe God is sovereign? Or do we allow the State to tell us when and where to worship? I can admit that for a short time, the Church can listen to Science and heed its warnings. I also believe that short time has passed. States that continue to hold on their their power of forbidding assembly, particularly for the Church, are putting themselves in the place of God, and have never had the right to do so.

If Science is true, then in a few days, we will start to see the rioters and looters begin to get sick, and their hospitals will be overloaded, and Science will be vindicated. But if they do not, why should Christians be arrested to meeting together peacefully and worship the Creator and the Savior through the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when they let pass hordes of rioters and looters without reprisal?

The time for abundance of caution has passed. Now those who love God will be revealed as they emerge from their homes to worship in the Lord’s house. Can you worship in your own home? Absolutely. I hope you do everyday. But let us not forsake the meeting of ourselves together in the assembly. It is a strong statement to the world that the Church is alive and well, even after 1990 years.

God grant us the strength and courage to stand against those who would keep us from You, who by their demands for “an abundance of caution” and “flattening the curve” keep peaceful Christians from meeting together for worship. Lord I know the issues are complex, and the Church is flexible, but Father let us not shun one another. We were not called to shun and “social distance” but to love, to expand the gospel, and this You have placed upon us as Your ambassadors. Lord grant us wisdom in this. Help us to be as peacful as doves, but as wise as serpents. In the name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Appropriate, Don’t You Think?

www.bible.com/1713/eph.4.26.csb

I have been told repeatedly that I need to feel guilty about how my race, the white race, has kept the black man down. How my ancestors kept the black man from succeeding and continues to perpetuate a system where whites are favored over blacks. I have been told this many times. I haven’t witnessed this personally. And that’s the problem. It’s called cognitive dissonance.

I have been told repeatedly how I ought to think. That what is moral and just and right is the way of looking at a whole “race” of men, based on the color of their skin, as a single unit. And looking at my own “race” of men, based on the color of our sin, as a single, unified group. However that is eastern thinking. In the east, it is typical to consider yourself as only part of a group. Identity is discerned based upon what group you belong to. This is why Communism tends to do very well in eastern countries, like China. Group-think defines how people think, and people are not to think for themselves or have opinions that differ from the group. That is foreign to western thinking.

In the west, starting with the classical Greeks, we are allowed to think for ourselves, and decide for ourselves what we think. Everyone is “entitled” to an opinion, right or wrong. This is reinforced by western religion, Christianity (which incidentally started in the “center” of the world) which calls for individual salvation, and each man stands or falls before God based on his own choices, not the choices of his group.

So tell me. Do people act as individuals, or as a group? Do we place blame for a criminal act on an individual, or upon his entire “race”? Excuse me for doing some individual thinking here. Do we excuse an entire “race” from criminal acts because an individual of that “race” has been wronged? That’s absurd, in western thinking.

Yet there is a narrative being forced upon a group of people, based in eastern thinking, forcing us to reconsider our “whiteness” or “blackness” based on “justice”. Can a crime be committed against a “race” of people? Or do individuals commit crimes against one another? Do we hold an entire “race” accountable for the acts of an individual?

Oh, but its “systemic”. Everyone in that racial group to one degree or another commits acts of micro-racism all the time, don’t you see. I believe the word you’re looking for is “different.” We treat people we don’t know differently than people we do know. There are some be give more “benefit of the doubt” than others. Yes, we practice sterotypes in our own mind, and rightly so. These are defense mechanisms. Do not allow “white guilt” to redefine what are natural and normal defense mechanisms. Why do white folks treat black folks differently? Because they are different. It is the same way we react to someone who is handicapped, or between males and females. Our sterotypes are formed based on this instinctual behavior and information we collect through experience that either reinforces or dispels the stereotype. We do this all the time without thinking about it because it is built in to us. Blacks and Whites (and Yellows and Reds, and Browns, etc.) all do the same things. We don’t naturally trust those who are different. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, he would rather judge someone by the content of their character than the color of their skin. That is a Christian worldview:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
(1Sa 16:7)

God says that a man looks at the outward appearance. We look at skin color. We look at facial features. But we have to learn to look as God sees, to look at the character of a man’s (or woman’s) heart. And the only way to do that is to 1) talk with them, and 2) observe the fruit of their actions.

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
(Luk 6:45)

And

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
(Mat 7:16-20)

The Jews once practiced this subtle form of racism (which is why many did not like them) because they considered themselves God’s chosen people because Abraham was their father. Jesus introduced an counter-cultural idea into their faith by saying that all who trust in Him and have eternal life in Him are brothers and sisters in Him.

But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
(Luk 8:21)

Jesus established a new kind of family. Not one based on skin color, national origin, or even a common ancestor. He based this new family on faith in Him. So that my brother in Christ in the Philippines is just as much my brother as the one in Nigeria. In Christ, we unite western thinking (we all must choose for ourselves Jesus Christ as our personal Savior) and eastern thinking (we are all One in Christ Jesus) with tribal thinking common in Africa and the subcontinent (we all identify with Christ Jesus, our King and Tribal Leader). These are admittedly broad brushstrokes, but they also come from personal and eye-witness experience. But there is no place for “racism” in Christian culture. I don’t care who you are or where you come from. There is no excuse for the kind of us vs. them mentality on display these days.

If you see injustice, you are right to be angry. But in your anger, do not sin, but instead to see Christ’s justice done.

Lord, help me today to see with clear eyes and clear thoughts. Though the world may seek to pit me against my brother, my fellow image-bearers, may my eyes and mind be clear, so that I may see others as You see them. Lord, let me be quick to see and quick to hear, but slow to anger, and slow to act. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.