Long, Long Shadows and A Light


Sin never stops where you think it will. 

Your repeated anger leads to latent bitterness which leads to relationship-destroying gossip.  

Your pornography-viewing leads to unmarital sex which leads to one parent raising a child in isolation which leads to crippling resentment.  

Unchecked sin always spreads, and kills where it does.  Like cancer.  

But one of the beautiful mercies of God is that He has given us a community where sin and its scars can be dealt with.  

The church.  


Churches are little cities of imperfect people, people who have been miraculously remade and who, by the grace of a very real and very compassionate God, continually confess and continually turn from the sins they still commit.  They know who they were (spiritually dead evil people), they know who they are (spiritually alive people being slowly made more and more like Jesus), and they know who God is (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who love to save sinners).  And because of these 3 things, these little collections of Gospel people are able to bring wicked and broken and scared and angry humans into their midst and minister to them.  Serve them.  Help to stop the bleeding in their lives.  

The world is home to all stripes of sinners who are in different stages of the pain or disarray or death that sin brings along as its trail.  And there is no one else who can get to the root of the chaos or who can apply supernatural salve to the wounds of all this sin like the church can.  She has been given the Good News that can heal and can save people from their evils, and from the evils that were committed against them.  She can rescue them from the worst of the violence and the trouble and the affliction of this world.  

Which is great, because this is not Mayberry.  This is a world of adultery and ulterior motives and hearts who will cast those they love aside for pleasure or power.  This is a world where sin has left some long, long shadows.  Sons deserted by their fathers, marriages in flames because of selfishness, grown men and women who don’t know how to be men or women.  And there in the heart of this world stands the church, giving the hope and the truth and the life that only she can give.  

This world needs her.  The single mothers and the heroin addicts and the workaholics and the shallowest of womanizers need her.  She is a city on a hill.  

She is where they can come for possibility.  For hope.  For adoption into a forever family.  She is where they can sojourn for all of the things that only Jesus can hand over.  

For everyone trapped in what sin has spoiled, churches are households of transforming mercy.  They are families of forgiveness.  They are little peoples of honest confession and honest love and honest Gospel.  

This is a world of long shadows.  Because sin never stops where it whispers it will.   Sin never keeps that promise.  

But the God of the Cross has given a light that can beat those shadows back.  His church holds that light in her hands, for any and all to come see.  

15 Seconds On Sin Killing Things

  
Death entered the world when Satan made sin look promising.  And death enters a life, a marriage, a home, a mind when we believe him again.  

Don’t be enticed by pornography.  Don’t be enticed by the idea of divorce.  Don’t be seduced by or attracted to the prospects of gossip, deceit, or greed.  Sin promises life but always delivers death.  Those clothed in it face God’s eternal wrath, and those who know God but tolerate it face its murderous powers in their lives.  Envy kills friendships, lust kills marriages, greed kills companies, bitterness kills families, and unrepentant sin of all kinds kills souls.  

Sin brings death.  Always has, always will, until God casts it away from His presence forever and ever, that is.  But boy, does it look good while it’s hanging on the tree and the father of lies starts whispering.  

You’d almost never know he was peddling poison.  

60 Seconds of Christmas Cheer

  
I just want to take a second to celebrate and commend Jesus the Savior, whose entering this fractured world we commemorate on Christmas.  

If you feel like a failure, a hopeless or depressed mess of a man or woman, He can be Good News for you.  

If you have bought the lies materialism and worldly success sell, and now feel exhausted or disillusioned or hollow, He can be Good News for you.  

If you’re angry and don’t know why or how to fix it, He can be your way out.  

If you’re addicted to lust and bear all the scars from it, He can rescue you.  

Christmas is, or at least should be, a reminder of the most beautiful message ever given to humanity, one from God to us:  I am offering you redemption.  

One of my favorite parts in A Christmas Carol is when the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge why he has come to him.  

“Your reclamation.”  

He came for Scrooge’s reclamation.  It’s a beautiful echo of the Gospel of Christ, I think.  God has come to reclaim his people from their wickedness and spiritual death.  He has come to save them from His just wrath for all evil.  He was born as a human to be what they could not be and do what they could not do. 

I commend to you Jesus.  On December 25th, we celebrate His becoming what only an impossibly good God would be willing to become.  

A Happy Death

 

The flesh doesn’t want to die.  

Mine kicks and screams and throws up fists at every call to humility, every demand placed on “my” free time, every confrontation with the reality that I am not the center of God’s universe.  

Jealousy, fear, anger, lust, bitterness, despair… These all perspire out of the fleshly, sinful nature that isn’t totally dead yet. They’re the toxic output of the sinful flesh I haven’t fully shaken. I long to throw that old man off (at least in my better moments I do). But he’s still with me. And he always will be, as long as I’m in the body.  

But I won’t surrender to the flesh. I can’t. To let it have dominion over me is to be an enemy of God, and I’d rather die than be an enemy of the Almighty.  

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Romans 8:7-14

Your flesh doesn’t want to die, and mine doesn’t either. But the Good News is that if you belong to Jesus through faith, you are not alone. The Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells in you, and He will help you put to death the deeds of that old, fleshly nature. The sinful self that doesn’t want to succumb or surrender.  

We are called to put the deeds of the flesh to death, and we are promised the help we need to do it.  

When you feel anger rising up inside, confess and repent to Jesus by the Spirit, and pray that that Spirit would sever the root of your wrath in your heart.  

When you recognize lust lurking its way into your mind, call upon Your Savior and the Spirit of His Resurrector to keep your eyes and your soul pure.  

When you shrink from the world in anxiety or fear or despair, take one minute and bend your knees to the Christ and ask Him to put down the faithless shrieks of doubt from your flesh. Ask Him to give you the trust He Himself prescribed when He told us about our Abba feeding the birds and clothing the flowers with care.  

Join me, guys, in putting the flesh to death by the Spirit through faith in the risen Jesus. He has promised to be with us in His Word, and to give us life as He dwells in us. We are not alone in the fight of (and for) our lives.  

He is in and with those who belong to Him.

If you are truly in Christ your old man may not be fully dead yet, but his obituary is already written.  

Holiness

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We’ve been reading through 1 John as a family, and the resounding note in my mind (at least through chapter 1) is the same one that hums away when I read the Sermon on the Mount:

Be holy.

Salvation is a free gift. It cannot be earned. But a repeated New Testament teaching is that if we do not walk in holiness, if we do not bear Spiritual fruit, we have not received that gift.

The Messiah said this in John 15:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit… If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

I believe wholeheartedly that the truly born again cannot be lost. Jesus tells us that His sheep can’t be snatched from Him a mere five chapters before telling us this about abiding in Him. But while the truly reborn and redeemed can’t perish, if we do not bear His fruit (some N.T. examples: love of other Christians, joy, peace, sexual purity, and forgiveness), then we are showing that we may not have been born again. And if we have not had our hearts enlightened to that kind of faith (to real faith, in other words), then His wrath remains on us.

We do not work to be saved, but true salvation produces good works. Or, as Paul says it in Ephesians 2: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (emphasis mine).

If you claim Christ, I am encouraging you to fight for holiness in your life; not to earn your election, but to prove it. I’m trying to exhort you (as I need to be exhorted) in the way of the New Testament. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

I should cut off my right hand if it it’d keep me from sinning, so that I enter the Kingdom of God maimed but in joy. I’d be better off never eating and drinking if it’d keep a brother or sister in Christ from stumbling into sin. I should put to death the deeds of the flesh and live forever, so that 10 billion years from now I’ll be just beginning my enjoyment of Christ, and barely remembering the earthly pleasures I was once so giddy over.

If you have believed in Jesus, finish the race: Fight sin by the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Put your sins to death.

Porn is a terrible prize when compared with the beauty of Christ.

The riches that come from greed or scheming or simple American materialism are a moldy, moth-eaten thing when compared with eternal joy of Jesus.

Unmarried sex or lusting after a celebrity is a lousy counterfeit to being intimately known for eternity by the God who fashioned you and knit you together.

The momentary release of surrendering to anger as you scream at your son or punch a wall is a dull, fleeting feeling compared to the heart-stopping, soul-pounding worship of the Creator on His throne, surrounded by angels and saints and holy light.

In short, sin never delivers what it promises, and God always does. So fight for holiness with me, confirming your election and faith, and step into everlasting gladness at the feet of Jesus Christ.

Instead of Dying

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In repentance there is life, while in sin-denial there is suicide.

When you’re frustrated with the way a work week, a project, a conversation, or a family situation is going, it is easy and relatively painless to lay the blame at the feet of others. Or to say the problem is “the situation.” And of course there are actually cases where we do get wronged or where the situation is that bad. But two truths should give you and me pause before just assuming our work, family, emotional, or friendship issues are completely the fault of someone else:

(1) All death, suffering, pain, and problems are a result of sin entering the world.
That one’s obvious. Doesn’t really offend our flesh and pride so much. If we are Bible-trusting Christians, we’ll usually admit wholeheartedly that sin exists and that it is the cause of bad things.

(2) My biggest danger is not that the sins or stubbornness or selfishness of others might harm me, but that my own sin might strangle me.
Whoah. Hold up. See, I’ll admit in theory all day that I am a sinner. But when it comes to honestly saying and seeing that my present or past wicked actions are the primary causes of my current anger, depression, broken relationships, or stresses, I get really defensive. I want to self-justify. I want to think I am a better human, a better man of my own sweat and moral effort. And I want to think that that is what makes all the difference in my life and my eternal destiny.

A quick example: I read a story about a famous man I disagree with, a man who I think does great harm to a great many people. I read that not too long ago there was an assault charge brought against him by one of his children. He told the authorities that it was a false charge, and that may well be the case; I wasn’t there. But do you know what ugly thing rose up in me as I read this short little account? A smug, internal smile, knowing that the man who I was confident was misleading people was being revealed to the watching world to be the troubled leader he was.

Not concern for his family. Not brokenness for this man who needed Jesus to forgive him. Not prayer that he might be restored and that the deceived among those he led might turn to Christ. And not the realization that but for God’s grace I could be the sort of man who uses his hands as instruments of his anger. No, in the moment I thought I was a good guy while he was a trapped and false guy, and that that was the biggest difference between us.

But the truest difference between me and this man, to whatever degree there is one, is all the grace of God. And my blind, internal self-righteousness would’ve led me to ignore my own sinful anger. I don’t want to admit that I have sin that can (and often does) tear apart my own life.

I am not saying that some among us are not truly being victimized. I know at least one person who is, in one given relationship in his life, truly faultless in a general way. Genuinely has been the victim. It does happen. But from 30,000 feet, taking in all of the landscape of our lives, the Holy Spirit can show us through His Word that the vast majority of our difficulties are the results of our own sins.

-Do I get sinfully angry because I’ve always lied to myself about who is really in charge?

-Do you get depressed because you don’t delight in prayer?

-Does he use filthy language because he doesn’t fear God?

-Does she talk so much about the the sins of others because she is self-righteous?

-Do I dwell on the flaws in the job performance of others because I am prideful?

-Do you have marital problems now because you lusted after other people years ago?

Sometimes depression is a biological result of the fall, sometimes we do have bad jobs we need to get out of, and sometimes one spouse truly does wholly violate the other. Not every single problem is directly due to our own personal sin; but a great many of them are, and the biggest problem of our lives is still our own sin.

But now let me end with the Good News: If we admit the problem we can receive the solution. If you get the diagnosis right you can be cured. God mercifully offers to cleanse us, forgive us, and make us increasingly holy in Christ Jesus. But we need to come to a place of honest, knee-bent repentance: You and I need to be washed and sanctified and made to delight in God more, not simply given easier jobs, more obedient kids, and healthier bodies.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Romans 7:15-20

I am not simply an innocent victim who needs his co-workers, wife, children, and neighbors to get on board and treat him better. I am a sinner who is often reaping the consequences of his own idolatry, pride, and anger. We are each regularly dealing with the results of our lusts, lies, hardheartedness, unforgiveness, cowardice, or hatefulness. Rather than blaming the sum total of our lives’ problems on others or our environment, let us confess our sins to the Forgiver and be sanctified. Be made better. Be washed and healed.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.”
1 John 1:9

Do you know what will most ultimately make my marriage better? Holiness and love of God. What’ll make my vocation more fruitful and worthwhile? Worshipful joy and God-honoring servitude. What has the power to help me forgive hurtful family members? Knowing that I am forgiven in Christ Jesus. While there are times I have been genuinely violated or need to remove myself from a harmful situation, the pinnacle crisis of my life is the one Jesus died to rectify on the cross: my own sin and sinfulness.

My flesh needs to be slayed and my heart needs to be sanctified.

I am a sinner who needs the Gospel, not merely a victim who needs his circumstances changed. I need to repent and receive life and joy. The alternative is a hardened and depressing spiritual self-destruction.

*Note: This post was adapted from an e-mail I sent to our church.