Taking Sin Seriously

IMG20034

Do you take sin seriously? As Christians, it is one area that we are especially good at: identifying sins in others. Since we know the Bible, we usually have no problem pointing out the sins of others for their correction. After all, aren’t we supposed to do that?

Jesus once addressed this problem with the Pharisees. He likened their “helpfulness” as one who has a log in his own eye helping someone else get a speck out of theirs. Honestly, the reason we know sin so well is probably because we’ve committed a few ourselves, not out of any serious study of Scripture.

But one thing that our culture is famous for is miscasting sin as “disease”. There are lots of diseases, like alcoholism, substance abuse, sex addiction (and the host of addictions), obesity, and the like that are caused not by a virus or a malady which the victim was helpless against, but by the power of his own elbow. The result is that many of these sins are being “treated” by medicine rather than cured by the power of God.

What happened if we took God at His word and treated sins like, well, sins? What if instead of “mental health” we strove for soul health? Who can truly change the heart of a man? Is it medicine? Therapy? Conversations with a psychiatrist at $200/ hour? Or is it Jesus?

Surprisingly, many of the things we diagnose as mental disease may only be diseases of the soul. And who can cure all our soul’s diseases? Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. But in order to pursue this “soul health” we must first identify the problem, and admit that it is the problem. There are actual mental problems that have to do with biology, and they fall into a different category that what we will deal with, and I will try to help you discern the difference. For example, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are actual diseases of the brain, not necessarily a result of sin directly.

Are you suffering from something that a psychologist has told you is a mental health issue? Have you been told only a long series of one-hour a week sessions are the only thing that will keep you sane? Do you really think God has nothing to say about “mental health”?

Advertisements

The Risen Lord!

IMG20027

For Christians, Easter is the high point on the Church calendar. It’s THE day when most people, if they ever go to church, is the day they go. Easter is unique. For many people, Easter marks the beginning of Spring, and a shaking off of winter. It is a sign of new beginnings, and promises of warmth and weather are made. Flowers come up around Easter. They adorn our Easter cross, and complex symbol both of the shape of Christ’s death, but the beauty of its significance for us as Christians. Easter means many things to many different people. For me, Easter was making the trip when I was a kid to my great uncle John’s house, the annual Easter Egg Hunt, and finding that one chocolate egg that everyone else missed, because it was colored green.

But Easter is also a culmination of some folk’s religious obligation. What began Thanksgiving the year before, went through Christmas, and through St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Lent, and Annunciation Day, now culminates at Easter. For some it is the end of religious obligation for another year, and now warm weather, spring break, summer vacation, ball games and NO SCHOOL are just around the corner. Even for dedicated Christians, Easter is an ending of sorts. We saw Jesus born and we saw him die, and rise again. Many churches choose to emphasize Jesus’ life during this time as teaching naturally flows from Christmas to Easter. Once Easter comes, it’s time to focus on other subjects. We tend to lose Jesus at Easter, only to pick Him back up again next Christmas.

What is Jesus now? We proclaim Him, praise Him, and extol the virtues of His life on earth, but didn’t Jesus rise from the dead? What is He up to? Does the Bible tell us about it? Though Jesus’ sacrifice for sin was once for all paid at the cross, His resurrection celebrated every Sunday, do we know what Jesus is doing today?

This same Jesus whom we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday is still alive and active today. He isn’t just to be found in the covers of the Bible, but He is the Living Lord! That means that Jesus is alive right now. He lives in Heaven with the Father, but He has been known to make the occasional appearance. Right now, He dwells at the right hand of the Father, but also in you. He mediates for us before the Father night and day as our Great High Priest and Advocate. He also dwells in the midst of the Churches as the Son of the Most High, our Head and Ruler.

Jesus’ work didn’t stop when He rose in the clouds. Let’s take time to find out what He’s doing today!

King Jesus has all authority on heaven and earth, and sends us out to do His work.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Mat 28:18-20)

Jesus, Our Great High Priest is our advocate before the Father, defending us before the judgment our sins deserve against our adversary, the Devil

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
(Heb 9:11-12)

 

Jesus, the Great Prophet who sees all of this as the First and the Last is just as alive today as He was then.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
(Rev 1:17-18)

 

Being a Christian isn’t about attending church, or making sure your pew is filled on special days. Being a Christian calls for a daily taking up the cross and following Him. Don’t let your discipleship be defined by tick marks in a roll call but by treasures gathered in heaven.

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
(1Co 3:11-13)

0111 – Source Code 7 – What God Joined Together

IMG20095

“So they are no longer two, but one, therefore what God has joined together let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6)

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14)

When God created human beings, he created marriage. God created them male and female, and the first picture we see of their relationship is one of marriage. In Genesis 2, God created Adam “from the dust of the ground” and after a time, “no suitable helper was found” for him (Gen 2:20). That’s when God put Adam into a deep sleep and fashioned from him just such a helper. Her name became Eve, and the first marriage took place at the moment of their meeting.

For those readers unfamiliar with the “birds and the bees”, you probably ought to read no further. Trust me.

I am amazed that a book considered so holy and pure that children ought to be encouraged to read it (and they should, don’t get me wrong) contains information that children ought not to be familiar with at younger ages. It seems to me that children need to carefully exposed to Biblical content until their life experience can prepare them for it. Just sayin’.

Ziony Zevit’s book What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden (Yale University Press, 2013) suggests that this surgery for Adam isn’t what we’ve always been taught. We’ve always been taught that Adam’s rib was removed from his side. From this rib,  Eve was formed.

From this I’ve always associated Matthew Henry’s beautiful quote:

“Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”

I’ve even used this quote, because it speaks to the beauty of the relationship between men and women. However, Zevit suggests a different part of the anatomy was involved. There goes centuries of beautiful word pictures, right? Well, rather than a rib, Zevit suggests that Adam’s baculum was removed. This because the original Hebrew speaks not of a rib specifically, but a part of the body that sticks out from the rest. This contradicts the story I was told as a child that men have one fewer set of ribs than women. According to Wikipedia, “The baculum (also penis bone, penile bone, or os penis, or os priapi) is a bone found in the penis of many placental mammals. It is absent in the human penis, but present in the penises of other primates, such as the gorilla and chimpanzee.” What a curious absence. Physicians have long known that the number of ribs on men and women are the same.  But one bone absent among humans is the baculum, a bone present in primates. Curious, isn’t it?

Read this way, we see: “Then the Lord God made a woman from the baculum he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” (Gen 2:22)

The single most important physical point of contact for the man in the act of intimacy involves the penis, powerful in the number of nerve endings it hosts, and its complementary physical opposite within women. Without this bone in our skeleton, it is much more difficult for women to achieve the apex of her sexual pleasure. Thus the man disciplines his mind and his sexual energy out of his love for his wife. This is a picture of sacrificial love, to keep himself from his own physical climax until his wife has enjoyed the experience. God intentionally removed this particular bone in order to fashion the woman, to demand upon the husband a discipline of mind, to give place to her needs, to give her pleasure. And it is upon this singular relationship, dare I say this singular act of love between them, between the husband and the wife in marriage that all of society is built upon it. He removed the bone that would have kept the masculine member erect at all times and fashioned it into a feminine person. And when the masculine and the feminine come together, the male and the female become “one flesh.”

Paul emphasizes this point warning the Christians in Corinth about having sex with prostitutes:

“Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”” (1Co 6:16)

This explains why men and women have such an unexplainable infatuation with each other, why “love at first sight” is a thing. It is such a basic, even elemental force in our being that we can’t explain it. It is part of our source code. And just as men long to be united with women, so women long to be united with men. We call it “sex drive” or “libido” but it comes from from long ago separation, a separate but equal creation, in the garden of Eden.

This is not to say that some aren’t completely satisfied being single. Jesus says that sometimes, this drive is not present, and sometimes it is forcibly removed:

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Mat 19:12)

Not many are able. Because of this, Sex comes with a warning label.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1Co 7:1-2)

The drive to unite sexually is so powerful, that unless it is carefully guarded and contained within a marriage, it can destroy everything else. It is something that ought only to be experienced by mature adults, and not by children. Children who are awakened too early reflect many immature attitudes towards sexuality when they mature. Hence, source code 7, “Do not commit adultery”. At its essence, it is about guarding the sexual perimeter of marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4) It about maintaining the purity of the marriage relationship. Any sexual experience that takes place outside the covenanted heterosexual marriage relationship is “fornication” and “sexual immorality”. Those comes with many other warnings. Jesus adds in Matthew 5:28 that even to internalize and fantasize about a sexual relationship outside this marriage covenant violates the commandment against adultery. Adultery isn’t just about violating the covenant with your present wife, but as unmarrieds, your future spouse. Keeping yourself pure is essential because marriage is the only place that sex can be safely practiced. All others must abstain. Why?

Marriage is the foundational community. Before God created government, before He created the family, before He created the Church, He created marriage. Marriage precedes and thus helps to define all other human relationships. This isn’t about living together, one-night stands, or any of the other euphemisms we apply to fornication. This isn’t about same-sex committed relationships either, or the faux marriage many trapped in such lifestyles pretend. This is marriage as defined as one man and one woman covenanted to each other as long they both shall live.

Marriage defines family. Duh, but let it be said that many believe families can be composed of any group of people. While this is possible, it’s not the ideal. A family composed of a group of people not related to each other are bound only by the strength of that commitment, time spent normalizes it. Traditional families are bound not only by this, but the biological component, bound by blood and DNA, behaviors and mannerisms that reflect one’s upbringing. Children are born in the image of their parents (and grandparents) and are more strongly bound. Even if those parents are awful people, there is still a piece of of a child’s heart that will always be bound to them. Marriage is the foundation of a family, providing the DNA and the stable household in which children are born, raised, and developed into mature adults. Unlike animals, of which most are ready to fend for themselves at birth, humans require time in a protected environment, so that their more complex brains not only learn language and essential life skills (going to the potty), but develop social and emotional intelligence. Children who do not have this either “grow up too fast” or don’t grow up at all, and are emotionally or intellectually stunted.

Marriage defines community. Stable communities are composed of stable families. Sexual relationships are confined within the boundaries of male-female covenanted relationships. The lines of descent, who is the father of who, as it were, are clearly defined. Children know who their parents are, and there is no one who questions their parentage. Neighbors are not seeking one another for sexual favors. Household integrity remains strong. In this environment, Families work together toward common goals, agree on boundaries, have their kids play together in an environment of trust. Families socialize without worry. The community is strong when household sexual boundaries are sacrosanct.

Marriage defines government. As communities grow, they require governance. In time they will seek out those who can govern, who can judge fairly between households, and give wise counsel. How a man’s marriage goes defines his worth as a ruler and a judge. How an officer treats his children is an example of how he treats his people. If a man cannot be faithful to his wife, how will be be faithful to his oath of office? When recommending men for eldership in the church, Paul says to look at their marriage record. (See 1 Timothy 3:2). Deuteronomy 17:17 warns that a king ought not to have many wives, or his heart will turn away (from his proper duty as ruler). If he cannot be a good father to his children, how can he be so to his community? (See 1 Timothy 3:5)

Marriage defines the Church. Marriage is the model for Christ and the Church. Many passages employ this metaphor:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.
(Joh 3:29)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
(Eph 5:22-33)

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
(1Co 11:3)

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
(Rev 19:6-9)

Do not make the mistake that the Church invented marriage. Rather, marriage precedes the Church by nearly 1700 years. God invented marriage to be a sacred relationship between a man and a woman. Jesus reaffirms this in Matthew 19. He says that the marriage relationship isn’t simply the attraction of a man to a woman (and vice versa), but it is the God-enhanced covenant that keeps them together.

This is why Satan is so keen on redefining marriage. If he can undermine marriage, he can undermine all of the human community. If one pulls at this one thread long enough, the entire fabric of our society is undone. When we cannot tell who our fathers are, or who our mothers are anymore, we lose our connection to the past, and our concern with it. History is one of our best teachers, and when we lose it, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. If we say we are nothing special because we came from nothing and go to nothing, then what motivation have we to do something? The first step toward this oblivion was adultery, which is why God placed this sign right there at the beginning. If sexual desire is within out source code, then source code 7 is our guardrail, to keep up from going over the cliff.

Calling Out Sin

IMG20094

February is the month we honor presidents, among other things. But the recent batch of presidents we’ve been witness to has been a bit lacking. When you read about the early men who held this post, you wonder where men like that have gone to. Where are the honorable men who sough to defend the honor of this country and the sacredness of freedom? When you think about it, those men began to disappear when we stopped talking about sin.

We turn to look at the sins that we commit, and how we can deal with them as Christians. God did not leave us orphans. He intends to be with us every step of the way.

Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.  (Heb 13:5)

So it’s time for a personal inventory. Sin is the very power of Satan over our lives. As long as we resist confessing sin, we resist the will of God in our lives.

  • Check your worship
    • Does God have your attention when you worship?
    • Does your prayer life and Bible study reflect God’s hold on your life?
    • Does your church attendance reflect your commitment to the Kingdom?
    • Are there any areas of your worship you need to improve?

     

  • Check your witness
    • Does your walk match your talk?
    • Does anyone else know you are a Christian?
    • Do God’s values show clearly in your conversation and friendships?
    • Do you have strong Christian friends that help hold you accountable to your Christian commitment?

These questions are designed merely to get you thinking more in depth about your faith in Christ. I want to encourage you to find a deeper path this month as we learn how to put aside the sins that so easily entangle us (Heb 12:1) and learn to take a closer walk with Christ.

The Solution to Overcoming Radical Islam

IMG20086

The news has been filled with stories and articles about ISIS (ISIL) and its treatment of Christians. I saw the video where Coptic Christians were beheaded on a beach in Libya, just because they were Christians. My friends, the fight against radical Islamists isn’t won through guns and bombs, because the war isn’t decided through soldiers, tanks and planes. This is a war for the soul of the Arabic peoples, who have been suckered into this religion Muhammed invented 1500 years ago.

But it’s not just people of Arabic descent, for now many Americans are starting to turn to Islam as a source of truth. Several Americans recently were arrested for trying to go overseas and join ISIS (Islamic State) and fight for Allah. As American Christians we may feel that this war is somewhere else, but I would imagine everyone in this church has encountered Muslim people, whether out shopping, standing in line at the Post Office, or receiving medical care.

Muslims are a large fraction of our medical providers in Morehead, and I know we are just a rural hospital. We are encountering Muslims more and more every year in our social fabric.

Now do all Muslims believe as ISIS does? Are all Muslims “radicalized” and want to hurt you in the name of Allah? We know they aren’t, just as most Christians are not rabidly Christian. But make no mistake, the war against ISIS will never be won simply by sending in troops. We need to send missionaries.

It’s a simplistic solution, I know. But Islam is a religion based on a false idea of God. God is not Allah, nor is Allah God. Do not believe the lie that Allah is just another name for God, nor fall under the presumption that Muslims worship the same deity. We need men and women who are willing to confront the claims of Islam head-on, even on the front lines, to combat the notion that Allah is God. Allah through the Koran denies that Jesus is the Son of God, even to vehemently denounce such an idea. Yet the Christian Bible makes this the central point.

My hope and prayer for you this month is to examine the claims of Christianity and Islam side by side and see for yourself why Islam falls short of true and authentic religion. I don’t intend to bash Muslims, for I believe they are lost souls who need the love of Jesus, but their truth claims need to come under close scrutiny. They need to be convinced to examine their faith, just as closely as we do. They need to examine the truth claims of Mohammed and the Koran. They need to see the evidence, with just as much scrutiny as our enemies demand of Jesus. This will not be an easy task, but remember that it is God’s will to save any many as possible, and He will send laborers into the field.

Please pray for a Muslim friend. Pray for hearts to be changed. It’s time for He that is in you to overcome he that is in the world.

Are You Sure?

IMG20051

Though salvation may not be at the top of everyone’s list, everyone has an opinion about salvation.

First, there are those that dismiss the importance of salvation. “If there is no God,” they repeat, “why do I need to be saved?” Yet behind the atheistic agenda of many in this camp, there is a pious heritage against which they rebel. There is a Christian grandmother who died from cancer, and they blame a God who would let it happen. There is an overbearing Christian father who forced them to go to church every Sunday. A Christian mother who endured a violent marriage, and so on. These folks need our prayers, and our sympathy, not our fear or judgment.

Second, there are those who assume they are saved today because of a distant act in the past, like getting baptized when they were an infant, or raising their hand and praying the sinner’s prayer in front of the TV. These are folks that may be getting only part of the story, and need like an Apollos (Acts 18:26) a teaching more comprehensive of the way of salvation.

Third, there are those who assume that their “salvation” years ago and their name put into a church ledger is all that is required for entrance into heaven, like they passed a spelling test when they were in first grade and can tackle the National Spelling Bee today. Being baptized into Christ is great and effective, justifying us before God in heaven, but there is that element of maturity (sanctification) we still need to perfect.

Fourth, there is still another group who have been saved in the traditional sense, but even today don’t know if they are going to heaven, because their understanding of grace and works is lacking. They worry constantly that their salvation is in constant jeopardy because they still commit sin. Didn’t Jesus die for all your sins, or just the ones you committed before you were baptized?

Of course the point of this series is simple: You can be sure if you are saved. God did not deliver us from sin to live in constant worry and anxiety about our status with Him. God’s word makes it clear for all who have properly applied their faith to salvation, both before and after baptism.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Rom 8:1-2, HCSB)

The Promised Bride

IMG20022

Though the wife and I married in April, our first plan was to marry in December. We made this decision at the end of the year. We had imagined another full year of preparation and planning, but then we came to our senses and realized 12 months was 8 months too long. As it is, I’ve always wondered about the connection between Christmas and weddings.

There is a sense of gift-giving in the marriage ceremony. The father of the bride gives her away to her groom. The bride and groom make promises to “have and to hold from this day forward.” The reception too involves a great many gifts and well-wishes for the bride and groom. In the marriage, the bride and groom, ideally, give of themselves completely for the mutual encouragement and companionship of the other. It isn’t so much a partnership but a sacrificial gift of each to the other. Each gives of himself or herself wholly to the other.

That’s why as we turn to the Christmas season, I remind you of the old adage, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” God promised centuries ago that One promised “from the foundation of the world” would one day come to shepherd his people Israel. “Something blue” reflects Joseph, who struggles with questions of love and justice for his bride to be. “Something borrowed” refers to Mary’s womb, which she willingly offered to the Lord as His servant. But all of this leads to “something new”, something no one had ever seen, the foundation of our faith.

God had divorced ancient Israel for all her abominations and idolatries. When we go through her kings, we discover a gradual slide to her exile and punishment. He had written a bill of divorcement so she would be no longer called “my people.” He extends his hand through His Son Jesus Christ to the bride of Christ. Why did Jesus come, to preach, heal others and die? That was just the beginning. All of this was so that His bride might be born (Ephesians 5:25-27) and made ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) and the consummation of the ages at the last time, and He receives us unto Himself. Will you be ready when He is revealed, and we see Him as He is, when our veil lifted?