The Non-Committal Millennial

“But Jesus said to him, No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”

– Luke 9.62

I am from the generation that they call “Millennials” or “Generation Y”.  We have all heard the hype:  we are the kids who do not want to grow up.  We are the trophy children who validate our parents by our success.  We all believe that we are special and deserve to get high grades just because we tried, and it only matters that we “give it our best”, not necessarily that we do well.  Jean Twenge calls us “Generation Me”:  the world revolves around me, we are narcissistic and therefore highly esteem confidence and tolerance.

Is it all true?  I have not done research or surveys to document the validity of said observations but I can say from my life experience and the relationships that I have, it sounds pretty accurate to me.

There is an abundance of reasons why we are the way we are:  the Industrial Revolution, the internet, normal worldview evolution.  But I am not interested in analyzing why we are the way that we are.  I want to see what Jesus has to say about it.

If we are constantly looking for something bigger and better, if success is our god, if comfort is our standard and if trials throw us into a tail spin, we are in a sad position to live a life of righteousness bringing glory to the name of Jesus Christ.  How good is your work ethic?  Jesus said that anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom.

What does looking back mean in relation to faith?  It means valuing something other than God.  It means giving up when the going gets tough.  Our parents’ generation valued Church, community and God such that they went to Church three times a week – “Whenever the church doors were open” they were there.  My generation, if we are having an emotional day stay home to watch TV.  “I’ll go to church when I feel like it”, because it is about me and not about God.  I took a nap on Sunday and overslept right into evening service.

The Old Testament paints a vivid picture of God’s position on partial commitment:

“Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’  Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’  But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.  When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’  But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.  When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life!  Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away’…Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”

12-17, 24-26

I have always imagined the family running away from the cities and mid-stride Lot’s wife just glanced over her shoulder.  I don’t know if that is accurate, but however it happened – the simple act of looking back at the city merited her death.

Jesus said that there are four ways to respond to Gospel Truth.  One person cannot hear the truth at all.  Another person hears the truth and it sounds good and they appear to receive it, but he desires to live a worldly life – money, success, pleasures, etc. and therefore is not saved.  The third person hears and welcomes the Truth, but when a trial comes he does not trust God but gives in to despair and is not saved.  The last person gives his life over to God and fully values eternal life above worldly life and does not fall away in times of trial; and therefore is saved (Matt 13).  And his statement that one who looks back after he was set to the task not being fit for the kingdom came in response to someone simply saying “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home” (Luke 9.61).

Is this life about you?  Or is it about honoring God?  Do you leave a church when you don’t like something, or do you stick it out in submission to the leadership?  Do you commit to serve regularly?  Or do you show up at church when you feel good and don’t have other plans?  Do you tire of doing good and dream about your old lifestyle?  Do you miss and long for “the good old days” or do you see and value God at work all around you, even in the hard times?  Does your love for God dictate your daily activities or is faith a hobby, insurance for eternity?  Do you abandon your responsibilities during a midlife crisis?  Do you leave your wife because you want to have fun, or you find it easier to not work it out?  Or do commit and honor God by keeping the covenants that you have made to Him?  God is more concerned about our holiness than our happiness.  Let us set our hands to the plow and not look back.

Would Jesus be out at bars?

In the 1990’s there was a fad phenomenon amongst the Christian culture wearing bracelets with the letters “WWJD?” standing for “What Would Jesus Do?”.  We have all seen them.  You probably wore one.  I did.

I went to a State University that was exceptionally secular.  They are renown for their school of evolutionary research (putting me, a biology major, in the vast minority believing in intelligent design), religious studies program (in fact, the Dalai Lama’s brother lives in town and he himself comes to speak on campus regularly) and school of liberal arts.  On a campus of 36,000 students, there were maybe 1,000 students involved in campus ministries weekly.  In fact, my freshman year on campus we were voted the #1 party school in the nation.

Awesome.

I found myself regularly in conversations with people who wanted to walk the line of sin, and an argument made by many-a-friend was “If Jesus were here He would be out in the bars”.  WWJD?  He would go to the bars.  I have asked many of those friends who make that statement why they believe that, and this is the closest to an answer I could find in personal study in Scripture:

“As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’  And he got up and followed Him.  Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?'”

– Matt 9.9-11

“After that He went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’  And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.  And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them.  The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?'”

– Luke 5.27-30

Usually when we see Jesus interacting with so-called sinners, he was in people’s homes.  In this situation where he was specifically and verbally questioned by the religious leaders, he was in Levi’s home.  When the woman washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and they questioned him interacting with sinners, he was in Simon, the Pharisee’s, home (Luke 7.36).  When Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman, he was at a well (John 4).  But everywhere Jesus went, He was teaching and exhorting people to leave and abandon their lives of sin.  “Go and sin no more” (John 8.11).

Jesus came for sinners.  He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19.10).  He came for the sick (Matt 9.12).  And we know that we are all sick as there is none righteous, and none who seeks after God (Rom 3.10).  And all have sinned and therefore all deserve judgment and damnation (Rom 5.12, Rom 3.23, Rom 6.23).  Jesus came for us all.

But Jesus did not love the things of the world.  “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4.4).  Jesus did not go out and get drunk.  He did not go out and party.  He went out and drew sinners in for teaching.  He was always teaching.  Every interaction we see of Jesus is teaching “sinners” or religious dogmatic leaders or slipping away for personal prayer time with the Father.  Friendship with the world, living in the lusts of the world is enmity towards God.  Enmity!

Jesus ate with sinners.  Jesus called sinners.  Jesus interacted with sinners.  And he was not ashamed of what that would look like to anyone else.  But the sinners came to Him.  And He did not partake in their worldliness.  Rather, He invited them to abandon everything and follow Him.

Therefore I think what we need to examine is our heart and motivation.  “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2.15).  Are you going to the bar to talk to people about Jesus?  Or are you going to the bar to drink and/or get drunk?

Now, I know that these types of self-examination can be misconstrued as legalism.  My intention is not to discuss bars.  My intention is to discuss the passion that drives every action of our lives.  And I would argue that Scripture compels us to do everything to the glory and honor of God.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3.23).

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph 4.29).

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Eph 5.3-4).

Do you go to the bar for the glory of God?  Do you watch TV for the glory of God?  Do you work and spend your free time for the glory of God?  Do you care for your body to the glory of God?  Do you eat and drink to the glory of God?  Do you speak to the glory of God?  Those Ephesians passages are convicting for me:  no silly talk, no unwholesome word.

Let us not ask ourselves if such-and-such an action is permissible.  Let us ask if it is best.  Let us not flirt with sin, but let us live under grace to bring glory and honor to God.

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5.13).

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (1 Peter 2.16).

Jesus’ intention was to save sinners.  Not to be like them.

Deal Breakers

Dating.  The wonderful, terrible, emotional, draining, exhilarating ritual in which we here in the United States engage to find our spouse.  Everyone has their own approach to dating, I’m sure, but one thing of which everyone is aware and which everyone sets is our personal standard.  The essentials.  The non-negotiables.  Those things on which we will not waiver when considering another human being as our life-long partner.  The “deal breakers”.  Each person’s list is unique, and I wholeheartedly support the practice of examining one’s self and knowing those things which you value and cherish and hope for in your marital relationship.

I had a wonderful conversation last week with a girlfriend about such things.  As we were talking about the Biblical outlines for marriage, roles for men and women and expectations that we have as women in how we want to be treated, I began to reflect on some of the things on our lists and things the regularly get put on lists.  There are character issues which are important but then there also was a category of things that I would label “The Past”.  There are a multitude of things that one might put on his list of deal breakers that were simply past experiences.  Family of origin, having been arrested, divorce, having children, education…this list is inexhaustible.  But as I thought about those things, those things that are not exemplary of one’s character, I began to grow uneasy with our quickness to condemn and our lack of humility.  Internally, for those standards which I hold.  And externally, for the ways others would consider me unworthy of relationship without knowing my heart.

Here’s the good news.  There are no deal breakers with God.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3.16).  Jesus said that “it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9.12), and that He “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10).  If you would come then God would have you.  All who believe, all who repent, all who turn to God are saved and He welcomes.  Period.  No matter what you have done, no matter what was done to you, and no matter from where you have come.  One of the most beautiful pictures in all of Scripture to me is of the woman washing Jesus’ feet with her hair:

“Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.  Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.’  And Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’  And he replied, ‘Say it, Teacher.’  ‘A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.  So which of them will love him more?’  Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose the one whom he forgave more.’  And He said to him, ‘You have judged correctly.’  Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.  For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.‘  Then He said to her, ‘Your sins have been forgiven.'”

– Luke 7.36-48

Our inability to forgive, our pride, our lack of compassion is directly correlated to our lack of understanding of that for which we have been forgiven.  We have all broken the heart of the Almighty God.  We have all spat in his face.  Our sins – from the least to the greatest – are what put Him on the cross.  He died because of your sin.  My sin.  That lie.  That indiscretion.  That outburst of anger.  Do you realize the weight of your sin?  Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit.  One. Little. Sin.  And because of that they were kicked out of the Garden, they incurred a curse, Eve was granted pain in childbirth and ordered under Adam’s headship and Adam was doomed to struggle to provide for his family for the entirety of his life.  And they were cursed with death.  Death!  For eating a piece of fruit.  Did you ever eat that cookie when your mom said don’t eat that cookie?  You deserve to die for that.  Why?  Because God is perfect.  And He does not tolerate sin.  Any sin.  And the weight of a sin is proportionate to the one against whom the sin is committed.

But because of the infinite value of Jesus as God, His death was enough to satiate the wrath of God for your sin, for my sin, no matter how grievous it might be.  Let’s take a look at those who are documented in the “Hall of Faith” – those people who are esteemed by God for their faith:

Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Sarah.  Drunkard, moon worshiper and abandoner of wife, one who chose one child over the other, mocker of God.

Or how about the lineage of Jesus Himself:

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Boaz by Rahab, David, Solomon by Bathsheba, and a whole line of ungoldly kings.  Abandoner of wife, theif, harlot, murderer, lover of the world (just to name a few).

The patriarchs of the faith committed the most heinous of crimes and they were chosen, forgiven, accepted, loved and ultimately sanctified.  And it was the realization of the depth of the forgiveness they were granted that gave depth of love for God and for others.  If you have lived a perfect life then by all means, cast the first stone (John 8.7).  Set deal breakers based on the past for your relationships.  But if you have been forgiven, then forgive and accept in the same measure by which you have been forgiven.  Because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little loveth little”.  But he who has been forgiven much loveth much!  “Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.  He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love” (1 John 4.7-8).

That they might be saved.

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is, that they might be saved” (Rom 10.1).

Oh, could I tell, ye surely would believe it!
Oh, could I only say what I have seen!
How should I tell, or how can ye receive it,
How, till he bringeth you where I have been?

Therefore, o Lord, I will not fail nor falter;
Nay but I ask it, nay but I desire,
Lay on my lips thing embers of the altar,
Seal with the ring, and furnish with the fire.

Give me a voice, a cry, and a complaining –
Oh, let my sound be stormy in their ears!
Throat that would shout ,but cannot stay for straining;
Eyes that would weep, but cannot wait for tears.

Quick, in a moment, infinite forever,
Send an arousal better than I pray;
Give me grace upon the faint endeavor,
Souls for my hire and Pentecost to-day!

Scarcely I catch the words of His revealing,
Hardly I hear Him, dimly understand;
Only the Power that is within me pealing
Lives on my lips, and beckons with my hand.

Whoso has felt the Spirit of the Highest,
Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny;
Yea, with one voice, O world, though thou deniest,
Stand thou on the side, for on this am I.

– F. W. H. Myers

This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  One of my favorite people in history.  A native German, he completed his doctorate at the age of 21 and entered into the theological academic world immediately.  In 1933 he delivered a lecture which was broad-casted on the radio in which he openly offered his negative opinion of Adolf Hilter.  He then moved to London so as to not support the national movement of the Nazis and began working as a pastor for two German congregations there.  Not long later he was called to lead an illegal seminary in Pomerania, during which time he wrote many of his famous works.  He was convicted that it was his Christian duty to fight the Nazis and after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler and a brief stint in the United States he went back to Germany where he actively resisted the Nazis and wrote his “Ethics”.  In 1943 he was arrested and in 1945 he was killed.

The story goes that during his imprisonment that the guards allowed him to minister to despairing prisoners, and an English officer who was a fellow inmate at the time of his death wrote this account:

“Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive…He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near…on Sunday, April 8 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us.  He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, the thoughts and the resolutions it had brought us.  He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered.  They said, ‘Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.’  That had only one meaning for all prisoners – the gallows.  We said good-by to him.  He took me aside: ‘This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.’  The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.”

The text on which he preached that morning was Is 53.4-5:

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”

What is your hope?  Do you live for temporal pleasures?  For success?  For fame?  For a family?  Do you love the things of this world?  Bonhoeffer was so enamored by the salvation freely bestowed upon him and lived life with such peace in obedience and such hope for eternity that he was able to embrace his death.  Bonhoeffer knew that Jesus Christ was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities for our healing, and he was so settled in his redeemed state and so in love with Jesus that to go home to eternity was his benefit.  The apostle Paul makes a similar statement:  “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Phil 1.21).

I grew up with the phrase, “He met his reward” in referring to death.  This phrase from the hills implies that each will receive his just deserts upon death and judgment – but it also carries the weight of hope that one could be rewarded.  Bonhoeffer was rewarded, and his reward was to enter into eternity with Almighty God.  Are you expectant of such a reward?

“Christ suffered for you.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sins and live to righteousness, by His wounds you have been healed.  Jesus did not die simply to show men and women how to live a good life.  Rather he lived and died to bring liberation to the captive.  Sight to the blind.  Healing to the broken.  Salvation to the sinful.”

– Alistair Begg

What is the level of your commitment?  What is the depth of your hope?  Would you embrace death at the hands of a murderer and believe it to be the beginning of life?  Would you follow the example of our Savior and the faithful who have gone before?

Resolved IV

I am periodically coming back to Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions for reflection, a section at a time.

As I have noted before, I enjoy that they come in themes and thus make for progressive thought and application.  The section today focuses heavily on our interaction with and intentions towards other people – both believers and non believers.  Let us all strive to:

“Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.”

– Rom 12.9-10

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

This is no small thing, to consider someone as more important than yourself.  But what a fun perspective Paul offers us, to be – in a sense – at competition with one another to see who can honor others more!

31.  Resolved, Never to say any thing at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of christian honour, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said any thing against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.
32.  Resolved, To be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that, in Prov. xx. 6. ‘A faithful man, who can find?’ may not be partly fulfilled in me.
33.  Resolved, To do always what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without an overbalancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.
34.  Resolved, In narrations, never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.
35.  Resolved, Whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.
36.  Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it. Dec. 19, 1722.
37.  Resolved, To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent,—what sin I have committed,—and wherein I have denied myself;—also, at the end of every week, month, and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.
38.  Resolved, Never to utter any thing that is sportive, or matter of laughter, on a Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.
39.  Resolved, Never to do any thing, of which I so much question the lawfulness, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not; unless I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.
40.  Resolved, To inquire every night before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

God wants you to be happy.

There is a teaching that is running rampant in the American Church that is poisoning people and leading them straight into apostasy and eternal destruction.  I heard the pastor of a church and his wife counsel someone very close to me with this statement:

“God wants you to be happy.  So you make whatever decision you want and we will support you.”

Does God want you to be happy?  Of course He does.  But He provides happiness, joy, satisfaction and contentment through a relationship with Him by the forgiveness of our sin.  “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord” (Ps 144.15).  But He never elevates our happiness or pleasure above our holiness and God does not condone or excuse sin.  Ever.  In fact, he says that the one “who justifies the wicked is an abomination to God” (Prov 17.15).

The Bible speaks more to joy than it does to happiness.  To the world, happiness means physical comfort, pleasure, success and getting to do what you want.  Joy has more to do with the peace of spirit and soul which we only are given by God.  God alone is the provider of joy (Ps 4.7), and it is through obedience to His Word that we are given it (Ps 19.8).  We know that we are of the Lord through the fruit of the Spirit which pours out of us, and one of those attributes is joy (Gal 5.22).  We can have joy in the midst of trials (2 Cor 7.4, 1 Thess 1.6), and sometimes the trials actually bring about joy (James 1.2).  In fact, the apostles rejoiced when they were persecuted because they were counted worthy to join in Christ’s suffering (Acts 5.41).

God is primarily concerned about our sanctification (1 Thess 4.3):  Being made holy like He is holy (Ex 22.31, Eph 5.27, 1 Peter 1.15).  Sometimes your happiness suffers for the sake of your holiness.  The author of Hebrews states that all discipline is not pleasant at the time:

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

– Heb 12.11

And it is through sorrow that the Lord draws us to repentance and ultimately salvation:

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

– 2 Cor 7.10

Jesus, in His outline of the beatitudes states (Matt 5.3-12):

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Does poor in spirit, mourning, being insulted or persecuted sound like something that would make you happy?  To fight to be gentle, hungering for righteousness, pure in heart and peacemakers takes a lot of self discipline and self denial of what would be pleasing to the flesh too!

If you are ever at a cross roads of a decision, and one decision is sin and the other is not, God never condones the sin.  And to repent means to make reconciliation and retribution for the sin committed.  To truly be sorry, to ask for forgiveness from those offended, to lay it out before the Lord and to make right what has been wronged.  We cannot bank on God’s grace that He will forgive us, unless we repent from that which we did or a sinful lifestyle.

All sin is enjoyable at the time.  People don’t choose to do sin that is not fun or pleasurable.  And this is what we must remember, as we consider happiness verses holiness.  Does this honor God?  Am I being obedient to his statutes?  Am I representing well the name of Christ?  The goal of the Gospel is to produce the obedience of faith (Rom 1.5, 16.26):  That we trust God for salvation, love Him for atoning our sins, and obey Him because we love Him and want to glorify His name.

If anyone ever seeks to counsel you attempts to teach you that God wants you to be happy and thus you can do whatever you want, RUN!  Find a new Church.  Get new friends.  Surround yourself with people who care about your soul and will help you press on towards maturity and holiness (Heb 6.1).  Because what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul (Matt 8.36)?

Souvenirs of Hell

“If we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

– C. S. Lewis

The Gospel is good news.  The good news is that we can have abundant life here on Earth in fellowship with God through salvation by the blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, and also have eternal life with Him after death.  The good news is that even though we are sinners, Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross and we can be forgiven because we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

But sometimes we get infatuated, distracted or inebriated with the world.  God gives us blessings, pleasures and joys here while in the world, but Scripture sternly warns us,

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

– 1 John 2.15-17

Jesus Himself said:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

– Luke 14.26-33

What does Jesus mean that we have to hate our mother and father?  Or ourselves?  He means that if your love for your parents, your spouse or yourself is stronger than your love for Him, then you are not truly a Christian.  He means that if you are not willing to sacrifice your comfort, your relationships or your identity for the sake of Him, you are not truly a Christian.  He means that we must choose Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote one of my favorite books called “The Cost of Discipleship”.  In this book he examines what it means to take up your cross, to surrender everything, to not love the world, and to be fully satisfied in the Lord.  Augustine made a profound statement that is commonly quoted:

“He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.”

– Augustine of Hippo

He is the all satisfying creator who loves us and meets all of our physical, spiritual and emotional needs.  He may not meet them how we think they should be met, but He meets them how He knows we will best be drawn to Him.  Through His Word He has granted to us “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1.3).  We cannot hold on to the things of the world.  We must die to ourselves, die to our flesh and live for Christ.  And only in that will we be satisfied!

All Roads Connect.

I was home over the Fourth of July and was able to hang out with a life-long friend, Therese. We were dropping her mother off en route to my sister’s house and because of construction had to weave our way through the cornfields of central Indiana.  If you are not familiar with the road systems in Indiana, they function on 1 mile grids, and the road numbers are increments of 100 delineating the distance from the county line.  As you can imagine, the numbering system can be quite confusing.  But the good news is that you can never get lost, as you are almost always heading a cardinal direction and there are major State Roads sporadically dispersed amongst the county roads, so if you know the general direction you need to go you can just keep driving until you hit one of those thoroughfares.

However!

When Therese was young, she and a girlfriend had set out to go out.  Therese asked her friend if she knew the way and her friend said yes.  They got out onto the road and at an intersection Therese asked which way to go and her friend responded, “Whichever way.  All roads connect.”

We all recognize the absurdity of that statement.  Perhaps all roads connect, somehow, someway, but you have to be going to right direction to get onto the right road which would lead you to your intended destination!  And then of course you have roads on islands or in remote areas that do not connect intercontinentally…

Throughout history most people have adhered to a religion.  There have been phases of time when people attempted to deny the supernatural and claim atheism – but for the most part people understand that there is a power greater than themselves and a distance between them and God. The Bible tells us that God reveals Himself through conscience and creation such that all are without excuse (Rom 1.20), and those who would seek to deny that there is a greater power are suppressing the truth which is evident to and within them (Rom 1.21-25).

There are three responses to sin:  shame, guilt and fear.  Different cultures around the world tend to one of the three responses and we see carnal religions built on these.  Americans tend to function in guilt.  It is an internal response, thinking “wow I did that and I shouldn’t have”.  Most Asian cultures tend to be shame oriented.  Saving face is extremely important and if caught in a sin, the question is not if you did something wrong, but you are considered a bad person.  Tribal societies and hierarchical societies tend to focus on fear: there is a power greater than you (spiritual or natural) that will pay you back for what you have done.

All world religions are trying to make amends with God.  And based on these three foundational responses to the problem of evil, we see different religions built.  Hinduism and most Spiritism are based on fear – the gods are angry and we must appease them.  Islam and most monotheistic religions are based on shame:  you are a bad person and you need to make right your debt to God.  Buddhism and Eastern religions tend to be based on guilt:  removing one’s self from reality to realize that suffering and the physical world do not exist.  Each of the three forms merge with the others, no one society or religion is focused solely on one response to sin, but in general we can observe these reactionary tendencies.

The one thing that all of these have in common is man.  Man is the determining factor and the one who must make peace with God or the spirits at work.  Man is the one who can attain redemption, forgiveness, peace or release by that which he does or does not do.

And this is the beauty of Christianity.  If God is perfect and holy, I can never pay off my debt of sin to Him.  I can never appease His wrath, and I can never remove my guilt before Him.  There is non righteous, no not one.  There is none who seeks after God, and we are Spiritually dead in our transgressions without Him (Rom 3.10-11, Eph 2.1).  But God Himself make a way for us to be forgiven.  He, through the person of Jesus Christ, atoned for our sins on the cross and offers us forgiveness if we trust in His saving grace through the forgiveness of our sins by repentance.  I cannot do it.  But Jesus did.

I would argue that we all experience all three responses to sin and have to process them with the Lord throughout our Christian experience.  But the foundation, the key, that on which we cannot falter is the fact that Jesus alone makes peace with us.  We do not make peace with Him.  We trust Him for that peace.

Therefore all roads do not connect.  If I am trying to appease the wrath of angry spirits, or if I am trying to do enough good deeds to balance out my bad deeds, or simply trying to remove myself from suffering and evil by convincing myself that none of it truly exists – I am not trusting Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6).   I am relying on myself.  And by consequence nullify the cross.

It is common sense that to get to your destination you have to know the way.  You cannot set out and simply tell yourself that you are going the right way, you have to study the map.  You have to establish the directions.  And you have to stay on the road.

“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

– Matt 7.14

That does not belong here.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

– 1 Peter 2.11-12

I like to run.  I live in the city, not in a subdivision but amongst older homes organized into neighborhoods in the more traditional sense, and I run on sidewalks and running paths the vein the city of Denver.  I live in a cute community, older homes that are well kept and fun to look at for their variety.  But there is one house that I pass on a regular basis that just does not fit in.  And it is not the house, but it is the fact that they use the small plot of ground between the sidewalk and the street to grow corn.  Yes, corn.

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I grew up in the country and we always had a large garden.  My roommate keeps vegetables on the side of the house, but this stands out!  It simply doesn’t belong there.

Yesterday I was reflecting on our responsibility to share the truth boldly and verbally as part of who we are:  aliens.  We are to be in the world but not of the world.  We know when something does not belong.  Corn does not belong on a city street.  Do people know that you do not belong in the world?  Can someone observe you and know that the Earth is not our home (Heb 13.14)?

I think that we hear this general instruction a lot, but little help is offered as to what exactly that means.  Do we create a new monastery where we wear robes, sing chants and remove ourselves from daily interaction with the world?  Do we start making our own clothes, stop using electricity and focus on dominating the Earth?  Do we, as one tribe I know of in the world, reject all forms of social structure including clothing, education and buildings in order to live as closely as possible to the way in which Adam and Eve lived when God created them?

“What we must do is to outdo the world in honesty, kindness, gentleness, usefulness, moderation of spirit, charity, compassion and readiness to help others in their need.”

– John Owen

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

– 1 Peter 3.14-16

I love the fulness of the picture that Peter paints for us here in that we have hope in Jesus Christ and have been transformed.  Because of that transformation and separation from the world, we will be slandered or persecuted, and on the grounds of our response to our persecution – faith, hope and love – people will see that we truly are different and will ask about the hope.  When we answer about our hope with gentleness and reverence, those who slander or persecute us will be shamed because our hope is sincere and they proved unable to nullify our witness.

Were all Christians meek, quiet, peaceable, sober, self-controlled, humble, useful, kind, gentle, willing to listen to all, cheerful in trials and troubles, always ‘rejoicing in the Lord’, then the world would not take offense at them, but wonder how any could live without them, and so be won over to them, making every effort to be like them.  If honesty, sincerity and uprightness were seen among Christians on every occasion, how greatly it would glorify Christ!

– John Owen

How then do we show that we do not belong?  By exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but loving as Christ loved, by preaching the Gospel at every occasion, and by maintaining our witness even in the midst of trials and tribulations.  They will know we are Christians by our love (John 13.35), and love never fails (1 Cor 13.8).  And we maintain this by not loving the things of the world, as we cannot love the things of the world and love God (1 John 2.15, Matt 6.24).  Let’s be the corn growing on the city street.