Love Is In the Air – Put on your facemasks!

IMG20022Love is again on the collective mind. In TV ads, magazines, the newspapers, they are all in on the fun! This is the time of year when jewelry sales are up, flower sales are up, card sales resurge from their New Year lull. Heart-shaped candy and chocolates make their appearance. Men and women start to look at one another fondly again, even if their married. We’ve come a long way from the feast of St. Valentinus, second-century Christian martyr. His greatest connection to the modern “holiday” is that he helped poor girls get married by tossing a dowry through their window. His greatest act of love was dying for his faith in Jesus.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the modern world from taking full advantage of yet another Christian memorial. Oh we try and put a good spin on it, turning it into a day to celebrate marriage and real, authentic love between married couples, but we end up making it another Christmas, the one day a year we celebrate a Christian virtue when we ought to practice it every day. Is Valentine’s Day the only day you buy flowers for your wife, or make that special meal for your husband? Can you count on one hand the number of times a year you make your mate feel special?

God thinks a lot of the gift he has given to married couples. In fact, one whole book of the Bible is dedicated to the relationship a husband has with his wife, written by the second wisest person who ever lived. It is also the one book in the Bible some believe is written like a drama, an art form made popular in Greece at the time. It is the Song of Solomon. Even a casual reader will notice that this is not your average holy book. It is at times sexually explicit, but always God-honoring. (Take for example the husbands’ description of his wife in Song of Solomon 4:1-7 and then the wife’s description of her husband Song of Solomon 5:10-16 – try these for romance) God intended for the intimate relationship between men and women to be kept sacred, holy, and honorable. He says in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers.” It is only in the “marriage bed” where intimacy is permitted, hence God’s judgment on everyone else.

God takes sex seriously, and for God’s holy people, this gets more difficult every day. The media gets it. Sex sells. And they attempt to associate sex with practically everything they can get away with to sell their products. It’s harder for men today because men are attracted much more to images of women. It’s getting more difficult for wives to compete against the retouched photos of supermodels hawking the latest sets of tools, sports cars, or “free” sex online. Because of a man’s visual proclivity, he must work to relate to the real woman in his life, who thrives on communication and relationship. She needs him to talk to her, which he can’t do when his thoughts are enslaved with images.

We live in an age where true, lasting marriage is the exception, rather than the rule, and though thousands of dollars are spent on marriages, marriage itself is harder and harder to afford. Now more than ever we need the “old hands” at the marriage game to mentor the young couples, to teach them how to keep their marriages from falling apart. Our society stands or falls on our ability to keep marriages thriving. Divorces cause irrevocable damage in the hearts of children and families. Even our President is a child of divorce. Would life have been different for him if his parents stayed married? Marriage is easy, but divorce is easier. God hates it (Malachi 2:16) because it destroys his intention for the marriage: godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). If the children of each succeeding generation are less godly than the last, what will happen to a nation as a whole?

We need to restore the biblical definition of love, for our marriages’ sakes, and for our children. We need to restore the place of Love, because it has been usurped by a poor substitute, Lust, or what the Bible calls “envy”. And, with the Scriptures in hand, we will discover those answers.

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A Christian Necessity for Holiness

There is a decided air of un-holiness today. It is cooler to be “irreverent” and even sacrilegious. I heard recently of a Lady Gaga music video in which she played a nun, a fairly sacred occupation, only, her nun habit was decidedly unholy, made completely out of latex. That’s the same material used for condoms. Of course, Madonna did much the same thing in her video “Like a Prayer” when she play-acted a romantic relationship with an angel about twenty years ago, so nothing is new. That was “cool”. That was “hip”. Because of their permissive attitude toward child molesters in the pastorate, the once “holy” Catholic Church has come under fire. It seems that every other preacher, on TV or at the pulpit at home, is under a cloud of suspicion, damaging the reputation of all them. I could give countless examples, but all to prove that the permissive, unholy attitude is pervasive. No question holiness itself is under fire, painted with the broad brush of hypocrisy, because so many Christians have been bad at it. Just as the following verse from 1 Timothy predicted.

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2Ti 3:2-5, emphasis mine)

If there is a time for holiness it is now. The world needs to know that there is a difference between the world and the church. Though we are to be relevant and engaging with the world, we need to be identified separate from them. Even though we speak the language, we need to be from another culture. We are to be “in the world, but not of it.”

There is only One God and we are to be holy before Him. We are to separate ourselves from the world to be holy before God. Holiness isn’t cheap, but it is free. It’s like being given a Mercedes-Benz. It is free to you, but you know the giver paid a terrific price for it. Holiness is our response to that great gift. By the gift of grace we are saved, and this not because of what we have done, but because of the love of the One who saves us. Holiness is our response to God for His grace. Some people call it works. Others call it gratitude. But the Bible calls it holiness.

How do we do this? First let us establish that we must do this. We have a holy calling as his people, a mandate to be holy. This isn’t an optional command, or a command to obey when it is convenient, or un-contentious, like Sunday morning. This is a call to holiness 24/7, so that in every thought, and in every act, we are a holy people. Jesus was able to accomplish this. Can we do it too? We must. And God’s grace be upon us where and when we fail.

But if we are holy, won’t that make it more difficult to minister to the world? I mean, if we come off as “holier-than-thou” wouldn’t people stop listening to us and to the message we preach? In a way, that’s like saying that the plate has to be a little dirty in order for the food on it to be appetizing. People aren’t attracted to food served on dirty plates. They won’t be attracted to the gospel served by “dirty” people. Would you listen to a lesson on sexual purity from a preacher who had been caught in adultery? Or fiscal responsibility from a thief? Or how to eat healthy from someone morbidly obese? The messenger colors the message, no matter how pure the message may be. People need to see Christians for whom the message has impacted and changed before they will listen to it.

What has the message changed in your life? How has it made your life different? That’s the difference holiness makes. But Christians get busy, and busy-ness makes for lazy holiness. We end up saving holiness for Sunday and when the preacher is looking. Is that the holiness the Bible calls for?

 

A HOLY PEOPLE

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

(1Pe 1:14-16)

A HOLY BODY

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

(Rom 12:1)

A HOLY CALLING

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (2Ti 1:8-9)

A Neglected Issue

Should the church check your pay stub at the door and demand the first ten percent off the top? Should the church ask you a list of personal accountability questions when you’ve reached the pew to see if you are worthy to take communion? Should it do background checks on potential members before we baptize them? Does the church make Jesus’ blood too cheap, God’s grace too cheap, that we will ignore obvious sins for the sake of keeping people happy? Since these are biblical issues, we need to address them.

I’ve seen some churches who take a soft line when it comes to sin. They will let anyone in, and ask no one to change their lifestyle, their habits, or their attitudes. They say that God’s grace is open to everyone, and no one should be put out. Paul talks about this attitude in 1 Corinthians 5 when he chastises the Corinthian church for permitting a couple of members to attend who were ostensibly living together, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” (1Co 5:1-2) Now we may try to justify such behavior with platitudes, saying that you just don’t know all the facts, and if you just knew, you would be more understanding, and ignore what is at the root of the thing, sin.

Let’s be honest, there are several sins that have become permissible in modern society, as Paul would say, “among the pagans”. The boundaries of marriage have become quite fragile. We have been sold a lie that consenting adults are just as good as married (to one another) adults. Broken homes, loveless, faithless marriages resulting in divorce, cohabitation, single parents, even homosexual couples are everywhere. Marriage isn’t as inviolable as it used to be. Pregnancy out of wedlock isn’t as shameful as it once was. Is Paul’s standard here what is permissible or not among the pagans? If it is ok among pagans, does that mean it is ok in the house of God? That sounds to me a shameful way to decide if something is permissible among the church’s membership.

Yet, there are several sins that have become permissible in the church setting. We excuse people who don’t attend the Lord’s worship, even though Hebrews 10:25 says we ought not to “neglect meeting together.” I know there are several that are holding grudges against one another for past grievances, even though we are told in Matthew 18:15, “”If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Mat 18:15) We are told several times in the Scriptures to share the gospel, but we rarely do it because it makes us uncomfortable. Let’s be clear (to coin a phrase), we have all sinned, and continue to do so, and will do so until we mature sufficiently to overcome them.

All Sin is sin, and equally dangerous to one’s salvation, regardless of the circumstances, and it should be repented of and removed. But, I think it is safe to say that we all sin, and we will disagree as to how much church discipline ought to be enforced in such matters, because we all know somebody caught in one of these sins (including ourselves) we want to be gentle with.

Paul is pointing out an extreme case to shame the church for her permissiveness. These are symptoms of a sin disease that only the church has the cure for, and they weren’t supplying a cure, but a medium in which the sin could thrive. Sin should never be encouraged, but the sinner should be loved. Was a person ever shamed into accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, or were they loved into it? Does Jesus call through shame, or through grace? But isn’t that just the thing, we experience shame for our sin, but grace through the cross?

This is what leads churches to take a soft line when it comes to sin. We all fall short of the glory of God, and for me to point out someone else’s sin is tantamount to Jesus’ words in Matthew, “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mat 7:2-5) We are warned against being judgmental, and taking pride in our relatively “righteous” position. Taken to the extreme, this attitude forbids any judgment whatsoever, even when the behavior is clearly prohibited by Scripture. This is a kind of “no rules” Christianity where everyone is permitted to do as they please, because “Everyone is going to heaven anyway”. This is usually the position of the Unitarian Universalist Church, or the Mainline Disciples of Christ or United Church of Christ.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2) A Church’s leaders have a responsibility to shepherd the flock and to keep them away from trouble, but of course, some take that to an extreme. They preach that they must be free from certain obvious “sins” to be considered members in good standing, such as: No dancing, no card-playing, no cohabitation, no pregnancy out of wedlock, no homosexuality, no drug or alcohol abuse, must be in good physical health, must be attending a certain number of services every week, and contributing a certain percentage of their income, as figured based on their submitted pay stubs. (Remember I said “obvious sins” because hidden sins are usually fostered in this kind of environment, namely pride, conceit, judgmentalism, and legalism, but also murder: remember that the BTK Killer, Dennis Rader (arrested 2005) was a leader in his Lutheran Congregation, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Rader) These are the churches where the horror stories come from. These are the churches that have “complaint night” where members attend a special meeting to present their grievances against other members before the Elders, so that the elders can pass summary judgment. (I am not kidding, I heard about a church that regularly had these kind of meetings.) These are also the churches at which only men are allowed in any church officer position, and only men are considered for service at the table. This is Westboro Baptist Church writ large.

Now, considering our church, I’d say we are somewhere in between these two positions. I would say we have attendance and membership standards, but to be honest we are fairly lax, because we don’t want to offend anyone (and thus cause someone who doesn’t attend to never attend again. This statement is probably considered offensive all by itself).But let’s be honest with ourselves, we don’t do as well in our walk as we know we ought to. We always want to keep the door open for the Prodigal and the sin-weary, because we believe the church is a place for healing and growth. Sometimes that growth is painful, which is where the Word comes in, instructing us and teaching us the right path to follow. We don’t all come in on that right path, but Christianity never forces anyone to approach Christ. It is completely voluntary.

But this is also why we ask our leaders and our officers to be individuals of exemplary moral character, because the blind can’t lead the blind, otherwise both will fall into the pit. If you are considering a position on the Church Board, you will be vetted, just a “heads up”. Because even though the member in the pew is still growing and maturing in faith, the member who serves the congregation ought to be mature in faith. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. . . . They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1Ti 3:6,9)

We are not a church that will ask you for your pay stubs at the door, but we will ask you to be an example for the flock if you aspire to service in this congregation. We would not force you to do anything you don’t want to do, but we will encourage you to do something,. We may not be perfect, but we are willing to serve. Let us serve Him who saved us, the Risen Lord!

Taming a Father

I think we feel a bit of empathy for Richard Gere’s Lancelot in the film, First Knight. Lancelot isn’t tied down, has no obligations, goes where he wants, and lives by his sword and his wits. He is what all men wish they could be, free to roam. It is built within men to crave wanderlust. This is why men don’t ask for directions. They want to feel that rush of excitement of being in a new place, a place they’ve never been before, an undiscovered country. As John Eldridge’s book is titled, men are “Wild At Heart”. When you watch boys playing, there is always some conflict involved, an enemy to overcome, a villain to defeat. Boys crave the wildness of it, the thrill of conquering it, and to receive the adulation for their victory. Boys would echo Alexander the Great’s famous lament, “are there no more worlds to conquer?” if they couldn’t express this wildness of their soul.

Eldridge bases this idea on the pattern in which Adam and Eve were created. Genesis 2 says that when God created Adam, he breathed his own breath into him, the Breath of Life. Then God placed Adam in the garden, in order to work it and keep it. Notice this: Adam was created outside the garden. Adam wasn’t created in the orderly and well-groomed garden, but in the wild and savage world. Eve was created in the garden, from one of Adam’s ribs, in God’s beautiful, civilized garden. The difference he points out is this: Adam was created in the wild, while Eve was created in the subdued garden.

A look inside the DNA of men and women can tell us something else. Inside the DNA of women is the marked difference from men. Women possess a double-X chromosome, two homogenous genes. Men possess an XY chromosome. Even in the DNA, men don’t have two well-behaved genes that have everything in common, but two different chromosomes, that don’t agree on anything. It is built within the very DNA of a man to be disagreeable.

But there is a second element in Eldridge’s book. Though every man is wild at heart, he yearns for a princess to save, a princess to pursue, and yes, a princess to “conquer” and claim for his own. For there is one force powerful enough to bind a man to a place and responsibility, and that is the love of a woman. It is this force which will bring to a man the responsibility that his heart dislikes, which would bind the man to a home, a job, and a family. It is this force which will bring a man to fatherhood.

What is the difference between a man and a father? Though many men have fathered children, not all are truly Dads. A father strikes the perfect balance his wild nature and his marital responsibility. He is still wild enough to lead his family into the adventure of living, but responsible enough to provide, love, and discipline. But a man cannot keep this balance on his own, if he doesn’t know the Lord, only a man of iron will be able to succeed.

We know what the wreckage of lives look like when men weren’t strong enough, or had no God to hold their hand.

This month we applaud the fathers. Those are the men who have put aside their wanderlust for the love of a good woman and raised his children with honor and respect. We salute the fathers that stayed home, resisted their natural impulses, forbade their eyes or feet to stray, to give in to all the things that would pull them away from the children they have fathered, these all who have resisted temptations so that their children would know the Lord.

Do you have to know Jesus to be a good father? No, but he helps. It helps to have a better answer than, “because I said so.” We all know fathers who fail, fathers who don’t know Jesus. We could even be married to them. Pray for our fathers this month. Let’s help our fathers know the Father, who our best example of what a Father is.

Promises, Promises

“I promise to . . .” are famous last words of a candidate, and often just as forgettable. We are approaching another election cycle, and I thought these words might be helpful when we are looking at choosing a candidate for public office. Often Christians are at odds with each other as to what makes a good candidate for office, because we are concerned about a candidate’s private morality (which we only rarely glimpse) and how he lines up with the Scriptures, as we understand them. Let’s be honest, no candidate will ever live up to our perfect ideas. And Scripture doesn’t come close to this absolute standard.

Romans 13 gives us a concise description of the role of government. “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (vs. 46) The Government is God’s agent to bring justice to the criminal and protection for the oppressed. God established this role way back in Genesis 9:6

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,

By man shall his blood be shed;

For in the image of God

Has God made man.”

God defines crime as those listed in the ten commandments. While the first five deal with matters of faith, the last five concern the right to private property, the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, the sanctity of human life, and the necessity for truth and honesty in public discourse. If you are looking for a “good” candidate for office, ask them how they stand on these issues.

Now consider those in Scripture who were called by God to fulfill His purposes: The Pharaoh of Egypt, whose obstinacy led to the 10 plagues and the Passover. Nebuchadnezzar, who captured Judah and sent them into exile for 70 years. Cyrus the Persian who fulfilled God’s promises to Jews by sending them back to the land of Israel. None of these men were Christians, and we could probably point out many faults in their leadership. Yet God used them to accomplish His purposes.

The sole role of government, as ordained by God, is to bring justice and punish the wicked. Any candidate that rewards wrong behavior and punishes good behavior is ignoring the proper place and role of government. Any candidate who justifies the death of the innocent (the unborn or the aged) and protects the life of the guilty is resisting his mandate from God.

For example, a candidate that wishes to punish good economic behavior, including having a well-paying job, or a successful business, by levying higher taxes, is not bringing justice. God blesses the righteous, and he blesses their finances as well. Excusing this by stating that taxes will be cut for the majority of Americans does not justify punishment of those who are successful for the benefit of those who are not. The majority of Americans work for someone who is wealthier than they are. If the wealthy have higher taxes, they will reduce costs, the most expensive of which is labor. Do you work for a company whose bottom line is so narrow, that even a slight increase in taxes will mean someone’s job? How is this the role of government, to decide who works and who doesn’t?

The role of government is to punish the wrongdoer next door or in another country, whether the wrongdoer is powerless or powerful. Wrong isn’t defined by what polls desire, but by the immutable standard of God’s Word. Justice is to be blind to social status or economic class. The government is called to do justice, so that the righteous may flourish. A candidate that steps outside of this narrow role and practices social reform is well outside his mandate. Only the power of God can change the heart of a man (see Jeremiah 17:9). Only God can bring about reform. The Law only makes you feel guilty. Only God grants grace to those who trust in Jesus.

Just some thoughts as you enter the voting booth.

In Christ,

Aryn Meritt