Friday, January 24, 2020

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)

At creation, we were intended to be the image of God (Gen 1:27). Of course, even in their innocence, Adam and Eve were merely the image of God. They were never God and never intended to be fully God. And, of course, in our sinfulness we are a very poor image of God. But, if we spend time focusing on, beholding, the glory of the Lord, we have the promise that we will be transformed into the image of the Lord we have so often displeased, disappointed and dishonored.

But what happens if, instead of beholding the glory of the Lord, we spend our lives beholding the workings of Satan? What happens if we take our eyes off of Christ and set them instead on the things of the world? Will we still be transformed?

Yes, I believe we will be transformed, but it will not be the Lord’s image that we bear. Jeremiah speaks of those who went after worthless idols and became worthless (Jer 2:5). Some people say, “You are what you eat,” and there is a degree of truth in that. It is also true that “We come to resemble what we fix our eyes upon.” No, you cannot become slim and handsome by looking at photos of slim and handsome people. But our personalities and our values are greatly influenced by those with whom we spend our time.

On the one hand, we must not be deceived, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33, ESV). On the other hand, if we spend our time beholding the Lord’s glory, we will be transformed into his image.

Which will it be this week? Seven days from now will we be a bit more like our Lord? Or will we instead be more and more conformed to this world?

We are all being transformed. The question is the direction of the transformation. Into whose image are we being transformed?

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Lessons from Homosexual Rape Cases

A recent BBC article stated, “Reynhard Sinaga is thought to be the UK's ‘most prolific rapist’ ever.” He was convicted of drugging and raping 159 people. Every one of his rapes was a homosexual rape.

Meanwhile, also in England, a woman named Gemma Watts has been convicted of homosexual assaults on four girls and is believed to have assaulted at least forty others.

What do we learn from these horrific stories?

The claim has been that homosexuals resorted to the abusing of others only because they were forbidden to practice their unnatural passions openly. Well that argument is effectively disproven by the fact that there has been an increase in this kind of event since homosexuality has been “decriminalized” and then legalized. It is hard to get reliable figures, because the pro-homosexual news media suppress them; but it appears that the number of homosexual rapes is increasing dramatically.

Here is lesson one, giving approval to unnatural desire does not satisfy the lust, it inflames it.

The second lesson comes further down in the story about Reynhard Sinaga. When asked about the verdict handed down by the court (life in prison with no release for at least 30 years), Sinaga’s father said, "We accept the verdict. His punishment fits his crimes. I don't want to discuss the case any further."

We do not read of honesty like that very often. I hurt for that father; his pain is evident. I appreciate his willingness to see his son treated justly. Too many parents today make excuses and ask the justice system to set aside justice and give something less than a just sentence.

Let us take these two lessons to heart.

We will not reduce our sinful desires by giving in to them. Many a fool has thought (in regard to many different sins), “I’ll do it just a little bit.” It does not work. Just as each victory over temptation helps us to win another victory over temptation, each time we give in to temptation we are feeding the evil within us. Feeding evil desires always increases the evil within us. So, whatever your temptation may be, do not give into it thinking to satisfy it. We should kill sin, not feed it.

And let us always affirm justice, even when it is handed down against someone we love.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV) Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV) Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Romans 13:13-14 (ESV) Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Colossians 3:5 (ESV) Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Deuteronomy 16:19-20 (ESV) You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
1 Samuel 3:11-14 (ESV) Then the LORD said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
1 Samuel 3:18 (ESV) And he [Eli] said, “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him.”

Friday, January 17, 2020

What He Is Now

Every week we partake of the Lord’s Supper and remember the sacrifice of Christ. But it is not this alone which motivates the Christian life. Although we remember and appreciate his sacrifice on our behalf, some of us feel unable to change for the better. At times we feel trapped in our sin. He may have delivered us from the guilt of sin, but we seem to remain under the power of sin. Appreciation of a past gift may not empower us to overcome sin in the present – especially since the world so often tells us that we cannot resist temptation.

In his book Like Christ, Andrew Murray wrote, “It is not the remembrance of what Jesus has once done to me, but the living experience of what He is now to me, that will give me the power to act like him.” In this statement, Murray is not just expressing his opinion, he is echoing various statements of scripture. The Bible does not merely call on us to overcome the power of sin. It tells us that the Lord will enable us to do so.

God promises, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, ESV). Yes, we may often be tested beyond our strength (2 Cor 1:8), that is why we are told to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph 6:10).

Our problem is sometimes that we try to overcome by our own strength. If you park your car in my driveway, I can lift it up easily. I cannot do that just anywhere – because I do not carry a hydraulic floor jack everywhere I go. But at my house, using that tool, lifting a car is easy. I cannot carry my jack around with me, but the Lord goes with me. So, wherever I go, his strength is available.

We must serve by the strength he provides (1 Pet 4:11). We must not trust in our own strength (Ps 44:6). Not even Jesus claimed to work on his own (Jn 5:30). We certainly should not. It is only in the Lord that we can do all things (Phil 4:13).

“He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, ESV).

Friday, January 3, 2020

Do Humans Cause Climate Change?

“Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you” (Jeremiah 5:25, ESV).
Taken out of context, that verse becomes hard to understand. The word “these” in Jeremiah 5:25 refers to the spring and autumn rains that blessed Palestine, but which were cut off because of their sin. The Revised English Bible clarifies the point by translating, “your wrongdoing has upset nature’s order, and your sins have kept away her bounty.”

So, there you have it. Jeremiah claimed that, in this case at least, humans caused climate change. But Jeremiah’s claim was broader than the claim of the politicians. They claim only that our emitting of certain gasses affects the climate. The Lord claims (through Jeremiah) that all our sins have a negative effect on nature.

I do not have a problem with the claim that humans cause nature to malfunction; my problem is with the restricted way in which the claim is normally made. The scriptures tell us repeatedly that human sin is the cause of “groaning” for all of creation (Rom 8). I have no doubt that humans are the cause of drought. Science and scripture both point in this direction. In fact, the scriptures state it more clearly than any science.

What I have a problem with is the fact that the same people who say, “we cannot drive cars, fly airplanes, or eat hamburgers without causing the global temperature to rise,” turn right around and deny that the fault lies with humans when other things go wrong. These same people try to deny that HIV is the result of sin – even though the evidence for it being caused primarily by sin is perfectly clear. These same people try to deny that sexual sin has led to an increase in several types of cancer, although the science behind that is also abundantly clear. These same people, so concerned with protecting nature by using only renewable energy, deny nature when it comes to homosexuality.

I am careful with fossil fuel, far more careful than the biggest mouths in Washington. I believe that we have a duty to respect God’s creation (Psalm 24). But I do not restrict that duty to the issue of fossil fuel. It applies to all sin, and especially to those sins that clearly run contrary to nature.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Walking with God & Our Self-esteem

Boosting self-esteem is big business, even in churches. The default assumption is that God wants us to feel good about ourselves. That theory would have seemed incredible to previous generations. John Newton (best known for the hymn “Amazing Grace”) did not agree with the “positive self-image” advocates. Newton wrote, “Depend upon it, if you walk closely with God forty years, you will at the end of that time have a much lower opinion of yourself than you have now.”

My brother is not only older, he is also larger than I. He is at least three inches taller, and for much of our lives he was at least 100 pounds heavier. When he was around me, I am sure he felt big. But one day on his paper route he rang a doorbell and a real, live NBA star answered the door. At 6’5” John Havlicek towered over my brother more than my brother did over me. My brother did not feel so big when he stood beside John Havlicek.

If walking with God boosts your self-esteem, let me suggest that you have another look at this god with whom you are walking. The false gods of our own imaginations may boost our self-esteem; but an encounter with the real God would lead us to cry, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:5, ESV)

John Newton found grace to be amazing only because he understood that this grace was offered to “a wretch like me.” If he had, like so many today, considered himself deserving, then nothing would have been amazing about it. As Randy Alcorn put it, “When sin seems small to us, grace is taken for granted. When sin seems scandalous to us, grace becomes amazing.”

Newton was right, a long walk with God will cure us of our silly illusion of being good. But it will not discourage us. While meeting John Havlicek cured my brother of feeling big, having John on our team would have given us great confidence had we put together a little playground basketball game. We would have known that we personally were no good at basketball; but we would also have known that we would win the game.

Walking with God is not about thinking ourselves right. It is about knowing that we are not right and knowing that we do not have to be, as long as we stick with Him.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Good Boasting

Surely that is an oxymoron. Surely boasting is wrong, so there can be no such thing as “good boasting.” Or can there?

When a teacher tells someone about the good work a pupil has done, knowing that the pupil will overhear and knowing that this pupil needs a bit of encouragement, is that not good? When the apostle Paul, the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), boasted about how the cross of Christ had saved him from his sin (Gal 6:14), is that not good boasting? When Peter and John told the people that they had no power to raise the lame and make them walk, but Jesus could do it (Acts 3), is that not good boasting?

We normally associate boasting with one who talks about himself. But in the three examples above, someone is speaking highly not of self but of another. In two of the three examples, that other is Jesus. That can often be a good form of boasting.

To become a good boaster, we must be willing to admit negative things about ourselves. To boast about the cross, we must admit that Christ’s horrible death was necessary because of our sin. Even for the teacher to effectively boast about the student, there should be an admission that the student is going beyond what the teacher thought could be made of the lesson as the teacher gave it.

Herein lies our problem. We want the credit. But it is impossible to do good boasting while sneaking in a little boasting about ourselves. “I am such a brilliant teacher that even little Johnny understands algebra now” is not going to do Johnny a bit of good. It is an insult rather than a help. “The Lord saved me because he saw that I was really a good person at heart” is boasting for sure, but not of the good kind. The focus becomes self. The star of the show is the speaker, not the Lord.

Let’s try to do more good boasting, on others and on the Lord. We will fail at it. We will catch ourselves sneaking in a little self-promotion along the way. But let’s try.

“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24, ESV).

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17, ESV).

Friday, November 15, 2019

God Guides

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:6, ESV).

I have often heard people complain that the Lord did not seem to be guiding them. Perhaps I have complained that way myself. Sometimes we claim to be seeking God’s will, but he does not make his will clear to us. There could be many reasons for that. In an article of reasonable length, it will not be possible to cover more than one of the possible reasons.

Could it be that we are not being led because we are not going anywhere?

When Abraham sent his servant to find a bride for Isaac, the Lord led him to just the right place (Gen 24:26-27). The Bible does not tell us how the Lord did that, but it does tell us what was happening when the Lord led the man. The servant was travelling. He was moving. He was doing something.

The Lord did not draw a detailed map of how to get to Rebecca’s house and send it to the servant before he ever left home. The man knew the general direction that he needed to travel, and he travelled that direction. As he travelled, the Lord led him.

All too often we sit at home waiting for guidance. That is foolish, and perhaps lazy as well. We know the general direction of God’s will. Let us travel in that direction. If we will do so, more specific guidance will be given as it is needed. But it will normally come to those who are moving, not to those who are sitting still doing nothing.

There are times when God’s people are called upon to “be still.” There are times when we are to sit still and let God take the needed action. But, when we claim to be seeking guidance, it is imperative that we do something. It is impossible to lead a person who insists on sitting still.

So, if you want God’s guidance, get busy. Head in a general direction that you know to be in accordance with his will. As you do so, he will guide more specifically when that is needed.