Encouragement that can lead to thankfulness

Today is the day that we as a nation set apart as a day to turn to God and say thank you for all of the blessings He has bestowed upon us.

Some of us are experiencing this holiday in a new way.  Perhaps it is your first year as empty-nesters.  Maybe it is the first time you have to share your children with in-laws.  Perhaps a family member has died or left and there will be an empty chair at your table this year.  Maybe you have a new addition – a new baby, your child has married and this is your year to have the couple at your table.  Maybe you met Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior this year and it is your first time to sit and truly give thanks for salvation!

Life is ever changing, but one thing remains constant for the believer:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

I like to run.  I run for exercise, I run to get my endorphins pumping, I run races with friends and I run for the mental discipline of pushing myself when my body does not want to go.  It’s good for the soul.  I have mentioned before that I was training in the fall to run a half marathon – which I did – and I downloaded an app on my phone called “Map My Run”.  It tracks you while you run so you know your pace,  distance and route.  It is pretty sweet.  Did I mention that I was passed up and beaten in the race by a new mom pushing a stroller?  Anyway, I have continued to use this app even after the race just for curiosity’s sake as to my distance and pace.  While you are running, it speaks over your music whenever you have passed a mile marker, informing you of your splits.  A few weeks ago, the app sold ad rights to a company, and at the end of my split update, there came a voice that said “Great job!”.  The app has never encouraged me before.  And I actually noticed a positive emotional reaction within myself to a computer telling me I had done a great job running that first mile.  I still have not come to expect it to say “Great job”, so every time I hear it, I think “Thank you, I really appreciate that!”  Even though no one knows that I am running or the pace at which I am running.

While that might be a silly story, the point is that a little encouragement goes a long way.  Running the half marathon, I ran with a friend who drank her first caffeinated coffee in months and who is naturally a bubbly personality anyway, and I am pretty sure she bounced the entire race – but she was singing and cheering and encouraging me and everyone else all along the route.  She made the race a joy.  13.1 miles.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Being thankful is not always easy.  At times it is hard to see how God is causing all things to work together for the good of His children.  For me.  And sometimes we just have to walk by faith, being assured of the unseen (Heb 11.1).  And it is in those moments that a little encouragement from our brothers and sisters in Christ can boost us up.  Accountability serves two purposes:  to keep us from sinning, but also to push us on to good deeds and to encourage us when we have been obedient and successful!  So let us consider one another – how to push one another on to good deeds.  And let us encourage one another.  To comfort those around us, to see their progress, to help them in difficult times.  Is someone doing a good job?  Let him know!  Brighten his day!  Give him a boost, a shot of endorphins, encouragement to continue on the race while he may be struggling to give thanks in the difficult times.

Without vision, the people perish.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish:  but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Prov 29.18

Have you ever been part of a vision casting meeting?  Spent hours plotting out a faith-based strategy?  Or just wrestled with planning your life?  Has this verse been offered you as foundation for needing a clear vision and goal for anticipated end?

It has been presented to me.  And it is scary.  I do not want to perish – or live a life of meaninglessness for lack of vision.

Many of the Biblical Proverbs are written in what is called “antithetical parallelism”, where a single point is made from two perspectives.  For instance:  If you eat, you will be satisfied; but if you do not eat, you will starve.  Two viewpoints that state the same truth.  Usually one is a positive statement and the other negative.

This Proverb is written in such a format.  Dr. Andrew Sargent wrote an insightful article on this proverb and suggested that a better translation for the Hebrew would be:

“When the prophetic voice (commonly represented in the sacred scriptures) is absent from a community, those in that community cast off moral restraint to their own harm, but when people dedicate their energies to living life in keeping with divine instruction, they find a stable, productive, and both earthly and eternally rewarding existence.”

The keeping of God’s Laws and ways is the the cause, eternal reward is the effect.  When understood that both clauses would affirm the same objective, it is clear that the vision denoted at the beginning of the proverb would be a Godly perspective, His desires and/or the Law.  Perishing carries the weight of eternity more than happiness, however it can be understood from the original language that eternal satisfaction and fulfillment is the goal.

Vision, however, is not necessarily a bad translation.  Some other biblical translations for the same word are revelation, divine guidance and prophetic vision.  We can apply this to our lives in a variety of ways.  We must have a clear and purposeful “vision” or divine guidance (the Bible) in addressing our daily lives and choices.  We must chose the morally and ethically upstanding option when making a decision to honor God and avoid sinning and consequently grieving the Holy Spirit.  When choosing between two morally neutral or good options, we must evaluate God’s heart for the World and for the Church and chose that which will best honor God in such situations.  It might be good to do X, but it might be better to do Y.

And then as believers our hearts become progressively more aligned with the heart of God and we build a vision for our lives based on His priorities.  His ultimate priority is His glory (Is 42.8).  Does your 5-year plan glorify God?  10-year?  Lifetime?  Our primary duty as believers is to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  Does your 5-year plan focus on and strive after that?  10-year?  Lifetime?

Jesus is extremely clear that we are not to lay up for ourselves treasures on Earth but in Heaven (Matt 6.19-20).  He speaks of the foolishness of a man tearing down barns in order to build new ones to house all of His harvest and excess when he will only die the next day (Luke 12.16-20).

However, Scripture also exemplifies for us that we cannot plan our lives in their fullness, or precise detail.  Paul was called to be a missionary to the Gentiles (all non-Jews).  He had a desire to go to many places, but at times the Spirit forbade him to go – at times the doors were closed (Acts 16.6).  Once he actually had a vision of a man asking him for help in an area where Paul did not intend to go (Acts 16.9)!  He regularly told the churches that he had planted of his desires to see them and his plans to come through if possible (Rom 1.11).  He relied on God to open doors for the Gospel, for travel and for Church planting (Col 4.3).  Thus our vision cannot be so narrow or so hard that God cannot move within it.

“The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.”

– Prov 16.9

We must have a vision. But that vision must be no more narrow than God’s revealed will:  Our sanctification (1 Thess 4.33) and the salvation of the world (Matt 28.18-20).  If we function within those statutes, seeking God for guidance and direction, we will not perish.  We will be “happy”.  Eternally.  With Him.

God has a wonderful plan for your life.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’.”

– Jer 29.11

If you are a Christian, if you have ever been around Christians, or if you have ever seen any Christian paraphernalia, chances are high that you have seen, heard or have memorized this verse.  This is a promise of God; a direct quote from His mouth (to the people of Israel, while in captivity to Babylon, but generally applied to God’s goodness and intention for His people).

Yes, it is true.  God has a perfect plan for your life.  He is sovereign, He is in control, and He will work everything out for your good and His glory (Rom 8.28).  However, often times that does not look how we think it will look.  I saw this cartoon online and it was too perfect not to share:

God has a wonderful plan for our life

His will is our sanctification, that we be more like Jesus (1 Thess 4.3).  God wants to prosper our Spirits in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23).  He does not necessarily want to prosper our bank accounts.  Our good might be the trials of this life that cause us to persevere, and praise God because perseverance produces “proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5.4).

Think on that today.  As our traditional day of giving thanks as a nation rapidly approaches, let us rethink those things for which we give thanks, those things about which we complain, and those things which we overlook.  Because God is working all of those things for His glory and our good.  Our hope, Christian, is Jesus.  Our future is eternity.  Keep your eyes on Him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12.1-2).

Does the Bible Teach Tolerance?

We have all heard the stories and accounts from Westboro Bapist Church.  We have all also heard the prevalent mindset in American culture that tolerance is essential and we may not judge, condemn or proclaim any absolutes over an act in which another might partake, provided it is within the law.  This video is tragic on a variety of levels:

I found it humerus the frequency and intensity with which the term “love” was thrown around in this video.  Russell Brand and the audience proclaim their love as verified and authenticated by the fact that they tolerate everyone in their religious, political and social choices.  The two representatives from Westboro Baptist Church claimed to love Russell and the audience by warning of them of the impending judgment, however they claimed the authority to proclaim that God does not love some who have succumbed to specific sins like homosexuality.

Before one can enter into a dialogue or debate on any given topic, terms must first be defined.  It will save many friendships, relationships, work interactions and a variety potentially volatile situations if you will only make sure that you are speaking to the same topic and presuppositions of an idea before you disagree with someone.

For instance tolerance.  Russell Brand claims that Jesus taught tolerance in the Bible, and the crowd cheered loudly.  But what exactly are we to understand tolerance as?  Merriam-Webster defines tolerate as:

:  to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction

:  to put up with
Let us consider an extremely important question:  Did Jesus ever “put up with” or allow sin?  Clearly there is a differentiation between condoning and putting up with.  Did Jesus ever say, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it” when someone was sinning in His presence?  The answer is a resounding no.  Jesus was extremely concerned with sin, as God defines sin.  If someone desires to argue that Jesus did not judge, the go-to passage is typically the woman caught in adultery:
“Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’  They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him.  But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.  But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.  Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they?  Did no one condemn you?’  She said, ‘No one, Lord.’  And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’
 – John 8.2-11
Jesus did not condemn the woman.  But what was His instruction to her?  Sin no more.  When Jesus saw the selling and buying happening in the temple, He got angry and overturned the tables, driving the vendors out of the building.  When He spoke to Zaccheus, the sinner repented and gave back half of what he owned to the poor (Luke 19).
The second go-to passage is Jesus’ teaching on hypocrisy.  In Matt 7 and Luke 6, Jesus teaches that by the same standard we judge others, we will be judged.  Therefore, it serves no good for a drunk to judge a drunk, a liar to judge a liar or murderer to judge a murderer.  The reason is because our judgment within the Body of Christ is a sanctifying work, pushing one another on to good deeds and obedience (Heb 10.24), and if I am a pathological liar, I will be of no benefit to my friend who also lies, in helping him to conquer the sin.  Jesus is not saying that the sin is allowable, He is saying “be careful”, so that you will not be found a hypocrite and do not hold others to a higher standard than you yourself are able to keep.
Just last week I wrote on the fact that non-Christians are going to act like non-Christians.  So I will not dive too deeply into the topic again, other than to say – non-Christians are going to act like non-Christians.  And we ought to expect them to.  It benefits no one to clean up someone’s act if He is not given a new heart and transformed from the inside out.  So in that sense, yes.  We tolerate.  Within the law, and when innocent people are not directly affected.  I do not try to force those who do not know Jesus to act like Jesus.  I try to introduce them to Jesus, and let Jesus transform them from the inside out.
However, tolerance within the Body is quite another conversation.  The only reason one cries out for tolerance is the desire to harbor sin.  “You can’t judge me” only means, “I love this sin and you cannot take it from me”.  The typical defense is “You are a sinner too” or “No one is perfect”.  Yes, you are absolutely right.  There is none righteous, no not one (Rom 3.10).  We are all sinful.  But that most certainly does not justify us to sin in the eyes of God.  Because He is holy, He is perfect and He does not tolerate sin.  You may not continue willfully in sin after salvation and expect God’s forgiveness (Heb 10.26-27).  The mark of a Christian is one who is fighting sin.
So which is it, Christian?  Do you love your sin, or do you love God and His commandments?  You have to choose one or the other.
Now, that brings us on to the second topic of conversation addressed here:  Is it loving to tolerate or is it loving to point out sin?  I also wrote, a few months ago, on how true friends help us to fight sin in our lives.  And the question is basically answered above.  It is loving to point the unsaved to Jesus.  And the reason that Jesus is our hope is because He died and paid the punishment for our sin.  Yes, we all have to admit that we are sinners, we have to confess our sins and we have to turn away from them.  But by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the most loving thing in the world to offer someone hope.  But it must be done in kindness, sincerity and love.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
 – 1 Cor 13.1-3
The Gospel is offensive enough.  There is no reason for us to make ourselves more of a stumbling block than Jesus already is to the lost.  So, let us be nice.  Let us offer hope.  Let us be bold and allow Jesus to be the determining factor, not our insensitivity or lack of people skills.  “Put up” with sin, if the person does not know Jesus.  And if the person does know Jesus, walk with him in love to restore him to obedience.

Set an infinite value on immortal souls.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Carey, the father of modern missions, transformed the world and Christian mindset in the late 1700’s.  He was a pastor, and at a minister’s meeting in 1786 he raised the question before the other pastors as to the Christian’s responsibility to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  Another pastor, John Collett Ryland made the now infamous statement:  “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”

This set Carey on edge and he began work on his book “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens” in which he argued the Christian’s responsibility as based on the Great Commission, told a brief history of missional activity and then outlined the religious situation around the known world.  He later preached what has become known as the “Deathless Sermon” based on Is 54.2-3, in which he made the statement by which he is most well known:

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

By 1793 he was headed to India where he spent the last forty years of his life preaching the Gospel, translating the Bible into multiple languages, and inspired many others to give their lives to full time missionary service.  In his study and meditation on the call of the church to reach the world, he wrote these eleven commandments by which he lived:

  1. Set an infinite value on immortal souls.
  2. Gain all the information you can about “the snares and delusions in which these heathens are held.”
  3. Abstain from all English manners which might increase prejudice against the gospel.
  4. Watch for all opportunities for doing good, even when you are tired and hot.
  5. Make Christ crucified the great subject of your preaching.
  6. Earn the people’s confidence by your friendship.
  7. Build up the souls that are gathered.
  8. Turn the work over to “the native brethren” as soon as possible.
  9. Work with all your might to translate the Bible into their languages. Build schools to this end.
  10. Stay alert in prayer, wrestling with God until he “famish these idols and cause the heathen to experience the blessedness that is in Christ.”
  11. Give yourself totally to this glorious cause. Surrender your time, gifts, strength, families, the very clothes you wear.

We would all do well to live with such intentionality and purposefulness.  These standards, while excellent for cross-cultural work, are well practiced within our own communities and comfort zones as well.  We are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8.17).  We will inherit the world, and everything in it (Rom 4.13).  We will inherit glorified bodies and we will inherit God Himself (Rom 8.22-23, Rom 5.2, Rev 21.3).  Nothing in this world will satisfy, and in eternity we will have  more than we could ask or imagine (Eph 3.20).  So let us sacrifice ourselves daily for the sake of others, so that we can all enjoy God and His promised glory in the end.

Just do something.

I am finishing up a book that is speaking to Gen X’s and the Millennials’ indecisiveness and immaturity.  The author builds on the premise that the variety and vastness of options that are laid out before us only hinder our productivity and usefulness.  He suggests that Christian Millennials are so concerned about fulfillment in life, making a difference and being confident about God’s will that they are paralyzed from ever doing anything.  They are so afraid of making a wrong decision, so uninterested in growing up and so independent that they ironically never do anything, in spite of the boundary-less world in which we live.

Yes, it is true that the average age for marriage is being pushed back, that people are taking longer to earn advanced degrees and this consequently builds more independence in the younger generations.  And while I despise the normalcy our culture has adapted for the extended adolescent stage, I think there are still two types of people in our culture:  those who work hard and those who do not.  The author concludes that we do not need to have God reveal the future to us before we take action.  “Just do something” he says, once you have examined the scriptures to be sure that your decision and endeavor is morally and ethically upstanding, and ultimately God honoring.

However some of us, like me, are doers.  We like to be busy.  Give me a project or the freedom to build my own project, and I will dream, work, suffer sleep and complete the project to the best of my ability.  “Perfectionist” is the term my friends like to use.  My parents always encouraged my sisters and I to be hard workers.  Get it done, and do it well.  And thus, the advice to “just do something” is lost on people like me.  That comes naturally.  What does not come naturally is waiting on the Lord:

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

– Is 40.31

In light of this tension of admonition to the culture in general to serve God, and my personal disposition (including my desire to be serving more actively than I am) I have been reflecting on this unique command of Jesus:

“Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'”

– Acts 1.4-5

The occurrence of Pentecost was a game changer.  The disciples had spent three years with Jesus, following Him daily, listening to His teaching and watching Him preform miracles.  Jesus had sent them out into the villages to proclaim His coming, giving them power to cast out demons and to perform miracles themselves.  But they were not yet transformed in having the presence of the Spirit within them.  Peter, the night that Jesus was crucified, denied to a servant girl the fact that he had ever been with Jesus – swearing to it even.  And that only hours after saying to Jesus:

“Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.  Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.’”

– Matt 26.33-35

Have you ever done something so foolish?

Less than two months later, with the power of the Holy Spirit now within Him, Peter preached to the entire city of Jerusalem, taught in the temple, was consequently arrested and stood up before the entire Sanhedrin (religious court) and proclaimed Jesus – even when forbidden to do so.  He was undoubtedly transformed and given the Spirit of boldness.

Jesus gave the great commission just before he ascended to Heaven:

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

– Matt 28.18-20

But then, after He gave this command, He told them to wait.  Stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Helper, wait for the appropriate time to go out and fulfill the Great Commission.

My freshman year of High School, I was able to spend most of the summer in Croatia, volunteering and helping Bosnian refugees who were fleeing the war.  At that point, a vague interest that I had to live overseas was firmly rooted and established in my heart.  I then spent three more years of High School, four years of college and three years of graduate school preparing for that dream.  For ten years I thought, “I just want to go!”  But, it was not God’s timing.  There was necessary training, essential maturation and basic life experiences that needed to happen first.  “Stay in Jerusalem (Indiana)” was my command, until the appropriate time.

Now, that does not mean that I squandered my time while waiting.  There is always opportunity to serve God.  And we must live each day purposefully asking God, “How can I honor you today?” and “What do you have for me to do today?”

There are times that we need to wait on the Lord.  It is by waiting on Him that we gain new strength.  It is by waiting on Him that we are blessed and given the strength to run without growing weary, and to walk without fainting.  There are times that life will be unfathomably difficult, and waiting on the Lord will give us the strength to put on foot in front of the other, without fainting.  If we try to work or serve in our own strength, we will get burned out.  We will not honor God, and we will fail.  We must wait on the Lord, for His leadership, guidance and for the Spirit to be the one working through us.

There are also times when we need a swift kick in the pants to action.  Are you involved in your local church?  Are you serving Christ’s body?  Are you tithing?  Are you seeking for how to honor God today?  Or are you paralyzed by fear of making the wrong decision or failure?  God’s will is our sanctification (1 Thess 4.3).  God’s will is that we exemplify the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23).    God’s will is that we make disciples of every nation (Matt 28.18-20).  God’s will is that we store up treasures in Heaven and not on Earth (Matt 6.19-20).  God’s will is that we love Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds and that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22.38-39).  The ways to do all of those things are countless.  So let’s do it:  in our big plans and in the mundane.

“Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe…”

This means war.

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

– Rom 8.12-13

We are in a war.  A Spiritual war.  You have probably spent time meditating on the Spiritual armor that we are to wear as Paul lists it in Ephesians 6.10-18.  You have probably heard the analogy of prayer as our Spiritual walkie-talkie, allowing us direct access to our Commander-in-Chief.  But have you ever thought about the enemy?  Against whom exactly are we fighting?

The Bible tells us that the war of dominion has been won (Rom 8.1-2).  Satan has been defeated.  His destiny is settled: an eternity in the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Rev 20.10).  Jesus holds the keys to death and Hell (Rev 1.17-18) and no one will go there unless Jesus sends him there.  And of all that the Father has given Jesus, none will be or can be lost (John 6.37-39).

Paul tells us, rather, that our greatest enemy is sin.  It is sin that earn us an eternity in Hell, not Satan.  And Paul gets very explicative in Romans 8 in telling us about our responsibility as believers.  We are under obligation to the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body.  Under obligation!  John Owen made a very famous statement by which we all would benefit if we purposefully lived:  “Be killing sin or it will be killing you”.

Ed Welch, an author and counselor, made this statement:

“There is a mean streak to authentic self-control. . . Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin. . . . The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. . . . There is something about war that sharpens the senses . . . You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little of no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.”

Let’s reflect on a minute about the severity with which Jesus speaks to sin and how we are to respond to it:

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.  If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”

– Matt 18.8-9

Clearly Jesus knows that an eye is not the cause of our sin, but the heart causing or allowing the eye to look at things which it should not.  And the hand is not evil in-and-of itself, it is the sinful heart that would use the hand to steal or kill.  But Jesus is so concerned with our sanctification – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4.3) – that He would prefer us to cut off a member of our body and be saved than to continue in sin and be damned.  Paul tells us that we should no longer present the members of our bodies as instruments of sin, but instruments of righteousness (Rom 6.13).  If I were to physically cut off my hand, it would be unable to be of use to God.  But if I have a tendency or temptation to steal, I need to be so severe against that sin that I would fight that sin with the fervency equatable to cutting it off!

I wrote yesterday about flirting with the line; setting up boundaries for ourselves so that we can walk as close to sin as possible without actually sinning.  And I argued that that mentality is sinful.  I do believe that setting up boundaries and safeguards is a good practice.  But not to appease our consciences for living however we want, rather to help us live lives that are focused on and poured out for holiness and the glory of God.

So how do we fight these sins?  With the Sword of the Spirit: the Word of God.  We cannot honor God without clinging to His will and His Word, and we are only granted that wisdom through the Scriptures.  Are you timid?  Pray back Romans 8.15 to God until the timidity is gone.  Do you struggle with lust?  Meditate on the fact that God will always provide a way of escape, ask him for strength, and find the escape/safeguard (1 Cor 10.13).  Do you tell white lies?  Remember that liars will find their place in Hell (Rev 21.8) and ask God for boldness to honor Him with your words (Eph 3.11-12).  Fighter verses are the truths and promises of God that we find in Scripture that help us overcome struggles, temptations and sins.  Find them.  Pray them.  Memorize them.  Because it is the Word of God that is “living and active and and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4.12-13).

The Word is our sword by which we fight battles.  And it will not return void (Is 55.11).

There is, also, a level of Spiritual warfare against the principalities and dark places that is to be fought, as Eph 6 states.  The tension is valid that even though the war has been won, there are still battles to be fought in these final days (the Already-Not Yet).  But Satan has no power over our eternity.  He cannot take us from Christ.  And he cannot force us into sin.  Thus our primary war is with our flesh and with our sinful passions.  Let us examine ourselves.  Let us ask God to reveal sins of which we are unaware.  Let us put to death the deeds of the body and present ourselves as instruments of righteousness to honor God and to further His kingdom here on Earth!

How far is too far?

How far is too far?

This question plagued my youth group while I was in High School.  Everyone wanted to know where exactly the line had to be drawn in their physical relationships with their boyfriends/girlfriends.  Students, in general, were not concerned about honoring God in their relationships, they only wanted to know at what point they were sinning.  And being a single thirty year old, I am realizing that people are still asking that same twisted question.

Unfortunately, Scripture tells us that by asking that question we are already sinning.  Why?  Because anything apart from faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  What that means is that if you are not holding hands with your significant other in faith to the glory of God, then it is sinful.  If you are not eating in faith to the glory of God it is sinful (1 Cor 10.31).  If you are not speaking or working your job in faith to the glory of God it is sinful (Col 3.17).

Have you ever stopped to consider the evolution of line drawing?  Two generations ago, going to the movie theater was unthinkable for Christians.  Playing cards was an offense worthy of being kicked out of the Church.  One generation ago, the Church unanimously considered bars forbidden.  In fact, many Christian members of the baby-boomer generation and generation before would not eat at restaurants if they served alcohol.  It was illegal to make, sell and drink alcohol in the United States from 1922 to 1930.

Where is the line today?  The church is more diversified in some of their line drawing, but many Generation X believers frequent bars.  Their ethical line is drawn at strip clubs.  Can you imagine that your grandparents could have felt about movie theaters the way you feel about a strip club?  That playing a game of solitaire would be as reprehensible as paying for a lap dance?

I recently went to a question and answer time at a church where anyone from the community could come in and ask the pastor any question they had about Christianity.  The premise was to engage the community where they are, let them feel out the church, and let Christians and non-Christians alike find Biblical answers to whatever it is that would hold them back from belief.  It was held in the church building.  And they served alcohol.  80 years ago that would have been illegal.  Two generations back, you could have been kicked out of the church.  And today we use it as a meeting ground.  Will the next generation of Christians find strip clubs morally acceptable?

My intention here is not to discuss the moral acceptability of kissing, movies, restaurants, bars or strip clubs.  My intention is to observe the fact that the Church, when operating in legal freedom, has wrestled with defining the line.  But the fact that we would set up for ourselves lines by which we can flirt with sin exemplifies a lack of Spiritual transformation in our lives.  If we set up ethical or moral boundaries and function without consideration of glorifying God within those boundaries, we are white-washed tombs.  We are paving our path to Hell in gold.  We are defaming Christ.  Why?  Because we have not been transformed and we would call ourselves “Christians” – people who are like Christ – when we are living for ourselves and our own consciences when we have not sacrificed or suffered or fought any battles with sin.

Therefore, we must be confident of our daily activities that they are not only morally acceptable to God, but that they are done in faith and to His glory.  If the Bible says to honor the marriage bed (Heb 13.4), can you in faith obey God making out with your significant other?  If the Bible says that liars are sinners (1 Tim 1.10), can you in faith fudge on your income taxes or tell white lies to keep peace with coworkers?  If the Bible says that cowards and unbelievers’ place is in Hell (Rev 21.8), can you live by faith in fear and doubt?  If the Bible says do not store up treasures on Earth (Matt 6.19), can you buy a vacation home, expensive clothes or a fancy car in faith?

Ask the Spirit.  He will guide you.  He will reveal sin in your life.  God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14.33).  If you ask Him to reveal sin in your life, He will not ignore your request.  Just be ready to hear the answer!  And we must search out His will in Scripture, because His will is our sanctification (1 Thess 4.3).  The Bible says do not get drunk (Eph 5.18).  We do not need to ask Him about that.  The Bible says do not fornicate, have affairs, have idols, practice homosexuality, steal, covet, gossip and swindle others (1 Cor 6.9-10).  No need to wrestle over His will on those things.  He will not change His mind.  But He will give you the strength to overcome, and a way out of the temptation (1 Cor 10.13).  We all have our sins of disposition.  Perhaps you are prone to lying.  Perhaps alcoholism runs in your family.  Perhaps you are physical hypersensitive and are what psychologists would call a “sex addict”.  We all have sins of habit and entrapment that are natural to us.  But God transforms us from the inside out, giving us clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24.4).

Let us not walk the line.  Let us run with the freedom granted to us and glorify God with our whole beings, humbly submitting to His standards and walking in faith.

 

Man up already.

“You cannot use words like ‘sin’ when speaking to someone.  It only pushes him away.”

After chewing on the authority of the Bible for our understanding of right and wrong yesterday, a conversation came to mind which I had a year and a half ago in which the statement above was said to me, with surprising authority and sternness, by someone with Biblical and counseling training.

I also heard it preached recently, from a pulpit, that it is not primarily our sin that will send us to Hell.

This is a lie.  A trick of the enemy, seeking to keep lost people on the path to damnation and believers complacent in their sinfulness and worldliness.  Jesus died on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins.  Hell is an eternal judgment for sin.  God destroys both body and soul in Hell, after convicting the world of sin (Matt 10.28, John 16.8)!

“Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”

– Rev 6.15-17

Jesus Christ is the Lamb.  He is the final judge and He will return to the Earth in wrath, to deal with sin.  Sin, people!  The wages of sin is death (Rom 6.23)!

“There is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.  All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good…”

– Rom 3.10-12

Telling ourselves that we are OK, that we are generally good people serves no one.  In reality we all know that we are not good enough, and we are all striving for success, popularity and something to ease the condemnation of our conscience.  We know, because it is written on our hearts, that we are sinful and deserve wrath (Rom 1).

And Christians need the Spirit, the church, our friends and family to continually convict us of our sin.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16.8

If we do not allow Him to convict us and change us, we run the risk of making peace with sin and proving ourselves to not be of Him:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

We are talking about eternity here.  If we spend our time on Earth appeasing our guilty consciences through lies or neglect, we will continue on the path to our just reward: an eternity in Hell.  If we choose to accept our sinful state, tell ourselves that “I’m not that bad”, and go on our merry way, we offend an almighty God and there is no salvation.  The standard is not other sinners.  The standard is God’s perfect Law.  Unless one keeps the entirety of the Law perfectly, eternal damnation is the due punishment.  But Jesus died on the cross for sin.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

– 2 Cor 5.21

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

– 1 Peter 3.18

I am a sinner.  You are a sinner.  There are specific sins in your life right now that the Spirit would desire to help you overcome.  There are sins in my life that I need the Spirit to help me overcome.  Own it.  Man up.  Confess it.  And let God transform you from the inside out.

When we come to God for salvation, we come as we are.  We have nothing to offer, we cannot make ourselves more acceptable to God.  Coming to God, in fact, is that complete realization that I can do nothing on my own, I am sinful, I deserve Hell and punishment and I am lost.  But after you come to God for salvation, we do not settle into worldly, sinful lifestyles.  The Spirit is daily transforming us and we are to die to sin.  Purposefully seek it out and kill it.  Through the power of the Spirit to the glory and honor of God.  God is primarily concerned with your holiness, not your happiness.  He will step on your toes.  Let Him.  Just man up already, and let God define sin.  Own it.  Confess it.  And be changed.

Calling Sin Sin

lie-truth

History has shown civilization after civilization fall.  Empires that seemed impenetrable, kingdoms unified and with the strongest of military defense and entire nationalities have been divided, defeated and conquered.  In Scripture we are fortunate enough to see God’s hand behind the rise and fall of some such nations, and it is usually judgment for sin.  God destroyed all of the human race except for Noah and his family because “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8.21).  Then Noah’s descendants filled the Earth and this happened:

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.  It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’  And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.  They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’  The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language.  And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

– Gen 11.1-9

The people were so confident in their self-sufficiency that God divided them by confusing their language.  Have you ever considered the fact that our variety of languages is a curse, a judgment from God?

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone falling from Heaven because they were “wicked exceedingly and sinners against God” (Gen 13.13).  Even Israel, the chosen people of God, were judged and sent into captivity because they disobeyed God’s commandments, they spurned Him and did “what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25).

People, in general, teach their children manners that are culturally acceptable.  In Asia, you take your shoes off to enter a home or any building of honor.  You never use your left hand.  You may not pick your teeth, but you may pick your nose in public.  A respectful handshake is limp, and when in competition (such as a race, or educational ranking), the slowest may only be beaten by a pre-established margin.  No one will receive a score of perfect.

There is an anthropological term called ethnocentrism that defines our cultural pride and shortsightedness.  It simply means that we all consider our culture and values to be the highest.  The best.  The standard.  Other cultures are stupid, uneducated, or rude.  When I first moved into my home of three years abroad, I was checking out the house.  I did not yet have a single piece of furniture, and I had the gate and door unlocked while I was sweeping the floors and planning how I would like to furnish the house.  I walked into the front room from the back to find a beautiful woman, with no teeth and a huge smile standing there with her grandson.  They had let themselves in and wanted to see the house.  After a few minutes of chit chat, she sent her grandson to call in more neighbors and before I knew it, there were five more people standing in my unfurnished home.  I did not even have glasses to offer them tea or water (which is a cultural norm there).  They sat down on the tile floor, cross legged, and began to chat in their tribal language.  I had studied the trade language at this point for a year, but did not know a single word of their tribal language.  Five hours they sat there!  Culturally, they do not like to be alone.  And they feel badly for people if they have to be alone; thus they felt as though they were caring for me by being all up in my space.  I was annoyed, because I like to be alone.  Especially when I cannot understand a word and they are smoking in my new home.

Some of these things are morally neutral.  It is not inherently sinful to wear shoes into someone’s home.  However, I still take them off out of habit.  It is also not ethically immoral to pick my teeth in public.  Or my nose; but I realize I am writing to western readers who might argue that statement!

However a culture can adapt a sinful habit and make it socially normal, and then as a culture and people we rebel against God.  We, as believers, must affirm God’s authority over our lives and set out to live according to His standards and not culture’s.  The Bible, in it’s fullness, has taught the Church what God desires in obedience for nearly 2,000 years.  And God gave His perfect law roughly 4,000 years ago.  These truths and statutes have remained constant and unchanged for all previous generations.  The sensuality, the sinfulness, the temptations to which we fall are not new to our generation and God’s standards are not outdated or written to a specific culture and therefore open to our interpretation.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

– 1 Cor 10.13

Sex is not casual.  God created sex as a beautiful, unifying act between husband and wife and we are to guard the marriage bed faithfully.

“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

– Heb 13.4

Anything that destroys the body is sinful: gluttony, smoking, not sleeping, drinking our livers to death, lack of exercise…

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

– 1 Cor 6.19-20

God hates divorce.  “‘For I hate divorce’ says the Lord” (Mal 2.16).

We only have to open the Bible to run across verses that explain to us what God desires of us as individuals and us as a society.

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.

– Prov 6.16-19

Pride.  Lying.  Murder.  Abortion.  Scheming.  Causing division or disunity among brothers.  There are many lists throughout Scripture.  Take a look.  And ask God to reveal any sins in your life, according to His desires.

Just because culture says it is OK to do any of these things, it does not change God’s standards.  And if we as a society continue down the path of moral determinism and consequent spiritual lawlessness, we might be the next Roman, Byzantine or British Empire to fall.  Is it unpopular to stand up for purity?  For the rights of the unborn?  God was willing to spare the whole of Sodom and Gomorrah for ten righteous men (Gen 18.32), perhaps He will spare us for a while longer if a few of us submit to Him.  And the Bible says that when an unbelieving spouse is willing to live with a believing mate, he is sanctified by her:

“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”

– 1 Cor 7.14

He is not saved because of her faith, but he receives blessings because of her faithfulness.  Let us be faithful, in the midst of our culture, and perhaps God will bless us and those who do not know Him might come to find eternal life.