Monthly Archives: April 2009

Facing the Harsh Realities of Sin

If we are really honest, most people don’t like to think of themselves as a sinner. This is even true of Christians. We like to dismiss our sin as merely mistakes or a lapse in judgment. But sin is quite insidious. We don’t realize just how dangerous it is until it is too late. We get used to sin, make excuses for it and even learn to live with it.

Tim Matthews delivered a tough sermon tonight at The Mix. It was a hurt so good kind of experience. His key passage  was James 1:13-15. Tim said that the harsh reality is that we want to blame others for our sin, but temptation brings out what is inside of us. We can’t blame God, the devil or even others. He said one of the first things we have to do to deal with sin is recognize it in our own lives. We have to confess our responsibility and not try to shift the blame. Then, we go to God and let Him purify us.

Tim added that we have to take pratical steps like fleeing from the appearance of evil and areas where we are naturally weak.

Looking specifically at lust, Tim said, “Lust is a lying desire, it will never satisfy.” Lust promises what it will never deliver. He went on to say, “If your sin really satisfies, why do you have to keep on going back to it?”

This is a good question, and it really shows that all sin starts with believing a lie. Sin is more than a mistake. It is rebellion against God.

The Epistle of James tells us that our sin comes from lust that conceives or births sin in us. It is almost as if sin is our own baby that is why it can be so difficult to overcome. We have birthed it, nurtured it and don’t realize it will kill us.

Tim said, “What you are trying to give birth to (sin) is trying to kill you. Dealing with sin is like trying to kill your baby. I know it (a baby) looks cute, but when it gets big you die. If you don’t kill your sin, it will kill you.”

The harsh reality is “Sin kills!”

Built to Last

I love to read and study about ancient history, especially buildings and artifacts. Some of the greatest achievements of the modern age pale in comparison to structures like the Egyptian Pyramids.

Not to long ago I watched a documentary about life on this planet without people.  It was quite an eye opener. And I was not surprised that all of our skyscrapers and achievements wouldn’t last that long without people around to maintain them. All I have to do is look at my house and see how easy things fall apart if you ignore them.

I believe there is a spiritual lesson here. Our relationships, the things we do, even who we are can start to decay if we fail to maintain them. Even things that are built to last will decay and fail if we ignore them.

Take a look at this interesting documentary on the planet without people.

Life After People – http://www.history.com/minisites/life_after_people

Giving Up

“We grow tired of failing. Then we grow tired of trying. And then we just settle.” – Pastor Dwayne Moore

Pastor Dwayne said the above when talking about the Christian’s inner struggle with sin. His sermon focused on the fruit of the Spirit. He talked about the fruit as something that comes out of our life in Christ not something we can produce ourselves.

Dwayne said, “The key to the fruit filled life is surrender to the Holy Spirit…Fruit can’t be produced by the force of our will; it comes out of the work of the Holy Spirit in us.”

This is a great message because it encourages to surrender all to Christ. It sends us back to the cross and calls us to yield to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Looking Around the Ole Holy City

Have you ever wanted to see the Jerusalem that Jesus saw when He went to the Temple or was on trial for His life? If the answer is yes, The Israel Museum – Jerusalem  has a large model replica of the city during the time of Christ. You can see the whole model online using an interactive map at the link below.

It is really cool for Bible nuts like me. Enjoy!

http://www.imj.org.il/panavision/model_pre_3eng.html

Doug Powell – Engaging the Music Culture

Doug Powell, a Christian apologist, came and spoke at my church this past weekend. He talked a lot about engaging culture instead of running from it. He pointed to the Apostle Paul who engaged the thinkers of his day at Mars Hill.

Sometimes we think the best thing we can do is create a hedge around our families to protect them from the evil influences of the world. But this seems to suggest that we believe the influence of the world is stronger than the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Is it better to insulate from within than guard from without?

While Christians should certainly be careful what they digest in terms of media. We also should be aware enough of popular culture to engage those around us. Powell said that we can use pop culture to talk about big life issues with friends and neighbors because music, movies and TV are filled with concepts that touch on the Christian Gospel.

One of the things he did was play the music video of John Lennon’s Imagine. Then he showed the lyrics of the song and merely asked questions about what kind of world Lennon imagined. What kind of world has no thought of an after life, no governing authorities, no countries, no posessions, no concept of god? This is a world where this life is all there is. This is a world where there is no ultimate authority to maintain order. This is a world with no cultural identity. If there are no posessions, then we own nothing. This is a world with no faith. This is a world where we are at the mercy of the brotherhood of mankind. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b7qaSxuZUg 

 

That’s not much of a world if you ask me. You can see video of Doug’s messages at his Web site below.

http://www.selflessdefense.com/

There’s A Revolution Brewing

Today’s Tea Party Rally was a good time. But it was a little sad that rallies needed to be held at all. Thousands gathered in Richmond to protest massive deficits and government spending. 

The federal government is simply out of control. This is not a new phenomenon. But the problem has mushroomed under President Obama and a more liberal Congress.

Both major political parties have failed the American people. The U.S. national debt has swelled to                                  $11, 177,148,418,577.99 according to the National Debt Clock at  http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/

That number is unbelievable. President Obama has doubled the national debt according to the Heritage Foundation. You can read more at http://www.heritage.org/research/budget/bg2249.cfm

This chart tells it all.

alc_46_300px_1

All Americans should be concerned about the size of the debt and what it means for future generations. While I am all for good government, I am not for excessive government.

I want to encourage all my friends and anyone who reads this blog to contact your representatives in Congress and urge them to curb excessive spending. Second, you should strive to elect or re-elect people who do more than just talk about reducing debt and taxes. We need to elect real patriots who do the right thing no matter the political cost.

You can find out more about government spending from these Web sites:

http://www.fedspending.org/

http://www.ntu.org/main/

http://www.usbudgetwatch.org/stimulus

http://www.recovery.gov/

http://www.cato.org/pubs/tbb/tbb_1208-51.pdf

Discussing the Prosperity ‘Gospel’

Jesus spoke a lot about money, and He didnt’ usually have flattering things to say about it.either.  I led a discussion tonight about the Prosperity ‘Gospel’ in one of my classes at Union-PSCE.

Several of the other students made some very good points. One person brought up that the prosperity teaching is very me-focused whereas Jesus spoke a lot about community and loving others. Another student mentioned that the prosperity message acts as if only wealthy people are truly happy. She recounted experiences abroad where she had met many happy people who had very little.

Another person seconded this idea and pointed to wealthy people he knew that were miserable.

I was asked how I felt this message impacted American perceptions of the true Christian Gospel. I said that I believe it reflects national sins as well as problems within the church where many people are selfish and not aware of apostate teaching. This is because many Christians in America know very little about Scripture and just believe what the guy on the TV says is true. People are not taught to be discerning. Many so-called Christians in America are lazy. I don’t know if I can lay the blame for all of this at the feet of prosperity preachers. I believe it shows deep inner problems within our society and culture where the American Church is so easily enticed to idolatry. Maybe these voices merely bring out what is deep within us?

Professor Adams suggested that he can’t so easily give a pass to prosperity preachers regarding their culpability, especially for those in Third World countries that have fallen prey to their message. I guess I can see his point because my time in Kenya showed me that we have exported some of the worst parts of American Christianity to others parts of the world.

A female student defended Osteen saying that her grandparents love to listen to him. Her grandfather used to be an addict who is inspired by his positive message.

I recognized the contribution of the positive and hopeful message preached by the prosperity preachers. They do encourage people to hope and strive to take practical steps to better their life. They have inspired people to change. But at the same time I asked, “What makes this different than listening to Oprah?” Where is Jesus in this gospel?

I did agree that the prosperity megachurches attract a diverse group of people. Many of them would never go to a mainline denomination church. They use media well and help people come to realize that God is not angry with them. One student pointed out that this mass appeal should not be used as a measuring stick if these ministers abandon the crux of the true Gospel in the process. It is true that just because something is popular that fact alone doesn’t make it right.

One of the biggest problems is how people consume the prosperity message. They hear the hope part but aren’t willing to live the life of faith required to realize God’s best. They want to see miracles without spending lot of time on their knees. They want a quick fix instead of a deep life of discipleship. But that is not necessarily how it works. Faith is birthed in the midst of trial, lament and suffering.

Our greatest freedom and blessing came through Jesus’ death on the cross. That was far from easy. Jesus had to endure incredible hardship for the joy that was set before Him. Why should it be any different for His followers? The fact that I don’t struggle every day to find food makes me wonder how strong my faith really is. I don’t want to glamorize poverity. But it is true that sometimes we experience God the most in times of material want not abundance.

Osteen pointed to Job in his book. In the end, Job received twice what he had lost. But he still had to go through almost 40 chapters of pain, questioning, petition, lament, weeping and suffering before receiving restoration and blessing.

While my class didn’t reach any firm conclusions, we did realize that the prosperity ‘gospel’ does have a few legitimate points to make to mainline churches. At the same time, it lacks a sense of perspective overlooking many contrary passage of Scripture. It is far from complete and can’t be treated as a formula that works every time. A lack of discernment has led many to be duped or abuse these teachings.

I think we should dialogue more on the topic and honestly discuss the merits and errors of the teaching based on Scripture, common sense thought and faith.

An Appeal to Heaven

“The Conquered, or their Children, have no Court, no Arbitrator on Earth to appeal to. Then they may appeal, as Jephtha did, to Heaven, and repeat their Appeal, till they have recovered the native Right of their Ancestors, which was to have such a Legislative over them, as the Majority should approve, and freely acquiesce in.”

–  John Locke,  Two Treatises on Government

The phrase “An Appeal to Heaven” is used multiple times by John Locke in his work, Two Treatises of Government. The phrase suggests that after all other alternatives of seeking justice have been exhausted, only an “appeal to heaven” remains. That  is exactly how I feel about the current course of the U.S. government. This has nothing to do with either major political party. Both have followed a similar path that could cause long-term devestation for our economy and future generations.

I am talking about debt beyond comprehension, bailing out bankers while ordinary citizens are struggling, rewarding incompetence, betrayal of the public trust, and the like. This cuts across all parties and political idealogies. Where is the Common Sense that led to the founding of this country?

Calling Obama a “communist” and labeling Republicans as “sell-outs to the rich” does nothing to help the situation. We need average Americans to care and tell their government representatives that enough is enough. No more grand standing for the cameras. No more empty promises. No more blank checks. No more double standards. No more spending or wars without oversight. No more letting foreign interestes dictate our policies. No more greed and corruption in government.

Both parties are guilty of betraying the public trust. The Republicans started the ball rolling with the last year of the Bush administration that saw stimulus checks, a bailout of our financial sector, massive government spending, etc. The Democrats have picked up right where the Republicans left off. They have ballooned the debt beyond absurdity and come to the rescue of some of the companies that got us in this mess in the first place. We are printing money that we don’t have. What does it say to the world when the European governments are the ones calling for less debt and government spending? I fear that we have turned into Rome.

Capitalism has its faults. It needs some regulation and oversight. But we must not rush into writing sloppy laws, which is what happened with the most recent economic stimulus package. Hastly constructed legislation leads to the worse kind of reform – a solution that turns out to be worse than the original problem.

This past week I bought an “An Appeal to Heaven” flag. I plan on taking it with me down to the Tax Day Tea Party being held in downtown Richmond next week. The gathering is for all of those who are fed up with the current course that both parties have steered for us over the last 10-20 years. It is not a rally against taxes. It is not an effort by the rich to keep the government from taking their money to help the poor. The goal of the gathering is to call us back to founding values that have stood the test of time. You can find out more at http://www.richmondteaparty.com/

I see these values as…

  • Limited government that relies every law that is passed equates to individual liberties that are lost to promote the common good. Thus, laws should not be written unless the common good is important enough in that case to trump individual liberties.
  • Government debts and spending should be kept in check so as to free succeeding generations from debt obligations that don’t provide long-term benefits for the people as a whole.
  • Political leaders should work for the common good of the people. Political service is just that service. It should not be a lifelong career or source of private economic gain. Government leaders must be held accountable by the people and avoid even the appearance of partiality or impropriety.
  • Excessive government spending must be limited because burdensome taxes will not lead to long-term economic growth. Overprinting of currency will cause destruction in wealth and discourage saving.
  • Laws should be past with careful consideration about all the potential long-term effects. This means that no massive expansion of government power or spending should take place without the final bill being given at least a month’s worth of open debate and scrutiny. When it came to the most recent economic stimulus bill most lawmakers didn’t have time to read it before they were being required to vote on it. 
  • The law of unintended consequences is the biggest political reality that most lawmakers don’t take the time to consider. It is usually the thing that leads to success or failure of any policy. Prudence requires a government that will do what is best not always what is popular. This means that we should not rush to judgment except in rare instances. 

There once stood an elm tree at the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street in Boston, Massachusetts, under which a group of men calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty” met to protest the notorious British Stamp Act sometime during 1765. From that time onward, the tree was popularly called the “Liberty Tree.” In 1775, the British seized Boston, cut down the tree and used it for firewood. Flags bearing the symbol of the “Liberty Tree” almost immediately began to appear. So it is no wonder that when, in the fall of that same year, George Washington outfitted a squadron of six schooners at his own expense, he fittingly used the symbol of the tree and his own personal prayer to the Lord with the phrase, “An Appeal to Heaven.”

The pine tree flag with the motto “An Appeal to Heaven” was by Massachusetts’ state navy vessels in addition to privateers sailing from Massachusetts. The Massachusetts General Court established the flag of the state navy on July 26, 1776: “that the Colors be a white flagg, with a green Pine Tree, and an Inscription, “Appeal to Heaven.'”

This flag accurately reflects how I feel about the path of our government over the last 15-20 years. It seems like the best thing we can do now is continue to make our voice heard and pray all the louder for sanity to return to federal, state and local governments.

Here is my warning to the current situation: Any right that is quietly removed by the stroke of a pen today may take bloodshed to regain tomorrow.

A Bloody Freedom

The thought of Old Testament sacrifices has bothered me for a long time. Why does God require dead animals to atone for the sins of mankind? Why does the Temple ritual have to be so bloody? Does God really enjoy the smell of burning animal flesh?

I don’t think that I have come up with the most complete answer. But here goes nothing.

The New Testament is clear that sin leads to death and separation from God (Romans 6:23). Jesus takes our place and provides the perfect sacrifice that we can never be (Hebrews 5:9, 10:10-18) .

I believe the sacrifice has to be bloody. Hebrews 9:22 testifies that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Jesus by meeting the requirements of the first law established a second, better covenant. 

Talking about the blood of Christ offends modern sensibilities. Blood is a cultural taboo. But there may be no better way to understand it. Otherwise, we may forget just how precious is the price that was paid for our freedom.

May Jesus’ death never become ordinary to me. May I never see any sin as worth the price. I need the cross to be bloody so that I will understand just how serious and costly sin is.

Good Friday

Abandoned. Abused. Mocked.  Beaten beyond recognition. Hung on a tree as a criminal.

The thought of Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion is something that I can’t really comprehend. Even after having just watched The Passion of the Christ, I don’t think that I can begin to understand the agony that he went through. It is hard to watch. I don’t have any idea what it must have felt like. I have never experienced that level of pain, sacrifice or betrayal. As the religous leaders and crowds mocked Jesus, He called for their forgiveness. At any moment, He could have commanded angels to dispatch those who opposed Him. But He suffered and died. Jesus looked down from the cross and through time He saw me.

I am reminded of what a little girl asked one day when she watched an Easter passion play at a church. The girl asked her mom with tears in her eyes, “Why are they being so mean to Jesus?” That question seems like the right one. We can’t seem to understand what would drive a crowd to be so cruel. We don’t know why it has to be so bloody. How could something good come out of something so horrific?

That is the reality of Easter Sunday. Jesus had to endure the cross so that we don’t have to die for our sins. I know it seems cruel that God The Father would send His Son on such a mission. I don’t understand it. I wouldn’t ask my child to suffer for another like Jesus did for me. It is at the cross where we see love beyond measure, a trust that I cannot comprehend.

Jesus death is the ultimate reversal where a bloody scene leads to hope, eternal life and freedom for those held captive to sin. There is no better story. There is no reality that is more true. It is God’s story where He redeems mankind. Is it your story too?