“Only God can judge me.” Does that not scare you?

only god can judge me

As we walk through the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage last week, people are lashing out at one another from both sides.  In the midst of all of this chaos, there is a quote from Rick Warren floating around the internet world that says,

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies.  The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.  The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believer or do.  Both are nonsense.  You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

But yet our need for approval and self-fulfillment yearns for everyone to not only agree with us but to support and affirm us.  This, obviously, is impossible in a world where people have different belief systems and different values.  Thus we cry “tolerance”.  Live and let live.  But subconsciously by tolerance we really mean, “agree with me”.

And a very interesting response to disagreement these days is the statement, “Only God can judge me”.  It is intended to be a conversation ender, to put off someone who would call someone else out on an action or deed, but the irony is that God will indeed judge us, He has given us sixty-six books to help us understand exactly how and for what He will judge us, and yet we think we are walking with His affirmation.  In short, the person who will judge most fairly and most harshly is God.  He will not overlook any small sin that our moms, our teachers, or even the law overlooked.  There is no “warning” for speeding.  If you are guilty, you will pay.  There is no “I will let it go this time” or “extra credit” to make up for where we were lacking.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

– Rom 3.23

as it is written,
“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,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

– Rom 3.10-12

Scripture teaches us that there is none righteous, and that all have sinned.  Every. Single. Person.  And what is the punishment for sin?

“For the wages of sin is death…”

– Rom 6.23

Everyone who has sinned deserves and will suffer physical death.  And those who have not found salvation in Jesus will suffer eternal death in Hell:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

– 1 Cor 6.9-10

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

Have you ever told a lie?  That alone is enough to be sent to Hell.  Did you ever eat a cookie that your mom said not to eat?  That was sin enough to get Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden and bring the curse upon the entire world.  Now, based on that fact, whose judgement would you rather have?  God’s or man’s?  This is why Jesus admonishes us,

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matt 10.28

God sends people to Hell.  And Jesus says that that should be the most fearful thing, not even someone who would murder you.  God’s judgment is that much stricter and worse than man’s.

“…when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

– 2 Thess 1.7-9

God does judge.  And He will judge.  And it is a terrible thing to come to judgment day unprepared.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

– 2 Cor 5.10

“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”

– Rom 2.5-8

Finally, Jesus’ teaching of “judge not lest you be judged” is not intended to make the impact, “live and let live” (Matt 7.1-2).  It is making the point that by the same measure we judge we will also be judged, because God does not allow hypocrisy.  We are taught to hold one another accountable, to help keep our brother from stumbling into sin and to restore people who want to repent with gentleness, knowing our own tendencies to fail.  Accountability is vitally important.

So which should we prefer, for someone to tell us in love (or even with ill motives) that our heart of unbelief and our sinful actions will lead us to an eternity of suffering – or for us to be left alone and to meet God when it is too late to change and suffer a fate of damnation?  Do we truly want to let only God judge?  Or do we want someone to step in and tell us about the hope of salvation and forgiveness in Jesus Christ?

God will judge.  There is no doubt about that.  But let’s humble ourselves to the Bible and to the accountability of people who care enough about us to warn us that the path we are traveling would be that unto destruction.

Should missionaries have to go to seminary?

4.1.1

We have a funny disposition as a culture, and that is the fact that we are a bit wishy-washy in our thoughts on education.  Most high schools are now college-prep, and most jobs require a bachelor’s degree at the minimum.  Some require a master’s and very few will consider your resume if you are starting out in the world without a formal education.  That being said, there is also a veneration for those self-taught experts – those few who have prodigy-like ability to think, reason, play an instrument, or preform.  Once we achieve a level of critical thinking and reasoning, we examine and judge any and all who are in authority and function by the mindset,

“How do you know?”

There is one passage in Scripture that evangelists use as a scapegoat for discipleship and independent thinkers use as an excuse for avoiding theological education:

As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.

– 1 John 2.27

Have you heard, or thought before, “I have the Holy Spirit within me to teach me, I do not need anyone else”?  Or how about, “He now has the Holy Spirit in him, God will teach him…just leave him in God’s hands”?  Or how about someone feeling called to the ministry, and saying “Why do I need to go to seminary, if God is calling me to the field”?

Churches vary on the requirements for pastoral leadership and mission boards vary on requirements for missionaries.  But consider this:  there are still 6,100+ people groups around the world that are less than 2% Christian.  There are still about 1,900 languages that do not have the Bible.  How many would-be missionaries are ready to go to a foreign land where there is no Church or Bible, lead a few people to Christ, and teach them the Bible and discipleship?  We take for granted the internet and all of our forefathers who have done so much leg-work for us in our personal studies.  We have podcasts, internet broadcasts of sermons and mountains of books on every theological issue and question.

But in short, when you get to the field and find that first believer, what will you teach them?

If you are called to be a pastor, can you verbalize how you believe the Bible teaches that the Church should be led?

There are many people who have been believers for a long time and because of their love for the Scripture and for the Church that they have a deep and real grasp on Scripture and what it teaches on most major doctrines and issues.  There are some, who, when they come to faith are radically changed and given a drive to read and absorb and develop on their own initiative a vast education on Church history, theology and the outworkings of the Church and discipleship.

But the Average Joe needs to be taught how to read the Bible, basic systematic theology and how to apply the Scriptures to our lives.  Notice that John, when he says that believers have no need of a teacher, the context of the passage is in relationship to false teachers and those who have gone astray and abandoned the faith. They were teaching false things and John wrote three letters in order to teach true believers how to look out for these false teachers, how to walk in obedience and according to the Word which they knew, and to not be taught by liars.

John was teaching them.

So, should missionaries be required to go to seminary?  Should pastors?  Anytime we take a hard and fast stand on a question like this, we rob God of the opportunity to work boldly and dynamically through someone.  God is not require to work within our man-made rules and expectations.  But when you are considering a position in leadership, remember that we are encourage to take such a calling seriously.  So seriously, James says, that few of us actually do it:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

– James 3.1

When we take a position of authority in a church, we will be held to a higher standard and a stricter judgment before God.  This is not just socially, implying that people will be watching (even though they will be), but God will judge more severely those who have accountability for the souls of those in their flock and in their church (Heb 13.17).

So, when you get on the field, what will you teach these new believers?  When the missionary that you send gets to the field, are you confident in his theology and belief system to be the point person for an entire people group with their discipleship?  This is no small task, and we must humble ourselves before the Lord and the Church and the mission board to rightly understand the weight of the assignment and judge our capabilities.  God is the one who causes the growth and who uses us.  He does not necessarily need a formal theological training to teach people through us.  But are we walking closely enough with Him to know if we are ready?

The disciples took three years walking daily with Jesus before they were ready.  Paul spent three years in the desert learning and praying by Himself before he entered ministry.  Let us not begrudge education, but let us also not add to the Word of God and His requirements.  Let us humbly ask God what His will is, pray with any and all who would be sent out, and examine them in their understanding of Scripture and ability to teach.

What does God have for you [to do] today?

whole world

It is easy to get caught up in considering what we should do for God, do we not?  Millennials and Generation X are consumed with “making a difference” and “changing the world”.  And that is an honorable endeavor if we are convicted by the Scripture and calling of God and if we are concerned about meeting people’s greatest need namely salvation.  Now, we know that it is God alone who saves and it is God alone who softens and draws hearts to repentance, but he chooses to use us as the mouthpiece for His mission.

But sometimes we get so caught up looking at the big picture that we are unproductive in the day-to-day.

God is not concerned about what you can do for Him.  He does not need you to accomplish His work.

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

– Acts 17.24-28

Rather, God – because of His great and unfathomable love for us – chooses to use us to accomplish His plans.  He has a plan for saving people from every tribe, tongue and nation, and He wants to use us to be a part of it.  God is primarily concerned about making disciples out of people from every tribe tongue and nation.  Jesus said that that must happen before He will return to bring about the end of the age:

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

Jesus gave very clear outlines for how we will know that the end is coming in Matthew chapter 24.  He speaks of the tribulation, of the marks of the end times, of the Anti-Christ, but in the middle of it all He says that every nation (people group) will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ before He returns.  We see clearly in Revelation that some will be saved from every nation:

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’.”

– Rev 5.9

So if we want to join in the work of God, we must be about the work of making disciples of every nation.  This only makes sense, as it was Jesus’ final instruction as He was leaving the world:

“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

Notice that Jesus does not say, “Go make converts”.  He also does not say “Go preach the Gospel”.  He says, “Go and make disciples”.  The job only begins when someone comes to faith.  God wants us to be disciples and to help others become disciples.  That is His primary concern, and if we want to be about His work, that will be our main focus.  That means long-term investment in people.  That means living life with people and pushing one another to holiness and good deeds.  That means fighting the fight of faith on your own and with others.

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.  But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

– Heb 3.12-13

As long as it is called “today”, encourage believers of all levels and walks of faith to fight sin.  We do this through evangelism, we do this through daily interactions and relationship, and we do this through intense discipline and accountability.  Our evangelism message must include repentance.  Our friendships must include Spiritual accountability and check-ins.

“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

What does God have for you today?  He wants you to firstly be a disciple.  Know Him, love Him, spend time with Him, and ask Him where He is working around you today.  He secondly wants you to make disciples.  If you are a brand new baby Christian you can share your conversion story with those around you.  If you have been in the church all your life and know the Bible backwards and forwards, you can teach the young and growing to know the Scriptures and to be faithful.  If you are headed to the mission field in a month, you can still hold accountable and encourage those around you today.  If you are on the mission field, just being there isn’t enough – get out and share!  Make disciples.

Consider the big picture of your life and plan for the future.  But hold it loosely, as God often changes the path, and follow Him boldly and without reserve.  Enjoy Him today, listen to Him today, ask Him where He is busy today, and ask Him if you can join Him there.

Humility

humility

I was listening to the radio on my way to work this morning, and a popular song came on the radio.  I started singing along as it is quite catchy and the theme of the song is strong, but I stumbled over one of the lines of the pre-chorus, and was quickly appalled at what I had just sung:

We are Your church.
We are the hope on earth.

Rend Collective’s “Build Your Kingdom Here” spends the entire song asking God to change the world, to bring the Kingdom on Earth, to do a mighty work, and then it throws in that strange phrase that is unfathomably out of place in the song.

Is it just nuance?  Does the author mean that we are the instruments that God uses to make a difference and bring hope to the world?  I truly hope so.  But the problem is quite simply the fact that that is not what it says.

There is a large, Christian non-profit organization known around the world that has adopted the mission statement, “we want to answer the prayers of children”.  Again, we can argue nuance and the heart behind the statement (perhaps more easily in this case), but let us consider what we are actually saying.

God has established the Church on Earth as His body.  Jesus Christ is the head, and each of us has a unique gifting and role to fulfill within the local body.  Some of us are mouths, some of us are feet, some of us are hands, and some of us – as Paul says – are parts less honorable and less presentable (1 Cor 12)!  God chooses to use the Church to be His mouthpiece for taking the Gospel to the world, for pushing believers on to maturity and to worship Him.

We, as the Church, however – apart from God – are nothing.  Paul says that if Jesus was not the Savior, we are the most pitiable people in the world (1 Cor 15.19).  Apart from God we are all spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We are not righteous, we do not seek after God, and we do no good on our own (Rom 3.10-11).  And when God brings us to Spiritual life, we are servants or slaves of God.  We are made into new creatures, we are set to walk in His ways, to His service, unto His glory.  In-and-of ourselves we are nothing, but we are made alive in Christ by virtue of His nature.

Jesus Himself was the epitome of humility and He taught us to be humble.  That is why Paul teaches,

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.

 – Rom 12.3

Jesus Himself said that we should always sit at the seat of least honor, lest we embarrass ourselves when someone of higher honor comes.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 – Luke 14.11

The point is simple.  We are most assuredly not the hope on Earth.  Jesus Christ and His Gospel is.  We are blessed to be the ones to proclaim the hope, but we are merely people pointing the way to the hope.  We most assuredly do not answer people’s prayers.  God may use us to answer prayers, we may the tool that He chooses to use in His sovereign ways, but we are not the sovereign, the benefactor, the provider.  In fact, we might screw things up if we “answer” someone’s prayers in the way we think it should be resolved, because often times God has a greater plan than we could ever imagine in the works!  For example, the Bible says,

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

 – 2 Thess 3.10

If someone is “praying” for food, but it lazy and unwilling to work, and we go in and feed him without the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we enable his habit and do not allow God to work a life-changing miracle in his life, convicting him of responsibility and work ethic.

The heart and intention might be pure behind these two thoughts.  But danger lies in the un-thoughtfulness of using such a motto.  First of all, the person may come to believe what they are saying.  It might start out with the right heart, but in attempting to be what they are saying, people will err.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it teaches error at best and heresy at worst.  If a young Christian is in your presence and you teach him these false truths and he does not have the foundation of Biblical knowledge and understanding, he will go astray from the beginning.

Humility is the key.  Praise God, there is no greater honor than being used by Him to preach His Gospel and His truth to another.  But we are no one’s hope.  We answer no one’s prayer.  God alone is the hope, God alone answers prayers.  Consider your words today, and your efforts.  Are you watching to see what God is doing around you, and joining Him in His work?  Or are you busy being about your own efforts and asking God to bless them?

Who do you think you are?

confrontation

We, as a culture, do not handle confrontation well.  Many of us tend to avoid confrontation, just let the issue roll off our backs or fade away, while others of us can be abrasive and  take a sick pleasure in pointing out one another’s short-fallings.  Our culture, however, tends to embrace the mindset of “live and let live”.  I won’t meddle in your mess and you don’t meddle in mine.

Thankfully, the Bible gives us clear guidelines for how we are supposed to handle these kinds of situations.  Matthew 18 is regularly quoted when people are dealing with someone in the Church who will not repent of a sin.  In short it says that if someone is sinning and you notice it, you should go confront him in private.  If he will not listen, then take someone else along with you.  If he still will not listen, then you are supposed to tell the whole church and if he chooses sin when the whole church is confronting him, then you kick him out of the church.  This does not happen very often, I personally have only seen it twice in my lifetime.

But Scripture also talks directly to the one who is doing the confrontation:

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.

– Gal 6.1-4

Paul is not implying that the one who is caught in a trespass (sin) is not spiritual and only people who are super-spiritual can restore him.  The Spiritual one is the one who has the Holy Spirit residing in him:  a Christian.  If you see a brother in sin, chances are that the Holy Spirit within him is already convicting him.  But if the Holy Spirit within us is stirred by the sin of another, we are instructed to confront him.  But thankfully Paul gives us a thorough game plan:

First of all, we must examine ourselves to be sure that we are not falling into the same sin, and we must be on the alert so that we do not.  Secondly, we must not compare ourselves to the brother in sin, because the brother in sin is not the standard; Jesus is.  We are all sinners and worthless compared to Jesus.  In this mindset of humility we approach a sinning brother.  Thirdly, we approach our brother ready to help him carry his burden.  This is huge.  If your brother has an habitual sin of drunkenness, the heart and intention of restoration is becoming a support for him, and walking through life with him to help him overcome it.  If your brother is mistreating his wife or having an affair, we must approach him ready to walk the long road back to health in that marriage.  Our role is not to simply point out the sin and run.  We must be prepared and ready to restore him and to help carry his burden.  Lastly, this must all be done in a spirit of gentleness.

There are times when people become so entrenched in their sins that “tough love” is the only option.  And it is those types of situations to which Matthew 18 is speaking.  We kick those people out of the church.  Paul said we turn those people over to Satan, hoping that through the destruction of their flesh their souls will be saved (1 Cor 5).  But when the brother is receptive to confrontation and repents of his sin, the process of restoration is to be a gentle one.  Gentleness does not imply weakness.  Jesus was Almighty God, the creator of the universe, and yet He presented Himself as gentle and meek.  It is a restrained and controlled power.  We deal severely with the sin, but gently with the penitent.

This all sounds really nice, but the reality is that is requires vulnerability and trust.  Do you trust anyone enough to confess to them a secret sin, and hope that they will hold you accountable and help you to kill that sin?  Do you love anyone enough to confront them and commit to them to walk the road of restoration and healing together?  And are you humble enough to receive confrontation?  Or will you bow up and say, “Who do you think you are to call me out?”  We justify our sins by telling ourselves that no one is perfect, everyone sins.  And we placate our conviction to call one another out by the same sentiment.

Yes.  We are all sinners.  But if we have removed the log in our own eye, we are commanded to then help our brother remove his splinter.  We cannot remove the splinter with the log in place, but once it is out we have the experience and foundation to help.  One alcoholic should not turn to another alcoholic for help.  A cheating man should not ask another adulterer for accountability.  Why?  Because they will overlook one another’s sin and neither has learned the discipline to conquer it.  We must turn to someone who does not have the same sin issue.  And we must be prepared to walk together.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

church-model

I heard a song the other day that caught my ear.  It is musically catchy and the first line of the chorus is “Take me to church”, so naturally it caught my attention.  The third line of the chorus, however, is what broke my heart: “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife”.

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Curious, of course, I googled the author’s meaning in the song.  These are the two direct quotes I could find from the him:

“I found the experience of falling in love or being in love was a death, a death of everything. You kind of watch yourself die in a wonderful way, and you experience for the briefest moment–if you see yourself for a moment through their eyes–everything you believed about yourself gone.  In a death-and-rebirth sense.”

“Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural.  An act of sex is one of the most human things.  But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation – that it is sinful, or that it offends God.  The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”

– Andrew Hozier-Byrne

He writes metaphorically; comparing his lover to religion.

The music video is about a male homosexual relationship and the backlash the couple receives from the community when they are found out.  Hozier made this statement in regards to the video:

“The song was always about humanity at its most natural, and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious [organizations] and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.”

As the lie continues to evolve that we have the freedom to determine right and wrong for ourselves, and that there ultimately are no moral, ethical or eternal absolutes, people will misunderstand the intentions of Jesus and Christianity and will consider themselves the victim for any public declaration of a “different truth” than what they are choosing to believe.

The extremely difficult calling for the Church, for us, for you and for me, is to learn how to walk in obedience to Scripture, to encourage others to walk in obedience to Scripture, and yet to show them love at the same time.  We are all sinners, we all were born in darkness and wickedness and we all were enemies of Christ until God breathes Spiritual life into us.  And yet we all continue to fight our sin daily, failing at times.  Are you afraid that if you confess your sins to another at church that they will “sharpen their knives” and prepare to crucify you for them?  I have seen it firsthand.  I have experienced it firsthand, and that over a non-sin issue!

The opposite extreme is just as dangerous.  Jesus always commanded the sinner who came to Him,

“From now on sin no more.”

– John 8.11

Jesus does not accept or condone our sin.  The Bible tells us clearly what God considers right and wrong, and He – as the creator – gets to decide.  Not me.  Not you.  Not the culture at large.  Only God.  He knows that we are sinners and Scripture tells us that the glory of grace is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).  Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and He wants us to knock it out!  He most certainly did not pay the punishment so that we could keep doing those things that He hates!  He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us and He desires that we would live according to His code of conduct, if you will.  But He does not sharpen His knife when we stumble and repent.  He forgives us – when we confess and turn away from that sin.

There in lies the problem.  What is our attitude about sin?  Hozier makes this alarming and enlightening statement in the very same song:

I was born sick,
But I love it
Command me to be well
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

This is actually a quote from Christopher Hitchens, a New Atheist, with the phrase “but I love it” inserted in the middle.  Hitchens rightly observes that he was born sick.  But he is only half right.  We are all born “dead in our trespasses” (Eph 2.1).  We love sin and darkness and we choose it.  So why would someone “command me to be well”, when I am completely incapable of being well?  Hozier adds the sentiment “but I love it”.  We do love our sin.  It is a miracle of God that we are convicted of it and drawn to repentance.

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

 – John 3.19-21

Hozier’s sentiment is Biblical.  Everyone who does evil hates the Light – and the Light is Jesus and His Truth.  The world lives in darkness and the darkness sins boldly because they receive affirmation from one another.  Being in the darkness does not mean that it is in secret.  It means that it is not in Christ: the Light.  And we are all born in darkness, in sin, in spiritual deadness.  We hate the Light, in-and-of ourselves.  We need Jesus to breathe life, to convict us of sin, to save us.

So, Church, when should we sharpen our knives?  If someone comes into our lives who was “born sick” and still loving it, then our concern is not their sin (or sins) of choice.  Our concern is their salvation.  Until the sinner realizes the truth of the Gospel and comes to Jesus for salvation, their actions simply do not matter.  It makes no eternal difference if they happen to abstain from one or more particular sins.  Apart from Jesus, that is as “filthy rags” and worthless (Is 64.6).  If you are in Christian community and someone confesses a sin of habit or temptation, if they are clinging to Jesus and trying to die to that sin, there is no place for knife sharpening either.  In fact, this is one of the most beautiful callings of the Church community:  to hold one another accountable and push one another on to righteousness.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

 – James 5.16

The only time we are commanded to take strong action against sin is when someone among us who claims Jesus gives in to sin and its temptation and will not turn from it.  An unrepentant Christian – one who knows the Truth, has claimed Jesus’ salvation for His sins, yet disgraces Jesus and God by choosing sin instead of obeying God.  Jesus gives us very clear instructions for how to handle such a situation, and it is bathed in love, giving the person multiple opportunities to obey (Matt 18).  We are never commanded to go on a witch hunt, or to crucify someone, but to remove them from our midst with the hopes that they will repent later.  Our primary concern, however, is the holiness of the community at large, and if one will not submit to God, he should be removed for the sake of the Church.

Dear Church, put down your knives.  Love the non believer as one who needs Jesus.  Love the repentant believing sinner (the vast majority of us within the Church) as one who is struggling, just like you, and push them on to righteousness and to obedience.  And love the unrepentant believer by pointing out his sin, naming it for it’s eternal danger, and removing him from the church – to the end that he would repent.

The “Guard Your Heart” Myth.

guard-your-heart

Are you a Christian?  Have you ever dated?  Then you have probably heard the admonition, “Guard your heart”.  Everyone says it, but no one knows what it means.  Some people use it as an excuse for not getting emotionally invested, “I am guarding my heart, keeping him at arm’s length”.  Some people use it as an excuse to not go out on any dates, “I am guarding my heart by not offering myself any temptation”.  Some people use it as a defense, “I am breaking up with you because you are not guarding my heart”.

Solomon, first of all, did not write this proverb in the context of dating.

Wait, what?  What else could it mean?

Solomon said,

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.

– Prov 4.23

Watch over (or guard) your heart with all diligence because from it flow the springs of life.  Why do we guard our hearts?  Because it is a precious gem that we have to protect until we find our spouse?  No, because from it flow the springs of life.  What does that mean?  Our problem in this world is that we are Spiritually dead and that we have a heart of stone.  But God, when He gives us the gift of faith and salvation, takes out our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh.  The Holy Spirit indwells us, and that new heart of flesh gives us Spiritual life (Ex 36.26).

Our actions prove what is in our hearts.

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”

– Luke 6.45

If our the springs within our hearts are contaminated or dirty, they will produce wickedness.  But if our the springs of life within our hearts are pure and clean, they will produce holiness.  Solomon is exhorting us to make every effort to guard our hearts because he is concerned about us being fundamentally changed.  He does not desire to teach an entire book of proverbs and wisdom for the sake of cleaning up the outside/actions without dealing with the heart/source.

Everyone in every stage of the Christian walk should diligently guard his heart, not just someone who is dating in regards to the potential spouse.  We must guard our hearts against anger, envy, pride, jealousy, and all other roots of sin that will destroy us.  We must also refrain from investing our hearts in triviality and focus on those things of eternal value.

Ok, so is there an application to dating?  Yes, I believe there is.  But the application is simple:  Test the relationship for its level of holiness.  This is not a game of keep away, this is not an excuse for being aloof.  You should never give your heart to another human being, you should only give your heart to God.  When you find someone that you love and want to spend your life with, your heart is still God’s.  Open your heart for others to see, express vulnerability to your potential spouse, and expect your spouse to hold you accountable, but never give your heart to your spouse.  It belongs to God.  If you give your heart to God and rely on Him for the strength to maintain a pure lifespring, only then you can truly love your spouse, your children, your friends, neighbors and enemies.  If you give your heart to your boyfriend or spouse, then you are relying on him for your lifespring.  It will be contaminated.  And you will suck him dry.  And neither of you will glorify God.

That all sounds good and cheery, but what does that look like?  How do we do that?  We start by setting our focus.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.”

– Col 3.2

When we are renewed, it always starts with our minds.

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.

– Rom 12.2

When you think about dating, or when you interact with your boyfriend or spouse, consider how God is glorified in your relationship.  Consider how you can love your boyfriend or spouse to the glory of God.  Fight the battle of selfishness and pride by dying to yourself when he acts terribly.  Hold him accountable, point Him to Jesus, and focus on Jesus.  When you get discouraged, angry or upset, pray.  Turn to Jesus, not to your significant other.  Let Jesus change your heart.  Preach truth to yourself and choose to act on truth and not feelings, and trust Jesus that he will take care of the feelings and attitudes.  Fight the sin by clinging to Jesus in your mind.  Your heart will follow.

If you are having a bad day, turn to Jesus.  Pray.  Sing.  Go on a walk and vent.  Your significant other will be able to pull you up for a while, but eventually he will break down, and you will never truly be satisfied.  But Jesus will restore you and encourage and fill your heart.  He Himself is the life giver (Ps 36.9).  If you and your significant other both draw your life and encouragement from Jesus, then you can serve one another without expectation and you will find greater pleasure in one another.  Give your heart to Jesus and let your spouse see that at work.  In that you will find the deepest unity, love and happiness.

So guard your heart.  Fight against the sins of the heart, do not let them take a hold of you.  Give your heart to God, trust Him to protect it, and fight the battles of sin in your mind first and trust God to take care of your heart, providing clean and pure lifesprings that result in holy, righteous and godly living.

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

The Father of the Lost Son.

There is one story that almost anyone who has spent any time in a church can retell:  the prodigal son.  The story is of a young man who decides that he wants his inheritance before his father dies and thus shames his family and dishonors his father.  He takes his half of the money and goes to another city where he squanders it all on “loose living”.  When he was bankrupt a famine hit the land and he hired himself out to feed the pigs (unclean animals to the Jews, a great disgrace) and was so hungry that he desired to eat the pigs’ food.  Finally he decided to return home and ask to become a servant for his father because he knew that his father cared for his servants!  As he returned, the father saw him and ran out and greeted him in the street and threw a big party.  The older brother scoffed and was angry because he had never been thrown a party, but the father loved both sons and entreated the older son to rejoice that the wayward son had come home (Luke 15).

The two sons are often the subjects of sermons and teachings.  The younger son represents many who fall in love with the world but after realizing that it does not satisfy return to the Church.  The older son represents those legalists who are unwilling to offer grace and rejoice when the sinner repents.  But what about the Father?  He represents God and His love for both dispositions.

The last few days I have seen many articles being written about dealing with an adult child who comes out as homosexual.  John MacArthur speaks directly to Church Discipline and confronting the sin.  A blogger named Benjamin L. Corey refutes MacArthur states that MacArthur does not understand grace because (he assumes) that he would be more lenient to other sins and instead we should accept the child and the sin.  Russel Moore takes the position that everyone is inclined to sin and the inclination alone is not enough of an issue to break fellowship, but that we should disciple him if he is a believer and love and teach him the Gospel if he is not a believer.  Sexuality does not define our relationship with our children, he says.

Unfortunately, none of these teachings are painting a wholistic picture.  None of them look at the complexity of the issue.  Moore is absolutely right.  Our sexuality does not define who we are.  MacArthur is also right, if a believer chooses a lifestyle of sin, he is to be disciplined by the church!  And Corey also is right that grace should govern our interactions with our struggling brothers and sisters.  I wrote yesterday on the simple question, “When do we kick them out?“.

Coming out as homosexual is not enough insight into the situation to know how to respond.  When a person comes out as having homosexual desires we must first ask the question:  Does this person confess to be a Christian?  If the answer is yes, then we must secondly ask the question:  Is this person choosing to give in to his temptations or is he fighting the sin?  Having the temptation alone is not sinful.  Just as having the temptation to lust after the opposite gender is not sinful.  Or the temptation to stealing, lying, gluttony, selfishness, pride or any other sin of the flesh you can name.  This is the person about which Moore speaks.  This person you encourage in discipleship, you welcome into your home and fellowship, you love and hold accountable.

If the person confesses to be a believer but is choosing to deny the Scriptural teachings of sexuality, this is the person to which MacArthur is speaking.  You kick them out of the fellowship with the hope of their repentance!  You watch the road, have the calf fattened and ready for the party when he comes home and you welcome him warmly when he repents.  But you wait for him to repent.

If the person does not confess to be a believer, he does not want to be in the church anyway, and this is the person to which we pay no attention his specific sin.  We love and preach the Gospel regardless of sin and disposition to any who do not yet know Jesus and His offer of salvation, like Corey says.  Even if we were able to modify the behavior of any sinner in any sin, if he does not know salvation by faith through grace, he will become a white washed tomb full of dead bones destined for an eternity in Hell (Matt 23.27).

The father of the prodigal son gave his son the freedom to go.  He did not pursue him in his debauchery and he was not down in the pigsty with him.  He was watching the street, He had the calf fattened and ready to slaughter, He forgave him and welcomed him home as soon as he repented, but He did not approve or partake in the sin.

Corey makes a profound point.  The church is lax towards common sin.  The problem is not then that a stand would be taken against specific sins like homosexuality, the problem is that we excuse and gloss over others.  God will not overlook any sin.  Jesus Himself said that we will give an account for every careless word that we speak at the final judgment (Matt 12.36).

Every.

Careless.

Word.

What have you muttered under your breath?  Who have you spoken ill of?  What profanities have slipped out when you hit your thumb with a hammer or were being goofy with friends?

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

 – Gen 18.25

God’s standard is perfection.  He broke fellowship with Adam and Eve and condemned all of humanity for eating a piece of fruit.  Did you ever eat a cookie that your mom forbade?

The church needs to respond.  We need to understand grace and accountability.  I have struggles.  You have struggles.  We all have temptations and tendencies that we must daily put to death.  My pride, if excused and accepted will keep me out of Heaven just as much as someone’s homosexual practices.  But the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to fight pride and homosexual lusts.

The church also needs to understand discipline.  If one will not repent of pride or homosexuality, he has no place in the fellowship.  Why?  Because God does not tolerate sin.  No matter how socially taboo or socially acceptable it is.

The problem is not that we hate sin too much.  The problem is that we hate sin too little and we hate sin disproportionately and that we do not exemplify loving accountability and refuge for those who are seeking to know God and grow in maturity and put to death the deeds of their flesh (Rom 8.13).

What is your god?  Is it the God of the Bible?  If so, are you seeking to obey Him in every aspect of your life?  And that by putting to death pride, selfishness, anger, lust…  That alone is the mark of a Christian.  No Christian is without sin.  No Christian is above temptation.  And we gather to worship and a God who forgives and enables us to obey.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13.35

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

 – John 14.15

the-parable-of-the-lost-sons

Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.

stoning

Dear stone-throwers,

Stop it.  

When I was in High School, I was extremely active in my youth group, never had a season of wild rebellion and was often called “Goody Two-Shoes”.  There was another girl who was very active in the youth group who was a grade younger than me.  We both had our own circle of friends as it was a big church and we rarely connected.  During my senior year, a rumor started circulating that she had gotten pregnant and had an abortion.  Having never experienced anything like that, I immediately began to judge her and the situation.  But not knowing if it was true, and not wanting to be part of the gossip train, I went to my dad.  His advice to me was very simple but deeply profound.  He said,

“Alison, this is your chance to love her as Christ loves us.”

There was no conversation as to the validity of the rumor.  There was no judgment call made on anyone’s character.  Just a simple observation that no matter what, she was hurting.  And I, as a fellow sinner who is loved by a forgiving God who paid the penalty for my sin and her’s, could embrace her or I could shun her and make her feel unloved and unwelcome in the very place where she should be receiving love and care.

My eyes were opened.  Painfully.  Widely.  My sin of pride and judgment was (and is) wicked in the eyes of a God who reserves vengeance and judgment for Himself.

I vividly remember the next time I saw her at church.  I made my first sincere effort to befriend her.  Over the next few months we built a quick friendship, and I learned a lot from her.

Jesus rocked the religious mindset when He came to the Earth.  The Law that God gave Israel in the Old Testament was established on law and consequence.  If you do this, then there is a consequence.  Death, stoning, losing what had been desired, and “an eye for an eye” retribution was not only taught, but commanded.  The religious leaders were given the authority to judge accusations and execute these judgments.  Thus, it was an established, normal and holy part of their culture that judgment was exacted, under the authority of the religious leader, to instill a fear of God and drive for holy living in the Hebrew people.

But then came Jesus.

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 8.3-9

Jesus did not condone this woman’s sin.  He told her to leave it behind.  Her lack of condemnation was unquestionably and intentionally linked to her changing of lifestyle.  But He also put a quick stop to the sin of pride of those who would kill her by calling them to consider their own sin.

I was recently told that no one who has been divorced can ever be of good reputation.  Even someone who went through the Biblical process under the authority and direction of a Church in dealing with the situation, he said, can never be “above reproach”.  Divorce, this man thinks, is the scarlet letter and sin which God cannot redeem – apart from reconciliation of estranged spouses.

Friends, this is not God’s heart.  There is no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus (Rom 8.1).  Why?  Because Jesus paid the full penalty for every. single. ugly. damnable sin.  Divorce.  Abortion.  Murder.  Adultery.  There is condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus.  If we have not repented of our sins, confessed them and turned away from them and turned to Jesus, then we are dead in our trespasses (Eph 2.1).  There is no forgiveness of our sins, and we will be held accountable for them in eternity.  Jesus did not tell the adulteress to go on sleeping around.  He said, “Go.  From now on sin no more.”  And to those who are covered in His blood, we are now no longer condemned.

But Jesus also taught us to love one another as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  Do you judge and condemn yourself for saying a wrong word on occasion?  Do you consider your worth based on your outfit?  Do you damn yourself for telling a white lie or speeding or taking a few extra minutes at lunch time?  Probably not.  And if you do, you need to talk to Jesus about it.  Ask Him for the strength to change you.  But the same grace that we extend to ourselves we must extend to others.

He who is forgiven little loves little.  

 – Luke 7.47

The more you understand your own sin, the better you can love others.  The more deeply you experience the grace of forgiveness poured out over your life, the more grace you can extend to others and help them find forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ.  This is why Jesus said, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone”.  No to minimize sin or say that it is acceptable, because it is by no means acceptable.  None of it.  Not my pride, not your lie, not his adultery and not her theft.  None of it is acceptable.  But it is all forgivable.  And redeemable.  There is no sin that will disqualify you from God’s love or serving Him.

Period.

So let’s get over ourselves.  Let’s examine our lives.  Let’s die to our sin and let’s lovingly help others to do the same.  Because Jesus died for us, while we were yet sinners and while we were His enemies (Rom 5.8, 5.10, 1 Cor 1.21).

Now, please do not misunderstand me.  Sin is terrible, it is ugly, and it is the only reason Jesus went to the cross.  We do not and we should not accept, condone or allow it to go on in our churches or in our own private lives.  We should fight sin with everything in us.  Jesus said, in dealing with our personal sin, that if our hand causes us to sin we should cut it off (Matt 5.30).  We need to run from it, turn from it, and hate it with everything in us.  But when our brother or sister is repentant, trying to honor God and hates their own sin, it is not our place to add our judgment above the wrath and vengeance of God.

“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” 

 – Rom 12.19, Heb 10.30

God does not need my vengeance.  I help nothing by adding personal retribution.  He has it all covered.  All sin is punished, either on Jesus on the cross or on the sinner in eternity.  I cannot add to the just condemnation, it is only my place to forgive and extend the love of God to all around me.