By Faith

By faith we see the hand of God
In the light of creation’s grand design
In the lives of those who prove His faithfulness
Who walk by faith and not by sight

By faith our fathers roamed the earth
With the power of His promise in their hearts
Of a holy city built by God’s own hand
A place where peace and justice reign

By faith the prophets saw a day
When the longed-for Messiah would appear
With the power to break the chains of sin and death
And rise triumphant from the grave

By faith the church was called to go
In the power of the Spirit to the lost
To deliver captives and to preach good news
In every corner of the earth

By faith this mountain shall be moved
And the power of the gospel shall prevail
For we know in Christ all things are possible
For all who call upon His name

We will stand as children of the promise
We will fix our eyes on Him our soul’s reward
Till the race is finished and the work is done
We’ll walk by faith and not by sight

– Keith & Kristyn Getty

The Waiting Room

waiting room

Have you ever been to see the doctor?  When you are young, or if you work for a company that gives incentives for healthy living, then you have been for an annual check up or physical.  But for the most part we go to see the doctor when we are sick; something is wrong with our bodies.  

Have you ever been to the doctor’s office and not had to wait in the waiting room?  Doctors and surgeons book their schedule quite full, and if one appointment runs a little long, then ever subsequent appointment throughout the day is delayed!  And I am not totally convinced that they do not leave us to sit in the waiting room just for the sake of it.  

Ha!

But when you sit in the waiting room, you get to watch all of the other sick people come through.  You get to meditate on your pain.  You have already admitted that you are sick and need help, and now while you anxiously wait, your brain has time to contemplate all of the life-threatening diseases or maladies you might possibly have.  And now, in the day of Web MD, we can all search our symptoms and self diagnose our common cold as ebola on our Iphones while we kill time.

The waiting room.

Sometimes God ordains a season of waiting on Him.  The Israelites, after God had led them out of Egypt, wandered in the desert for forty years.  When God delivered the people out of Egypt, He brought them across the Red sea by parting the waters, and after they had passed through, the waters fell on the Egyptians who were following them, and all of the Egyptians drowned.  Then God charged Joshua to lead the people into Canaan, the promised land.

“Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed.  At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp…Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.’  And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people.”

 – Joshua 3.1-2

God led the people of Israel across the Jordan River.  He directed the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant and to stand in the water, and at that point the waters were stopped and the people crossed over.  But God let them sit on the bank of the river for three days.  Have you ever sat in expectation of something – doing nothing else – for three days?  I have not.  I have waited eight hours for a VISA in a foreign country, but I have never sat in wait for three days.  We want to make the most of our time and would leave and come back if possible.  But God let them sit there, contemplating the fact that they had to get across a mighty, rushing river, and then go into a cosmopolitan area and take over – as vagabond wandering shepherds.  

Sometimes the waiting is not just waiting.  Remember Joseph?  He was given a prophetic dream that one day he would be in ruling authority and his parents and brothers would bow down to him.  He had to suffer years of slavery and then years of imprisonment to get there.  Years!

Or King David.  He was anointed king, and then after raising to military success spent years running for his life, just waiting for God to fulfill His word to make him king.  He lived with the enemy, he lived in caves, and he ran for his life while King Saul hunted him ruthlessly.  

For what are you waiting?  If you are a follower of Christ, we are all ultimately waiting for His second return.  For eternity.  For the redemption of our bodies and souls, for the relief from sin and suffering.  But is there anything not eternal for which you are waiting?

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
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 40.28-31

When we sit in the waiting room, there are many things that we can do.  We can focus on our ailment.  We can google all of our symptoms and play mental games telling ourselves that our condition is terminal.  We can fear all of the germs of all of the other patients coming through that will compound our sickness.  We can get angry, we can walk out because we are tired of waiting.  We can distract ourselves by playing games or reading a magazine or talking on the phone.  

Or we can wait.  We can consider the training of the doctor, the success he has had in treating our previous illnesses, the reputation of the clinic and the abundance of medications and therapies that have been successfully utilized to heal many other patients.  We can hope and trust for the best outcome.  Even in the midst of suffering and trials, when we are sick, when we are persecuted, when we are running for our lives, we can gain new strength through Him who gives freely.

The dangers of feminism.

feminist

I get uneasy with the topic of feminism.  Yes, I am a woman.  I’m probably what most people would consider an independent and relatively successful woman.  I have a master’s degree, I have moved more times than I care to recall, building community from scratch every time, and I pay all my own bills.  I do not particularly like being cat called when I walk or run down the street, I do not think it is fair that a man would get paid more to do the same job as me in most professional (and not professional) environments, and I do not like the color pink.  I’m not a stay at home mom.  

But it still turns me off.

In case you live in a box, this past weekend hosted the VMA awards as well as the Grammys.  If you haven’t seen any news anywhere, let me tell you that everyone is ogling over Beyonce’s performance at the VMAs.  In fifteen minutes, she sang a medley of songs on the topics of oral sex in the back of a limo, telling a guy to “tear that cherry out” and a tribute to her reign as queen, “Bow Down”, complete with derrieres adorned only in glitter as the background dancers, Beyonce herself climbing and posing upon a cushion chair, and sitting spread eagle to acquaint everyone intimately with her crotch for substantial portions of the performance.  And the word with which she defined herself before her toddler daughter, husband and the world was, “Feminist”.  

Not twenty four hours later, the Grammys aired, during which Sofia Vergara mocked our society by standing on a turntable which turned her 360 degrees while Bruce Rosenblum, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences said, “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.”  It was a joke.  Vergara, completely clothed, stood on a pedestal for people to look at in order to mock our societal and media trends.

Would you believe that people are up in arms?  Beyonce can strip for the world, dry hump chairs and poles but as long as she touts the title “feminist”, she is strong, independent, beautiful and in charge.  Vergara, on the other hand, who would simply mock society by giving the audience “something to look at” is now the victim of sexism.  As normal, everyone has an opinion.

Blah.  

This whole conversation makes my head and heart hurt.  Why?  Because anytime we waste our energy labeling ourselves anything else than Christian, we have lost our way.  

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 – Gal 3.28

The feminist extreme is out exerting “equality” by essentially demanding excess.  “Women can do the job better” and “stand up and take the lead” demands that we be first, not equal.  We want preference.  But the call of Jesus is to die to ourselves.  To suffer the offense.  To love one another irregardless of gender, color or social status.  Because in Jesus, there is no preference; male or female, race or social status.  

God is fundamentally concerned about justice.  He is the one who established the Law (the covenant with Moses, His perfect Law) and thus gave us the structure and outline for all systems of governance and accountability.  He Himself will judge every sin.  Every sin.  Nothing will go unpunished.  Sexism, racial injustice and social prejudice included.

However, if I waste all of my time getting upset because I live in a society where women are objectified, where I personally get cat called and honked at every time I go outside for a run, or even when I might make less money than a man just because I am a woman, all I will do is give myself an ulcer and live a miserable life.  Why?  Because you cannot change society unless God changes the heart first.  Sure, maybe if I push back hard enough, get enough people to sign my petition and make enough noise, a law might be passed to make cat calling deemed as harassment.  Maybe the police would even start to enforce it and people might start to stop whistling, making vulgar gestures and beeping their horns.  

So what?  

What eternal significance does it have if I make more money, walk down the street in peace, or get more societal respect?  None.  Absolutely none.  If I spend my whole life fighting for the equalization of women in the work place, I might help women to have more money, but they will still go to Hell if they do not know Jesus.  

How do you label yourself?  Are you a woman?  Are you consequently a feminist?  

Paul makes a radical statement:

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.  And so I direct in all the churches.  Was any man called when he was already circumcised?  He is not to become uncircumcised.  Has anyone been called in uncircumcision?  He is not to be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.  Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.  Were you called while a slave?  Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.  For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.  Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

 – 1 Cor 7.17-24

Paul essentially says here, your physical circumstances are not what are important.  It is your heart.  Slavery, persecution, success and happiness are not.  These things are all fleeting and they ultimately do not matter.  What matters is “keeping the commandments of God (v 19).  And Paul is not watering down the situation!  The early church was suffering persecution.  He himself was in and out of jail, was beaten, was stoned, put on trial and suffered more than you or I.  He was not speaking to a system of slavery that was fair, he was speaking to Christians who’s lives were in danger for the simple fact of being a Christian.

So if Paul can tell people who are living as slaves to be a slave to the glory of God, and not fight for themselves but to obey the commandments of God in their current slavery, why would I be justified in being angry because of the issues today?  I am not being beaten, I am making money, and live in more ease and comfort than most of the world.  And for those who are concerned that I just have not experienced it enough, I did live for four years in a society where I was the hated minority and wrestled with it daily.

 Am I preaching pacifism here?  No.  Paul does say, “but if you are able to become free, do that” (v 21).  And like I said, God is the judge and He has put powers in authority over us for a purpose (Rom 13.4).  If you have the calling and gifting to be a part of moral and ethical change in politics, then be about it!  God is concerned about justice, and we most certainly should stand up for those who do not have a voice.  But if we are called to show preference to one another, put others before ourselves and love our neighbors as ourselves, how can I justify being angry if someone else gets paid more, or if I am routinely wronged (Rom 12.10, Phil 2.3, Matt 22.39)?  

My point is this:  If you are a Christian, be a Christian.  A mini Christ.  And this is a matter of the heart.  How do you respond when you are hated?  How do you respond when you are persecuted or harassed?  Do you get angry and get up on your little soapbox and preach that you deserve better?  Or do you bless those who persecute you (Rom 12.14)?  Do you lash out when someone takes advantage of you?  Or do you go the extra mile (Matt 5.41)?  Do you love your enemy and pray for him (Matt 5.44)?  

Instead of looking at myself, and thinking about what I need or deserve, I should be concerned about the heart and eternity of the one who is hating me, who is persecuting or abusing me.  That does not mean I willingly stay in a situation that is to my detriment, but it does mean that my response is concern for other’s souls and eternities.  Because even if I succeed in changing their behavior, nothing of eternal value has been accomplished. 

Every society needs to see change and reform, including ours.  And at the risk of sounding cliche, I would remind us that it starts with me.  It starts with you.  I am not going to honor God and show others how to love by getting angry and crying about social inequality.  I will honor God by loving those who persecute me.  It has to be the love of God in my heart, the conviction to live my life as unto Him and not unto man, and to do all things to His glory.  I must respond well and in love, and when I find the opportunity to affect laws or societal governance, then I step up.  If you have a job or a position whereby you can make a difference, then impact the world – and that for the sake of Christ!  Make equal salaries between gender and race.  Enforce laws of harassment and do away with racial profiling.  But do it because Jesus declares us the same, without distinction.  And love those who persecute you in the process because what matters is keeping the commandments of God.

I need a reason to sing

woods

When the pieces seem to shattered
To gather off the floor
And all that really matters
Is that I don’t feel You anymore
No, I don’t feel You anymore

I NEED A REASON TO SING
I NEED A REASON TO SING
I NEED TO KNOW THAT YOU’RE STILL HOLDING
THE WHOLE WORLD IN YOUR HANDS
I NEED A REASON TO SING

When I’m overcome by fear
And I hate everything I know
If this waiting lasts forever
I’m afraid I might let go
I’m afraid I might let go

If there be a victory
Would You sing it over me now?
Your peace is the melody
Would You sing it over me now?
If there be a victory
Would You sing it over me now?
Oh Lord, Your peace is the melody
Would you sing it over me now?

 – All Sons and Daughters

Do we still have laws?

ten commandments

When Jesus brought salvation to the world through grace and fulfilled the Law, did He take away all expectations of how we are to live?  Do we still have instructions for our lives?  Christianity seems to take two extremes these days: legalism and unconditional acceptance.  I realize I have been on this topic for the last few days, with the different conversations floating around in our culture at large and American Christianity, but today I have been meditating on this well balanced instruction from Paul:

      “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

      For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

      Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

      Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God,for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.  ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

 – Rom 12

What grabs my attention in this passage is the level of love to which we are called.  We all can spout out the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself”.  But when was the last time that someone persecuted you and you blessed them?  Someone cut you off in traffic and you said, “I hope you get wherever you are going safely”?  Someone stole your wallet and you prayed for them that they would have food to eat that night?  And to be the person to suffer the offense for the sake of peace?  We all know the fairy tale ending of the suffering hero, the one who sacrifices himself for the princess or the kingdom, but is that how you live?

We are incapable of living that way, without the hope and humility exemplified in this passage.  Until we realize our guilt before God and grasp the weight of our forgiveness, we are incapable of forgiving others.  But the moment we realize what we deserve and embrace the grace of God that leads us to salvation, we are no longer capable of expecting anything from others.  He who has been forgiven much loves much.  Having been forgiven much makes us humble and thankful, and that is why Paul tells us to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  

But knowing that we have been forgiven does not always appease our desire for justice when we have been sinned against.  We can be humble, but still get angry over injustice.  And in this we trust the promise of God that He is going to handle that sin.  All sin will be punished.  God is not mocked, and He does not excuse any sin.  Either Jesus paid for it on the cross, or the offender will pay for it in eternity in Hell.  Would you take away from the crucifixion?  Or are you capable of adding to eternal damnation?  God knows His perfect plan and will handle each sin appropriately.  It is not for us to interfere!

If you trust God to handle your sin, why not trust Him to handle someone else’s?

Yes, we have commandments.  Live peaceably with everyone – so much as it depends on you.  Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.  Don’t be a hypocrite.  Be transformed by renewing your mind (learn the Scripture, cling to the promises, remember your sin and your own forgiveness and be humble, fight your sin).  Pray.  Rejoice in tribulation.  Bless those who persecute you.  Return good for evil.  

This commandment is infinitely more difficult than the Old Testament Law, which required an eye for an eye!  But God provides the strength, the desire and the ability.  Cling to Him.  Trust Him.  And make every effort to obey Him.

The Bible and The Newspaper

Is God relevant?  We are in a new and unique situation where much of Western Europe and the developed world is not in what historians are calling a “Post-Chrisitan Culture”.  Many of our core values and morals are based on Biblical principles, but we are no longer accurately identified as Christian as more and more people claim agnosticism or atheism.  There is, no longer, absolute truth and we are all capable of determining our own destiny.

While this era in history may be come to be identified thus, it is not a unique circumstance.  When societies are young, they are looking for a greater good and external power to affirm and assist in their establishment.  But once they achieve sovereignty and greatness, they attribute deity to themselves (Eastern countries, like Japan and China) or they waste away in vain philosophy (Rome and Greece) or they simply become introspective and self glorifying (Babylon, the United States).  

But God is always relevant.  Whatever issue we are facing, whatever moral dilemma, whatever ethical decision, the Scripture speaks to it, at least at the core level.  No, the internet is not mentioned in the canon of Scripture, but God’s will regarding morality, accountability and stewardship are clear and easily applied.  Karl Barth, the great theologian and philosopher said that we should always “read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other”.  

Do you compartmentalize?  Is God around for your eternity?  Or is He integral for every part of your life?  Does He speak into your decision making?  Your politics?  Your lifestyle?  Or is He just your “get out of Hell free” card?  Whatever it is about which you find yourself passionate, grab your Bible and stand firmly on what God directs on the issue.  The world needs Godly politicians (like William Wilberforce).  The world needs Godly doctors.  The world needs Godly teachers.  The world needs Godly evangelists and church planters.  Use your passion.  Get out your newspaper.  And take purposeful stands on the foundation of the Scripture.  Let’s change our thinking.  Let’s change our world.  

karl barth

Unconditional Love does not mean Unconditional Approval

approval

As we Americans continue full steam ahead down the path of tolerance and acceptance, denying the existence of absolute truth and empowering everyone to be god and authoritative in his own eyes, we are losing all sense of accountability.  While one can still go to jail for murder or grand larceny, the pool of excuses is broadening.  Mental illness, duress, self defense and situational considerations allow the guilty to walk freely.  We have philosophized ourselves into a corner where everyone has their freedom to choose every aspect of their lives, and no one has the right to judge, or even look funny at another because of his choices.

I have heard it said that God made man in His image, and now we are returning the favor.  We value tolerance, acceptance and self determination so highly that we attempt to force these attributes onto God.  We read books like “Redeeming Love” and we listen to our best friends who say, “I will support whatever decision you make” and think that we are eternally in the clear.  Because God serves us.  Right?  This is how we end up with situations like the coming out of Vicky Beeching and her self justification, “God loves me just the way I am”.

Is God’s love truly unconditional?  We need to consider carefully what we mean by the notion and what Scripture has to say about it.  When it comes to the offer of salvation, yes, that love is unconditional.  I cannot merit God’s salvation by doing something, and I cannot be so wicked that He would withhold it from me.  The act of justification is God paying the penalty for my sin, apart from anything good within me.  It is by faith, through grace, and not of works so that no man may boast (Eph 2.8-9).  But His saving grace does require obedience.

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

– Luke 6.46

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– John 14.15

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

– John 14.21-24

The mark of the one who has been saved, the mark of the one who loves Jesus is the one who obeys Him.  If we do not obey Him, them we prove ourselves to not love Him, to not be saved.  God’s saving grace is unconditional to earn, but conditional to maintain.  He will not smile on or approve of the one who continues in sin after hearing of grace:

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

So how does that work?  We like to talk about the love, grace and mercy of God, but it is less fun to talk about His righteousness, wrath and judgment.  A.W. Tozer makes this very clear observation:

All of God’s acts are consistent with all of His attributes.  No attribute contradicts any other, but all harmonize and blend into each other in the infinite abyss of the Godhead.

– A.W. Tozer

God’s wrath, grace, judgment, mercy, love and anger are all perfectly working together to create the infinite, perfect sovereign over the universe.  His grace freely forgives all who ask, and His wrath fully punishes all who do not.  We are all guilty before Him, as He is the perfect, all knowing judge who can see not only our actions but our hearts, and He Himself wrote the book on sin.  If it were not for the Law of God, we would not know sin (Rom 3.20).

God does not accept our ongoing actions unconditionally.  He hates sin.  He will not tolerate it.

I listened to a beautiful testimony yesterday, I highly recommend it to you:

Christopher says, “God did not call me to be heterosexual because He is heterosexual.  He called me to be holy because He is holy”.  God does not come to us in the filth and mire, save us and then leave us there.  He comes to us in the filth and mire and rescues us.  He pull us out of the mud, He washes us clean, He set our feet on solid ground and gives us a new heart and a new mind and the ability to obey and love Him.  His grace and love cause us to be a new creation, set on His ways and intentions.  He expects love, obedience, faithfulness and holiness from us in return.  Yes, He forgives us when we mess up, but He empowers us to change and expects us to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

We are not earning your salvation by obeying.  We are proving ourselves to be saved by obeying.  Be holy, for He is holy.

Vicky Beeching: “I’m gay. God loves me just the way I am.”

Every generation of Christians has their hot topic, their moral dilemma, their moral or ethical line with which they flirt while their parents stand by in horror.  The topic of today seems to be that of homosexuality.  And we are confronted by it yet again by a popular Christian music artist named Vicky Beeching. She has written many songs that are popular to be sung in contemporary worship services all around the country including songs like “The Wonder of the Cross”.  This week she declared to the world that she is gay, and God loves her just the way that she is.

And people are responding.

One extreme is saying, “Boycott Beeching and all of her songs” while the other is saying, “Amen sister!  God does not judge us, in fact he created us uniquely, so live it out!”

What is lacking here, however, is a basic understanding of God’s nature and the essence of salvation. 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

 – John 3.16

Forgiveness and salvation are available to everyone.  Yes, Vicky, God does love you.  But He does not condone any unrepented sin, and He will not excuse it.  He will not condone or excuse my unrepented sin.  God’s love is not the question here, forgiveness is.  

“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

God is the ultimate being who wrote the book on morality.  Literally.  He defined right and wrong, He established the Law, declared punishments for breaking it and He alone upholds it.  It is His judgment and wrath for breaking His law from which we need salvation both momentarily and eternally.  But we, being in our physical bodies, often believe the lie of the enemy, “You surely will not die!” (Gen 3.3).  This was his first deception, and his best, and he continues to use it today.  God’s law is written on our hearts and our consciences bear witness to it (Rom1).  We know the first time that we lie, steal, cheat on a test, fornicate or lust that it is wrong.  We feel guilty.  But when we see no immediate consequence we harden our hearts to that nagging conviction and indulge in the pleasure of the fruit that is “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise” (Gen 3.6).  

God loves homosexuals.  He loves alcoholics.  He loves liars and cheaters and evil doers.  If He did not, none of us would be loved.  But He does not forgive everyone.  

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.

 – Prov 17.15

If we continue in wickedness, He will not justify us.  To do so is an abomination.  And He reserves the right to define wickedness because He is God.  He has not hidden from us those things that He hates.  They are made clear in the Scripture because “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Cor 14.33), and He desires that we would repent and be saved (1 Peter 3.9).  But His wrath and holiness cannot be separated from His love.  And they are not at war with one another.  His love satiates His wrath, and to be found in His love we must confess that we deserve His wrath and repent.  

Having the disposition of homosexuality in and of itself is not sinful.  Lusting, or acting out on those temptations is.  Having the desire to party, get drunk, mess around with your boyfriend (or girlfriend), cheat on a test, speed down the highway, or steal is not sinful.  To let your mind remain on those things, to lust for them and to commit them is sinful.  And to try to redefine morality so that our lusts are excusable is sinful.  Sure, you might be “made” to desire a sin, but that does not make it permitable.  We all have dispositions and inclinations to particular sins.  As of right now, our culture still considers sex with a child a sin.  God outlined it in the Scripture clearly that sex is a gift reserved for a man and a woman in the consensual and loving bond of marriage.  Anything else is sin.  But there is a movement that is attempting to define a person’s desire to have sex with children as a preference and genetic makeup, just like homosexuality has already been defined.  Most of humanity would look on the topic with horror, but in the world of psychology, the transition is being made and some day it may be acceptable.

My point is simply this:  it makes no difference what your lusts, desires or dispositions are.  We are all born in sin, we all have a sinful nature, and the desires of our flesh are wicked.  To come to salvation, we have to agree with God about his definition of sin, we have to understand that the penalty for those sins is death and damnation, we have to confess our sins and we have to repent or change our ways.  Yes, we will still stumble and fall – we will sin.  But we must hate it, we must put it to death, we must confess it, we must seek to put it away because it is filthy and it dishonors God. 

So, should we boycott Beeching?  Should we quit singing her songs?

By no means!  Is a song necessarily void of its value because the author has fallen morally or ethically?  Paul allowed people to preach the Gospel who preached it from selfish and wicked motives (Phil 1).  Why?  Because it makes no difference the preacher or the author, only that the Truth is proclaimed.  Chances are high that most of our forefathers, who are quoted often and regularly, have different convictions or beliefs than you and I.  Many of my favorites (Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc) believed in infant baptism.  C. S. Lewis had some very quirky thoughts.  Solomon himself, after writing books of the Bible, possibly died apart from faith.  But His words are still inspired and included in the Bible!  Do you love the old hymn, “It is well with my soul”?  Horatio Spafford died as part of a Messianic cult.  Does the truth within the hymn lose it’s truth by nature of Spafford’s apostasy?  No, it certainly does not.  

If, however, when you sing the words coined by Beeching, you stumble, then refrain for the sake of your own conscience.  But Truth is Truth, regardless of the heart or dispositions of the preacher.  

God does love you, whatever your sinful disposition.  But do not make peace with your sin.  Seek God’s heart on it, confess it, and trust Him to give you the strength to live a holy and righteous life.  

Can a Christian be depressed?

depression

Sometimes life gets messy.  The headline of many articles for the past week has centered around depression, anxiety and suicide in light of Robin Williams’ recent suicide.  Opinions have been flying, people have lashed out based on their own personal experiences and self righteousness to both defend and condemn the mentally ill, the melancholy and the downtrodden.  Every time I broach this topic, I make a very clear caveat:  I am not a licensed counselor, and I am not a trained psychologist.  I have studied neuthetic counseling and believe in the restorative power of God and I also have a bachelor’s degree in Biology and understand that sometimes chemical functions interfere with one’s mental and emotional state.

But this morning I have been reflecting on the very nature of God and our expectations of life post-salvation.  Can a true believing Christian be depressed?  If there is not a chemical imbalance that is leading him to despair, but preoccupation with how badly his life is progressing and a lack of hope that things will improve, does he truly have faith?  Does a Christian have to “count it all joy when [he] encounters various trials” (James 1.2)?

Think of the terms that you would use to describe someone who wrestles with depression.  Melancholy.  Gloomy.  Dejected.  Despondent.  Dismal.  Unhappy.  How about this one:  

Man of Sorrows

What does that make you think?  Is this someone who is depressed?

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted. 

 – Is 53.3-4

This man regularly went off to be alone, to pray and to contemplate life.  He also was recorded as praying this:

“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”…and [He] began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

I have heard many people think aloud about the nature and disposition of Jesus.  Many like to say, “Jesus was a great guy to be around”, attributing to Him a great sense of humor, cosmic wittiness and a likable disposition.  If God created everything in the world, then He clearly created humor and fun, right?  I will not speculate on this here.  I consider few things of greater danger than adding to or speculating on those things about which Scripture is silent.  Jesus never tells a joke or laughs in the recorded history of his life.  Does that mean he necessarily did not?  No.  But what it does tell us is that He was grieved.  All of the time.  Over the brokenness and wickedness of Jerusalem.  He wept at unbelief.  He became angry at sinful practices within the temple.  And when He approached the very death that would offer us salvation, He verbalized that He Himself was grieved to the point of death.  His grief was justified, knowing exactly what was coming, but nevertheless, He would have exemplified the characteristics that we, in our psychoanalysis, would label depression. 

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.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

 – Is 53.5-8

Jesus was called a man of sorrows.  He knew the weight of the world.  He bore the sins of the world.  He grieved over the wickedness of the world, of his community, of his friends and family.  Does that sound like a light-hearted guy to you?  Perhaps it does, and perhaps He was able to maintain that perfect balance of joy in grief, rejoicing in suffering and all that good stuff.  He is God, after all.  

What I want to suggest here, however, is that sometimes life is overwhelming and that is OK.  Jesus Himself was grieved of life to the point of death.  He was known as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Have you known sorrows?  Are you acquainted with grief?  

I am the man who has seen affliction
Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship.
In dark places He has made me dwell,
Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
Like a lion in secret places.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;
He has made me desolate.
He bent His bow
And set me as a target for the arrow.
He made the arrows of His quiver
To enter into my inward parts.
I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
Their mocking song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the Lord.”

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the Lord.

 – Lam 3.1-26

It is normal and acceptable that we encounter trials, sorrows and griefs.  In fact, we serve a God who is sovereign over those things.  Jeremiah attributes his hardships to the Lord!  “He has filled me with bitterness” Jeremiah says, and his “soul has been rejected from peace” by God!  God is not only sovereign over our souls after death.  He is in charge of the good and bad times today, too.  But Jeremiah teaches us how to respond.  We claim the promises.  We recognize our blessings.  We look forward to the day when everything makes sense and we trust that God will bring it to be.  

All things are working together for good, even if it hurts.  Even if it does not make sense.  Even if it seems to rock your faith.  It is OK to cry about it, to be frustrated by it.  But do not stay there.  Pray with Jesus, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22.42).

What is the chief and highest end of man?

As information becomes more readily available and individuals assume more rights based on nature of simply breathing, we hold ourselves and one another to lower and lower standards.  Some professions, like medical doctors and lawyers still require years of rigorous study and practice, but we award medals to children for trying, we declare no winner and loser over pee-wee games, and pass children through grades so as to not make them feel badly, even when they have not mastered the material.

Laxity and inclusivism has also compounded in the Church.  Did you know that in the early church they required a three year period of instruction before one was allowed to join?  The entire first year of one’s interest in Christianity was set aside for personal study and one-on-one instruction whereby the interested party became familiar with the Scriptures and practices of the Church.  The second year, the candidate became labeled as a “hearer” and was allowed to attend the assembly and listen to the preaching.  The third year, he became a “kneeler” and was allowed to stay after the preaching and through the prayer time of the church.  Only after those three years was the candidate allowed to join the Church, be baptized and partake in communion.  

This sounds extreme.  But Church membership was considered a sacred thing.  Parishioners knew that they were submitting to the leadership of the Church, and the leaders were taking Spiritual responsibility for the parishioners.  Scripture teaches us that pastors will give an account for those under their care, and in the early church they took that exhortation extremely seriously.  Members knew that allowing one in who did not believe or was divisive could cause problems, so everyone purposefully and carefully made sure that they were on the same page.  They wanted to protect the reputation, the sanctity and the honor of the Church.

When I was growing up, my father was approached by the chairman of the deacons at the church we were attending at the time to join the deacon board.  His sales pitch was, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything”.  Early church fathers had to memorize the Psalms, the Gospels, and multiple epistles just to be considered for Church leadership.  But now, we just need a warm body to sit on the committee.

I realize that not all churches are that lax in their approach.  Some churches excel in discipleship, mentorship, and accountability.  Some churches highly respect the authority of the leadership and leaders tremble at the reality of giving an account to God for those in their congregation and are intimately involved in the teaching and training of their flock.

One tradition that I respect and wish had been upheld throughout the generations is that of catechism.  Though many of our forefathers of the faith wrote extensive catechisms, one has shone throughout history as the benchmark for Christian discipleship, the Westminster Catechism (1647).  Converts, both child and adult, were taught nearly two hundred questions and answers to help frame their belief system and establish maturity and continuity.  

These are the first five questions and answers.  Meditate on these today.

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

Q. 2. How doth it appear that there is a God?
A. The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Q. 4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

westminster catechism