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.  

Let This War Kill Him


One of the most freeing parts about being a Christian is being on the right side in a war that’s already been won.  

And one of the villains who has been laid down in that war is all of the worst things inside of yourself.  

We’re preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) as a church right now, and one of the things that Jesus does for me as I read it and think about it and pray through it is to reveal to me how many wicked things there are inside of my heart.  In the corners, under the floorboards, stuck up in the attic, in all sorts of hidden spaces within my heart are some disgusting things.  And He knows about them. 

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

Matthew 6:16-18

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 

Matthew 7:3

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 

Matthew 5:22

Jesus knows how wicked I can be.  He knows.  My greedy motives and petty, little grudges and pretentious, false religiosity are all before Him.  

The wickedness in my flesh and soul do not surprise or perplex Jesus.  

And He says that as I am conformed more and more to Him, as I’m made more and more teleos (Matthew 5:48; “perfect” or “complete” or “mature,” e.g., 2 Timothy 3:16), as I am grown as a Christian by grace through faith, those sick and awful pieces of myself are getting laid low.  

There is hope for the Christian.  There is hope for me.  I am a territory being conquered by a good King.  My heart is a battlefield, and I myself am a soldier on the right side.  

This war will end someday, and all the veterans like me will stand in the light of our Sovereign, with bodies and souls that will be big enough and clean enough to enjoy Him to the fullest.  

15 Seconds For the Bitter

  

Often, the chain that binds your heart to bitterness is self-righteousness.  It’s the controlling, constant belief that you did not deserve what was done to you.  And so you can’t forgive.  You can’t stop re-living it.  You can’t stop hating.  

If that’s you, let go of the illusion that you are intrinsically righteous, and you will find your heart freer to forgive.
In Christ, we can know that our sins against God are far more offensive than any sins committed against us.  And we are offered forgiveness by grace through faith in Him.  

Preaching this great Gospel to one’s self helps to foster forgiveness and kill bitterness.  Because no man is ready to forgive from the heart more than the one who knows how wicked he was before Christ.  

Where self-righteousness locks you to bitterness, the Gospel frees you to forgiveness.  

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

Matthew 6:14-15

2 Thoughts On Herods

 

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled.

Matthew 2:1-3

In a day of bombast and one-upsmanship among many at the forefront of the American vessel, I thought two things when I read this this morning.  And I think both things are supported by what the Spirit and Apostles tell us about Herod the Great and the Herodian sons who reigned after from this chapter in your New Testament all the way to Acts 12.  

Ready?

  1. A man who does not like being upstaged is a man who wants to be worshiped.  
  2. Fragile and tyrannical kings will, in the end, be threatened when their subjects worship the true God, because the true God is something they can’t mold to their own liking. 

All Herods want to be gods, and so all Herods are troubled by the real God.  No matter what lip-service they might pay to Him.  Remember, Herod Antipas liked listening to John the Baptist, but when the choice was between the prophet’s head and his own pride, the decision was made before the party wound down.  

Food for thought(s).   

45 Seconds On the Bible

  
I wouldn’t trade the Bible’s hard edges for anything in the world.  They’re where I’m cut in order to be healed.  They’re where I’m shocked out of a world of warm rooms with nice carpet and easy internet access into a world of sin and death where the God of the universe is remaking everything by the power of the rugged, blood-stained Cross of Christ.  

I need to read Sodom and Korah falling into the earth and Aaron’s sons being slain by flame, and I need to read about Jesus’ narrow road and that I’m not worthy of Him if I don’t love Him more than I do my family.  I need them like I need the truth about an MRI. 

This is a world of great evil being offered the blood of a great God to cleanse itself in.  I need to be reminded of it.  Life is short.  

If my house is going to blow down in the next hurricane, I want to know about it now.  

And I want to go ahead and buy the right tools to re-set the foundation.   

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 7:24-27

The Boy Mattered More


It’s a profound moral failure to think that an animal’s life is just as precious as a human’s.  It is not.  While both have value, they are not equal values.

Let me summarize my argument in three simple sentences:

  1. An animal’s life matters to God.  
  2. A human’s matters much more. 
  3. Therefore, it was right to kill the gorilla to save the boy. 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Jesus, in Matthew 10

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’

God, in Genesis 1

Last week, here in Cincinnati, a gorilla grabbed a 3-year-old boy after he got into the gorilla’s enclosure.  Knowing that tranquilizers take time and that the gorilla could kill or seriously injure the boy in a second, the staff shot and killed the gorilla to save the little boy’s life.


Now, while I can understand some sadness in the fact that the gorilla was killed, what I cannot empathize with is the particular kind of sadness that wails as though something wrong was done here.

It wasn’t.

Both the gorilla and the boy were made by God, but the boy mattered more.  He should grow up knowing that He mattered more.  He should grow up knowing that his neighbors and his friends and his enemies matter more.  Because to be wise is to value things the way God values them; to assign to individual things the weight that He does.  God did not die on the cross to offer His Gospel to animals, but to people.  God made man and woman in His image and gave them dominion over the animals and the earth.  And during the time of Israel God commanded animal sacrifice while condemning human sacrifice.

God says He values us and animals, but that He values us more.

This boy should grow up knowing that while a sad thing was done, the right thing was done.  Because that’s how much his life counts.  

One of the ways to make tell of a society’s wisdom, or lack thereof, is to see what it gets outraged over.  Animals are wonderful and made beautifully by an awesome God.  But human beings are the crowning jewel of His image on Earth.  And if a society can’t tell a pearl from a sandstone, it’s lost its moral high ground when it comes to being outraged.  

As someone who loves this society, I hope we retain our moral health, and so we prize things in their appropriate order.

Two final sentences:

  1. I love animals.
  2. The bodies and souls of humans, of children, take precedence over them.

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Jesus, in Matthew 18

I’ll Be Found Out

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And so will you.

Every secret sin, every careless word, every greed and hatred and unfought lust; each human being will have to give an account to God. You know that web site that got hacked recently? The one where people (mostly men, it turned out) paid to have (or flirt with the idea of having) affairs? I’ve heard a couple of tragic stories about it, and Monday night night I read one Christian leader’s public confession of having browsed it once. And something he said made me think: Nothing I do will stay hidden.

I haven’t done what he did. But what about secret hatreds I’ve nursed? Grudges I’ve held? Faithless fears, idolatry of television or food or other physical pleasures, prayerlessness and bitterness and hypocrisy? What about my selfish fits of impatience or anger? Do I think those will always just stay in the quiet dark?

I am grateful God has kept me from great and destructive sin like the earthquake that is adultery, but before I get too glib and judgmental when I’m reading a confession like the one I read Monday, I should pause and remember the blood the perfect Son of God shed for my petty professional jealousies and thoughtlessness toward my wife and kids.

You know, the stuff I did yesterday.

So what is the hope, the Good News? You know I’m a broken and still-rebellious man; what do I do? And more importantly for you, what do you do?

All the sins are coming to the light someday, guys. So what do we do?

What is the hope for all the sexually immoral, covetous, backslidden, cowardly, deceitful little hypocrites and failures? What do we do on the day we’re crushed by the weight of what we’ve done or who we’ve been? What solace is there on the morning after you self-destruct? For the man who wants to repent of his adultery or the woman who’s realized how toxic her gossip has been or the young guy who wants to stop getting drunk but doesn’t feel like he has the will to stop?

Well, here’s what I got: The Good News is that your worst sins being brought to the light doesn’t have to be the end. It isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you, and it doesn’t have to be the last word on your life.

Do me a favor: Picture a man who loved and followed Jesus, then made his life a disgrace through a very public sin. Throughout the world news of his moral failure gets carried to believers and unbelievers alike, to this day. The folly of it all gets repeated over and over, how he thought he was above committing that sort of sin and how he said so to anyone who’d listen and then how he stumbled hard into a shameful spotlight. It’s retold with crystal clarity all over the world.

Okay, now my flesh would say that that is the end of the man. The part of me who forgets the heart of the Gospel, who forgets that terrible, wicked people can be rescued by a loving Father by grace through faith in His Son, would think, Tsk, tsk, what a shame. What was he thinking? Thankfully, I haven’t done that, as I sipped from a big, tall glass of pride.

But my flesh doesn’t call the shots. So that wasn’t the end of his story.

This brokenhearted and greatly humbled sinner named Simon Peter, whose public cowardice the night of the Crucifixion is still told pretty much everywhere there’s a church and at least one Bible, was held in His loving Father’s hands. He was forgiven by his Great Shepherd.

At the same Supper where Jesus told Simon Peter in advance that he’d deny Him, He also said this:

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

I want you picture that part, too. Picture the Son of God looking into this man’s eyes and knowing what he was going to do. Picture him looking square at this man and knowing his hypocrisy and his sin, and then telling him, “I have not forgotten you. I will not forsake you. I have prayed and interceded for you. And now when you turn back to me again, when you repent and receive the blood that gives grace and kills shame, strengthen your brothers, here. They’ll need to know what you’ll have found out: That I forgive to the uttermost.”

So, tell me: Have you screwed up your life? Are you afraid of what will come out someday? Know that you’ve sinned against God? I have Good News for you, and I have Good News for me, too: The Kingdom of God is made up of some formerly wicked, slimy sinners. People who blasphemed the Son before being reborn and who dishonored Him after. People who fought with their sins and their flesh but who often lost. It’s filled with Peters and Sauls and Davids. You see, the banquet feast in Jesus’ Kingdom has a pretty simple entrance policy: The ones who trust in their own righteousness don’t get in, and the ones who turn to the Savior in faith do.

I’m going to be found out, guys. And so are you. All our sins are going to be public someday, like Peter’s. There won’t be anything that stays hidden.

But there will be all kinds of stuff that gets washed away.

If we have been born of God, we have been brought out of the darkness through the kindness and love of the Father of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to fear like unbelievers. We can have confidence in the blood of our Jesus. We can grieve our sin and repent of it and then have peace because we know and have been known by God. We don’t have to fear the light, because we’re not children of darkness. For us, the light is good. It’s sunlight and forgiveness and the end of winter and knowing our Abba as we’ve been known. For us, it’s the beginning of the last good day. The one that never ends.

If we have been born of God, we don’t have to fear the light of the Gospel of Jesus. It’s our only hope.

And it cleans and saves to the uttermost.