Turn And Be Blessed


One of the chief ways God blesses a man is by turning him away from his wickedness. 

God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.

Acts 3:26

Strapped for time today, so allow me to get directly to my point.  I see a pervasive reluctance to call sin sin in the wider Christian environment in America.  Not in every Christian church or in every Christsian home or in every Christian pub, but definitely as the majority posture of the mainstream American Protestant environment.  I see a fear of offending the dominant culture, the one that is dark and under the sway of Satan and in need of a Savior (see Ephesians 2:1-3).  It’s a sort of, “Yes, yes, we know abortion is murder and homosexuality is sinful, but why do we have to talk about it?”  And the answer of course is that people are dying, because sin both physically and spiritually kills.  And we have no problem talking about racial hatred or greed or judgmentalism being sinful, because those are chic and acceptable and cool conversations to have in 2017 America.  But a prophet doesn’t call for repentance from only the sins everybody is in agreement on.  And every nation needs Godly prophets.  

Every nation needs men and women who will tell it all that the Bible says.  

The Word of God is a good thing, meaning it is a thing meant for our good and it is itself intrinsically good and beautiful and true.  Our neighbors need it.  And we need to have the conviction that they need it.  We should lovingly, patiently tell people, people we care for and sacrifice for and listen to, about their wickedness.  

Or they’ll never turn from it and be blessed.  

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.  

Texting Romans 5:14

  
Just in case it’d be helpful, I’m passing along my answers to some questions someone texted me about the Romans 5:14.  The person was reading the NIV translation of it.  

Happy Monday!

Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 

Which translation are you reading?  

Romans 5:13-14 “For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (ESV)

The Law given via Moses showed human beings just how convicted they were.  One of its purposes was a sort of public reading of what we’ve done and reading of our sentence.   We were already convicted murderers, but now a town crier was announcing it from a mountain top, so that we’d hear and angels would hear and everyone would know.  We were already convicted.   Already sentenced.  Death already reigned.  But because of the Law it was all the more plain now just how sinful we each and all were…

Yeah, I think they’re doing a little more interpretation than translation there…

The trespass caused the death.  The sin caused the death long before the Law revealed just how awful it was.  But now the awfulness of what we are and what we do and what we’ve done is plain as day, because it’s published on Mount Sinai and delivered to a million of God’s people and recorded in His unbreakable Word and held in His holy Ark of the Covenant. 

Sin reigned before the Law, death reigned before the Law, but now it’s public knowledge just exactly what our sin was and and what it deserves…

The literal language is just “who did not sin in the likeness of the offense of Adam.”  The NIV guys are trying to help you by interpreting that for you as “did not sin by breaking a command.”   But in my opinion they’re probably just making it more confusing…  That’s what preaching is for.  I’d prefer a translation to simply translate…

FYI: Paul uses a word there in the “their trespass was not like…” clause that specifically means “transgress,” not the normal NT word for sin, which would be “hamartia.”  So I think he’s saying that what they did post-Law was an additional layer of wrongdoing.  It was a trespass of a now-public edict…

Paul is saying Adam was a sinless human who sinned, thus death reigned because of him.  Over everyone, pre-Law and post-Law. “But, all my Roman Jewish Christian friends,” he says, “Out father Moses read out an even greater condemnation of us then [sic] Seth or Enoch or Noah had.  We’ve heard from Moses just exactly what we are and what we do.  The Law condemns, it can’t save, and it can’t wind back Adam’s death.  Noah was dead in sin, we’re dead in sin and KNOW just how and why, and we’re all screwed.   

Except that there’s a free gift.  And it ain’t like the trespass…

A Truer Story

  
Kudos to Julie Roys of Moody Radio for saying something very true very succinctly on a recent Christianity Today podcast.

Mrs. Roys pointed out that there’s a worldview difference between the mindset of the big-government political left and the mindset of the Bible-believing Christian.  

The left maintains that the cause of suffering we see around us is an unequal distribution of goods and services.  The Bible teaches that the cause of suffering is sin.  And so the left, or present-day political liberalism, and the Bible are telling two different stories about how we got here and what can best fix us.

Where the current mainstream culture and climate would say that our biggest problem is one of opportunity, or that our biggest problem is economic or educational in nature, God says that our biggest problem is that all who aren’t in Christ are dead sinners, evil doers who are hurting each other and deserving of His wrath.  God says that our biggest problem is spiritual.  Where your average school textbook contributor or public school administrator or newscaster would probably say that this or that policy, party, or person is the fix for what’s most fundamentally wrong in our society, God says that only His Son and His Spirit can resolve what’s most tilted in our world.  

This is no small difference we’re talking about, here.  We are seeing humanity and creation cast in two very different lights in these narratives.  

Guys, we can only ultimately bend our knees to one savior.  And make no mistake, we are all bowing to one.  I was talking with a Christian from another country a few weeks ago who commented that in Cuba all education of any kind was free.  Leaving aside the question of accuracy for a second (nothing is free, folks), what I found so treacherous and possibly deadly in the glee that someone might have at that prospect (“Let’s all move there!”) is this:  

The desire for Daddy Government to come and provide for us all.  

Hey, what we need most, after all, is education, right?  I mean, not education so that we can appreciate the God-made world, but so that we can get a job and then make money so that we can buy stuff, right?  That’s what we learned in school, anyway.  “Good” education leads to “good” job leads to “good” life.  I mean, sure they also told us we were all just atoms that happen to have started breathing (thanks, natural selection!), and so I guess I’m not totally sure how collections of atoms that happen to be breathing buying collections of atoms that don’t happen to be breathing is really “good,” but, well, I won’t think that far ahead.  

And the President/Governor/Prime Minister/King is telling us he can provide all that schooling and those jobs and that money.  He can give us what we most need.  He can fix what’s most wrong.  

Hallelujah!

But no government can be a savior.  Samuel gave some pretty prophetic words to the Israelites once:

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him.  He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:  he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.  And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’  But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel.  And they said, ‘No!  But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’  And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord.  And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king.’  Samuel then said to the men of Israel, ‘Go every man to his city.’

1 Samuel 8:10-22

God’s Old Testament people wanted their king.  They were just certain that would be the ticket.  They were sure that would be their solution.  The right cause, the right government, the right earthly hands pulling the right earthly lever, would heal the land and mend the people.  They knew it.  They were dead set on it.  

And then right there with Samuel you can see that it always takes the word of God to remind people how the world really works and who we really are as human beings.  

Even when they won’t receive it, only the Word can tell people the God-honest truth about creation, sin, pain, and redemption.  There is only one Savior who can rescue us from sin.  And sin is what we most need rescuing from.

Samuel had a better story to tell his neighbors, because he had a truer one.  

And so do we. 

Please Justify Me

 

I’m smart.  I know the right words to say and the right way to say them.  You’ll have to listen to me.  And you’ll have to be amazed by me.  

I’m attractive.  You want to look at me.  You want to look like me.  

I’m likeable.  I’m interesting.  I’m funny. You’d want to invite me to your party.  

I’m powerful.  I’m strong.  I can get you to do what I want.  And my ability to bend situations and people to my liking will astound you.

I’m capable.  I do my job better than the other people do theirs.  I never run away when it gets tough.  I’m never lazy.  

I’m talented.  This skill I have will make your jaw drop.  

I’m good.  I don’t lie.  Or steal.  Or murder.  I pay my taxes.  I’m better than my neighbor.  And I’m not nearly as bad as that co-worker.  Not nearly.   

Please justify me, world.  Please.  I’m smart.  I’m funny.  I’m attractive.  You have to justify me.  You have to, right?  I must count.  Look at me.  At what I do.  At what I’ve done.  Look at it.

This must cover up my nakedness.   

Oh, God.  God.  Please justify me.  Don’t you see?  I know I’ve sinned, even though I pretend I haven’t (or that you don’t exist).  But I’m standing out from the crowd, God.  Right?  So please take this as my offering.  My intelligence and beauty and achievements.  Take them for my guilt.  They must cover it.  They must.  

I don’t have anything else.  

Please count me worthy.  I measure up better than the others.  I have to.  

I have to.  

Oh, Heaven help me, I have to.   And that’s why I’m so tired.  

I can’t do this myself.  

But I’ll die trying.
(In)sincerely,

Every Restless Heart

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.  And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths…  But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’  And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’   He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat…  And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them

Genesis 3:6-7, 9-11, 21

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne

Revelation 3:18-21

At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  

Matthew 11:25-28

For 3:  Contemporary False “Christian” Teachings

  
1) Prosperity Theology

I grew up around this one.  Its sheen is appealing, right?  Come on, who doesn’t want to have money?  Who doesn’t want to be healthy?  Who doesn’t want to avoid rigorous Bible study and prayer and instead simply think positive thoughts and smile a lot?

Prosperity theology is prevalent in the inner city, which is where I currently worship and serve.  The promises of physical healing and financial reward (in return for faith and donations) are very attractive to people in chaotic or desperate situations.  Single moms, people who haven’t seen their grown children in years, people who hear voices or can’t stop shooting heroin.  A man or woman on TV offering health and wealth will usually be well-received in those settings.  But the New Testament does not tell us God is building a financially prosperous people who can cast out cancer like Jesus cast out Legion or create wealth with positive speech and thoughts.  The New Testament tells us we have inherited eternal life, and all things in the Heavens, and will be raised to live with and enjoy Him forever, but that we will also have trouble in this life.  It tells us some of us will be persecuted, and then encourages us to hold fast.  It tells us that though some of us are outwardly poor, we are in inwardly rich.  It tells us that Stephen and James and Antipas were murdered for faith in Christ, but were faithful through that pain and unto death.  

God does sometimes bless us financially and physically.  And God does sometimes allow us to undergo intense financial and physical pain.  But He also tells us why He does both, and everything else He ever does anywhere else in Creation:  To work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, conforming each of them to the image of His Son.  

To tell people God definitely wants them to be wealthy or well is to speak with a certainty the Bible doesn’t authorize.  You don’t know God wants them to wealthy or well.  And neither do I.  I know He wants them saved and confirmed to the image of His Son, though, and I’ll shout that from the rooftops.  

And to seduce them to crave wealth or wellness is lure them into a trap that has snared souls for centuries.  

Beware this theology.  

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 

1 Timothy 6:9

2) The Sin-Free Gospel

It seems to me that it shocks people in some circles to say that we are not owed love or salvation from God; that the only thing we are owed is judgment.  

That’s an incredibly sad thing when it’s a Christian circle, because the fact that we, in our own rights, deserve God’s wrath, not His grace, is basic Gospel doctrine.  It’s also common sense, considering the Bible wouldn’t call it “grace” if we deserved it.  

But I see the presupposition, both implicit and explicit in certain Christian materials and conversations:  We are not moral rebels against God but merely neutral or perhaps even flawed but basically good people.  

It’s false, it’s spiritually deadly, and it tries to rob the Cross of Christ of its power.  Other than that, no big deal.  

The Bible is clear that each and every human being not named Jesus of Nazareth is a spiritually dead sinner who, until he or she is justified by grace, is under the wrath of God.  To leave out that truth is to leave out the Gospel.  To let people think they’re not sinners is to let people think they don’t need a Savior.  

If you encourage people to think that they’re flawed but good you are encouraging them to believe the lie that what they need is to trust themselves, not the tortured and risen Messiah who died and rose to ransom wretches.  

There is no salvation apart from the Gospel of Christ, and part of that Gospel message is that human beings are each sinners.  If you leave out sin, you leave out salvation.  

If you won’t diagnose the disease, you’ll end up showing the patient the door without ever ever offering the remedy.  

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-5

3) Misidentifying the Kingdom You’re In

My primary identity is not American.  

My primary identity is not white.  

I am not first a Cincinnatian or Republican or Democrat or middle class.  Before any other such identity I am in Christ.  I am a member of His body, a citizen of His eternal and ever-advancing Kingdom.  

With some potential qualifications, I can say that in this particular conversation (thanks for pulling up a chair and talking, by the way), I don’t much care who you voted for.  But I witnessed a Christian or two in this past election excuse awful moral behavior from a candidate because the candidate was the representative of the Christian’s political party of choice.  I didn’t say I saw them vote for the candidate despite the behavior; whether or not I agree with that conclusion, I can sympathize with it.  I said I saw them excuse the behavior.  And what that tells me is that the kingdom most at rule in the person’s heart, at least in that moment and context, was not the Kingdom of God.  When you are willing to adjust what you call sinful based on the political persuasion of the perpetrator, politics is more important to you than the Author of right and wrong.  

We are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom first, not Rachel Maddow’s, Sean Hannity’s, Jon Stewart’s, or Donald Trump’s.  If we have trusted in Jesus and are true Christians, then our actions and philosophies and spending habits and leisure time, all our beliefs and actions and priorities, should be run through the rubric of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The question shouldn’t first be “is this conservative” or “is this liberal” or “is this what _______ would say” but “is this pleasing to my King?”

We should not mortgage our faith or our faithfulness for any other kingdom’s victory.  If I get my candidate elected or my culture back at the expense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’ve leveraged what should be most important to me for a smaller prize.  

A Christian is a stakeholder in the only eternal Kingdom.  He does both God and himself a disservice to think he’s anything else first

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. 

Galatians 3:27-29

Parting shot: The church is the buttress of truth, the fortress where what the world needs is guarded and administered and celebrated.  Here is where we guard the antidote to the world’s most deadly pandemic:  Sin. 

I hope all of us stay more mindful about what it is the world needs than what it wants.  

Truth in love.  

Good motto for 2017 : )

Christian Grief

  
Christian grief always has hope buried deep inside it.  The reason for this is that a Christian is waiting for the returning King, and the King loves him and knows him by name.  Earth, spoiled as she is, is His countryside, and He rules her, and He is coming to throw out all the monsters and tyrants, chief among them Satan and death.  

So it isn’t that a Christian’s grief feels any less like grief.  It’s that it feels less like despair.  Martha wept fiercely not too far from the corpse of her brother Lazarus, and she did this while telling Jesus that she knew her brother would be raised to eternal life on the last day.  Martha was certain the best was yet to come for her brother, and yet she was still heartbroken that she wouldn’t see him (or so she thought) there in Bethany, there in their home again for Passover dinner.  Her sadness was intense, piercing.  It drove her to Jesus’ arm in passionate mourning.  Her sadness was great.  But it wasn’t bleak.  

And of course Jesus grieved with her.  

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.  And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’  They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’  Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 

From John 11

A Christian has the freedom to grieve like Jesus. 

For the Christian, hope and heartbreak aren’t like summer and winter.  You don’t make it to the one after bearing up under the long discomfort of the other.  No, for the one who knows the Holy Spirit hope and heartbreak are like seed and soil.  The one was always there, living and sprouting and taking strong root, but it was just under the surface, just beneath the blanket of the ground. 

There’s no two ways about it:  Grief has been spun into this story.  God has allowed it.  Our fleshly father Adam and our mother his beloved Eve trusted the whispered lies of Satan, and they waved death and pain and groaning right up onto the front porch and offered them sweet tea.  Death was invited in to God’s astonishingly good world.  And Heaven grieved.  

And then right there in Eden He told the Deciever that a Son of the woman would crush his head, though the crushing would bruise Him.  And so God the Son was bruised for us by God the Father, tortured and killed in shame for sin on a Jerusalem hill.  And Heaven grieved.  

No two ways about it.  Grief is here in the house with us.  

But its seat at the table is not permanent.  

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

From Revelation 21

Bear with some poetry for a moment.  

Daylight will chase down this dusk, because the Son is returning.  And when He arrives again, and sunlight spills over the hills and puts every shadow to flight, grief’s evening is over.  God Himsef will be His people’s light, strong and bright enough to make this burning star named Sol above our heads seem to memory’s eyes to be a halfhearted firefly.  And all our old tears will find their place in a song of praise to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

And the  death’s last echoes will be like those of a drunken man falling down stairs.  All its power sapped, all its sting left hollow by the glory and might of God.  

Grief is an intense thing.  I know.  But it’s also a temporary one.  

Jesus is coming.  

And I’ve never been much of a dancer, but if I’m given the chance I’d love to slow dance on death’s grave to Amazing Grace.

Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’

From John 11

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 

From Revelation 21