Friday, February 27, 2009

The Power to Change

One of the most frightening, yet most hopeful, of passages in all Scripture is 1st Corinthians 6:9-11. It is a passage filled with both incredibly bad news, yet incredibly good news. It says:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom
of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God
The bad news is right up front. "The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God." How clear can it be that these people will not see heaven. Their unrighteousness will exclude them. Then the passage presents a long list of sins whose practice demonstrates an unrighteous heart not headed for heaven. The list could have been more exhaustive. But rather than present every sin, Paul simply gave us a representative sampling. If these sins characterize a person's lifestyle, according to this portion of the Word of God, that person is not going to heaven.

The good news is presented at the end. And it is incredibly good news. "And such were some of you," it says. The fact that the verb is in the past tense is the good news. Those Corinthians, who were caught up in the lifestyles described, had been changed. Once, they had been fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, and the rest. But not any more. No longer do they practice these sins. Being caught in a lifestyle of sin does not have to be permanent. There is freedom! There is an escape! There is a way out!

The way out is through Jesus Christ, Who died to free us from, not only the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin over our lives. Romans 5:8-9 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." NKJV Hallelujah! We can be saved.

We often hear on the news that another researcher has tried to find a so called "gay gene." They want to convince us that the homosexual was born the way they are, and he is powerless to change. That is sort-of true, although not in the way they think. First, there is both truth and error in their assertion that they were born that way. They have not, nor will they ever, find a "gay gene." But that doesn't mean that the condition isn't inherited. We have all inherited the sin nature from our parents, who have inherited it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to Adam. Romans 5:12 teaches, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned."

Each of us have inherited the propensity to sin. That desire is passed on to us from Adam. And each of us have our special sins we treasure in our hearts and are most susceptible to. We all need to be set free from the power of sin over us. But the ability to do that does not reside within us.

But change we can. Not by gritting our teeth and resolving never to do it again, but change comes through the blood of Christ. It comes about through what Jesus called the new birth in John 3. To Nicodemus, Jesus said, "You must be born again" in John 3:7. Each one of us must be born again. We must receive a new heart and a new start from God, made possible by Jesus on the cross of Calvary where He paid the penalty for our sins and offered to each one of us as the free gift of grace to be received by faith.

With that gift of salvation, God also gives us the gift of His Spirit. The Spirit of God indwells every born again believer empowering him to do what he could never do alone - lick the temptation to sin. Neither heterosexual nor homosexual sin is too great for the Spirit of God to conquer. As proof, we have the Corinthians. They practiced both lifestyles and were heading for hell. But they were changed by Jesus. So can you if you are trapped in any one of those lifestyles. If you have grown frustrated from trying to change on your own, you need to approach Jesus with a repentant heart, seeking His forgiveness and grace. This He freely gives.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

God's Purpose For Marriage

In the last entry, I made the point that God, at creation, was the one who designed marriage. In light of the concerted effort by some in our society to redefine marriage, it is important for us to go back and see what God's original purpose was. So what was God's purpose?

Now certainly, since marriage is such an important human institution, there can be many purposes; and indeed there are. Last time we looked at two of them. God said that it was not good for man to be alone, so He created the woman to be helpmeet, meaning his complement and completer. If God had simply wanted to create companionship for Adam, He could have brought him a dog to roam the fields with or a good buddy to go bowling with. God didn't! But that wasn't God's intention. God wanted to make man complete, so He created the woman.

Also, we looked at the fact that God created us in His image, and especially that it was as male and female He created us. We made the point that together, as male and female, joined in the marriage bond, we more fully reflect the image of God.

But that verse that we looked at, Genesis 1:27-28, also alludes to another important reason for marriage. Reading the verses again, it says, "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth.'" Interestingly, the first command God gave this couple was to procreate - to join God in the creative process by creating new human life. Marriage is intended to be the fountain from which children and families spring forth.

Malachi 2:15 adds to that. It is another verse that talks about the purpose for marriage. It asks the rhetorical question, "But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring." The first question asks, did God create the man and the woman and unite them together as one in marriage? The obvious answer from Genesis 2:18-25 is, Yes! God created the woman specifically to be man's complementary mate. But why did He do it? that is the question that is answered here. He seeks godly offspring. God intended marriage to be fruitful - as a place where children can be born and can be nurtured with a mother and a father - the full complement of His image. Certainly, sometimes in God's plan a specific couple is childless, but the purpose of marriage is to bear and raise offspring for God. By calling them godly, the verse assumes that the parents, the mother and father, will teach their children about God and train them to love and serve Him. God's desire is for a world to be populated by people trained to worship Him.

Same sex relationships are by definition barren. If same sex couples are allowed to adopt children, the best they can do is model only one half of the image of God. And even saying that, what they really model is rebellion against God's plan for marriage, since His plan was for one woman and for one man to be joined. Same sex marriages can never fulfill God's purpose. In order to fulfill God's plan, the marriage has to conform to God's design.

Battling Over the Definition of Marriage

In Maine, as in most of the country, we are fighting a political battle over the definition of marriage, with those who would redefine marriage wanting to allow the pairing of same sex couples. Whether they will be politically successful or not is yet to be determined; but on another front, they can never be successful, because marriage simply is what it is.

When the framers of the Declaration of Independence were crafting their words, they came up with this beautiful phrase, "We hold these truths to be self-evident." It is self evident that a marriage is between one man and one woman. Anyone who takes time to observe the differences between the sexes should agree. God created the two sexes to be different but mutually complementary. We are created with different bodies to allow procreation. We are created with different emotions, to allow us to better fit different roles. Everything about our design as different sexes shows that we were meant to be joined. We were created male and female to complement one another - to complete one another. This is the way that God designed it to be. Same sex couples can never experience this same complementary relationship

In Genesis 2, according to God's eyewitness account, God looked over His creation, a creation He had deemed very good, and found something that wasn't good. Genesis 2:18 says, "And the Lord God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him'." A comparable helper (helpmeet in the old King James Version) isn't a subservient term, but rather it means to complete, to fulfill, to compliment. That is what Adam needed, someone to fulfill and complement him - not another someone just like him. So God caused a deep sleep to come over Adam, and God took a piece of his side and formed it into a woman. Then God brought the woman to the man and presented her to Adam as his wife. God's commentary on the situation is found in Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." This is what God designed - a marriage between a man and a woman, between a husband and a wife. Is is significant in the story that when God wanted to create a help meet for Adam He created a woman. It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. And this was for a very good reason.

In Genesis 1:27-28, we read,

"So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.'" NKJV

God created man in His own image. But what is significant is this - what God created to be in His image was two sexes. One of the most fascinating things about God's design for marriage is that in marriage we see a picture of the nature and character of God - a picture God placed there by design. This is a picture that can be achieved in no other way than through the union of one man and one woman. But together, we can reflect the tenderness of God through a nursing mother with the strength of God through the husband providing and protecting for his wife. The illustrations are numerous. The two sexes were designed to be joined.

Yes, as individuals we are created in the image of God, but to fully reflect that image, it takes a man and a woman. God's image is expressed when the two halves of humanity complement each other and become one. A male by himself is not fully representative. Neither can a female fully represent the image of God. But when we unite, as husband and wife joined together as one, we represent the full spectrum of God's image. Male and female are made, in themselves, with a lack that can only be completed by the complement of the other. This is a basic lack that is built into the fabric of society by God Himself.

We can see this expressed as well in Ephesians 5. Here we find the lengthiest passage in Scripture dealing with the marriage relationship. After verse after verse talking about how a husband should treat his wife and she him, it concludes this way, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:32 NKJV. We would have thought the topic was our earthly marriages, but, NO, says this verse. The topic has been the relationship of Christ to His church - His bride. Our earthly relationships are really but an earthly picture of the spiritual relationship between Christ and His church. When wives submit to their husbands, they are but a picture of how the church submits to her head, Christ. When men sacrifice for their wives, we are but an earthly picture of how Christ sacrificed for His bride, the church, dying on the cross to redeem her. In our most intimate relationship as man and wife, we model that even more intimate relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

The truth is, marriage was designed by God. He designed it the way He did for a reason. It was not left up to us to redesign marriage to fit our desires. We must simply conform to the plan that He has established.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Radical Forgiveness

I often get accused of preaching some pretty in-your-face, hard, convicting sermons. Really? A nice guy like me? Am I so uncouth as to preach, "Turn or burn!" "Repent or be damned!" Well, if I do, it's only because that's what is in the Bible. I try to accurately reflect and portray what the Bible passage I am preaching from says.

And when you read the Bible, you find that God is pretty radical in His hatred of sin. Even Jesus, often portrayed as His nice guy Son, seems to have that same hatred for sin; so much so, that He even equates the thought of sin to be the equivalent of actually committing the sin. In the sermon on the Mount, for instance, Jesus writes:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not
murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother 2without cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!" shall be in danger of hellfire
." Matthew 21-22 (NKJV)
That's a tough passage. Now, I've never killed anyone. But from what Jesus has said, I am guilty of murder. One hasty comment said in anger, and boom - I am guilty. I can't feel good about that.

Likewise, Jesus said the same thing about adultery, taking it from the actual act to the thought behind the act. He said this:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for has already committed adultery in his heart.' Matthew 5:27-28 (NKJV)
Again, I have never committed adultery, and by the grace of God, I never will. However, from what Jesus said, If I let my eyes and thoughts wander, I and every other red-blooded male are considered adulterers. He has condemned the whole race of us. But Jesus doesn't stop there, in the very next verse, He gives this advice: "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell." Matthew 5:29 (NKJV) That's how radical Jesus views sin. He hates sin with a passion. And the pages of Scripture are filled with these unrelenting demands for how we should live our lives. So guilty I stand. Guilty we all stand before a just and holy God.

When Jesus is confronted in John 8 with a woman caught in the very act of adultery, standing in front of Him red faced and guilty, you would expect Jesus to read her the riot act and throw the book at her. Yet, He simply says, "Go, and sin no more." John 8:11 (NKJV) Likewise, Jesus had taught in Luke 9:62, "No one having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." But when Peter turned back and denied Him three times, Jesus quickly, lovingly forgave him and recommissioned him for ministry. That is the kind of radical forgiveness Jesus offers. His holy wrath against sin is balanced by His love for sinners so much that he took upon Himself our punsihment.

John 3:16, that ever famous and popular verse, says it so well, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Isaiah brought out this truth in Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray, but the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all." These are the twin truths. We all stand guilty before God and deserve hell. Those who believe in God's Son, Jesus, are offered radical mercy and forgiveness. Have you believed?

But we should also be willing to offer that same kind of radical forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Do we have the kind of love that covers sin? Proverbs 10:12 says, "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers a multitude of sins." Are we willing to forgive our spouse who has wronged us? Or our children? What about those in our church or community? If we seek to have the mind of Christ, we will learn to hate the sin that dwells within us, and we will learn to forgive radically.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bristol Palin's Interview

This past week, Greta VanSustern conducted the first ever interview granted by Bristol Palin, the eighteen year old daughter of Alaska Governor and former Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin. Bristol made the news back during the campaign because she was an unmarried, pregnant teenager. That in itself isn't newsworthy, since they are quite common; but she was the daughter of a newly famous politician who was a big supporter of abstinence education over safe-sex education for public schools. The interview, of course, would delve into that subject in an attempt to discredit abstinence education; so that's what I want to think about today, considering the mind of Christ.

First, I want to commend Bristol for doing the hard thing - giving birth to her baby and determining to raise it herself (with the help of a supporting family). All too many women opt for the easy way out - terminating the pregnancy through an abortion. Bristol chose to save her baby's life. Also, Bristol expressed no regret about giving birth to her son. She expressed the joy of this miracle of God. Indeed, her baby was knit together in her womb by God (Psalm 139:13-16), and God considers even the ones we might call accidents His gifts. Psalm 127:3 says: "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward" NKJV. Bristol truly seemed to believe that, and she appears to be a very loving and caring mother.

What I do take exception with, however, is her responses to the questions Greta asked about abstinence based sex education. Not only did her answers show how little some teens really know about the world, but the answers were just plain wrong. She made the statement that abstinence was unrealistic in our day and age because premarital sex is just so prevalent. It is true that premarital sex is prevalent in our day, but that doesn't mean that abstinence doesn't work. To say that abstinence is unrealistic because no one follows it is a poor excuse. Can you imagine Noah telling God, "But nobody else is living righteously. Why should I?" He would have missed the ark too, like everybody else. Haven't we been told often enough not to follow the crowd?

To say that abstinence didn't work because she got pregnant is like a man who got sick from ignoring the warning labels on a vial of poison and drank it anyway. Had the label been heeded, he wouldn't have gotten sick. Likewise, if abstinence had been practiced, there would not have been an unplanned pregnancy. Quite simple.

And isn't that God's plan? Didn't God determine when He created the home and marriage, that a couple should wait to have sex until they were married? Certainly sexual temptation is strong, which is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion" 1st Corinthians 7:9 NKJV. Marriage, in part, is God's design to prevent sexual sin.

But what if a couple in love can't get married for awhile? 1st timothy 2:22 gives this advice, "Flee youthful lusts" NKJV. 1st Corinthians 6:18 says it even clearer, "Flee fornication" KJV. If I may paraphrase that, it means, run as fast as you can! Don't let yourself get into situations where you place yourself in danger of falling into immorality. The back seat of a car parked on some deserted lane is not the best place to maintain ones purity. Don't get into those situations. If you find yourself getting into one of them, run as fast as you can. But don't say that abstinence doesn't work if you aren't willing to try it.

Our culture has made it the accepted thing for couples to pair off at ever younger ages, forming romantic relationships and "going steady" even in grade school. But that isn't Biblical. Paul counseled his young protege Timothy to treat the "younger women as sisters, with all purity" 1st Timothy 5:2 (NKJV). Who would ever consider getting romantically involved with his sister? Kiss your sister? Yuck! Well, it's not quite the same, I know. but the idea is this, you wait to get romantically involved with someone until you can legitimately marry them. If not, the fires that burn within can burn out of control into immorality.

Young people, give abstinence a chance. It works every time it is really tried. Parents, support abstinence education in our schools instead of safe sex education. Abstinance is the only 100% safe method, by God's design.

Seeking the Mind of Christ

One of the clearest purpose passages in Scripture for a believer is Romans 8:29. It tells us about God's plan for each person who comes to Him. It says, "for whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. (NKJV)" That's what God wants for us. He wants us to become like His Son. Not wanting to get into any of the sticky arguments about God's foreknowledge and predestination now, what I find fascinating is that God plans on us becoming like his Son, Jesus.

But how can we be like Jesus? We can't be deity like He is. We can't inhabit His human body. We can't do the miracles He did repeatedly on earth. How can we be conformed to His image? The answer is, we can think like He does. We can have His mind.

This is exactly what we are told to have in Philippians 2:5-8, we are told to have the mind of Christ. Let me quote this passage to you,
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (NKJV)"
If we wonder what this mind of Christ is that we are supposed to have, it seems pretty clear that it is a mind of obedient humility leading to sacrificial service. That doesn't sound like much fun, does it? Who wants to be humble? Who wants to be a servant? Wouldn't it be better to have people serve us? Why would Jesus give up heaven to come to earth to serve people, even to the point of dying on the cross for them?

The answer comes in the book of Hebrews where we are told,
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV)

Jesus didn't go to the cross because He was a masochist. He didn't go because He had nothing better to do. He went because He was obedient to His Father (Who knew that was the only way to provide salvation for us), and because He could look beyond the cross to see the glory that awaited Him on the other side.

This has to be our motivation too. Servanthood is hard work. It is required in every one of our human relationships, but especially in the roles of husband or wife and that of parent. There isn't a lot of glory in taking care of small children - in changing diapers and cleaning up messes. Were it not for the long term benefits, few would find the effort worthwhile. But that is precisely the point.

We are told this in Romans 2:7-9:
"Eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for
glory, honor, and immortality, but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil
." (NKJV)
Humble servanthood doesn't make sense unless it is conceived in the light of eternity. Giving up immediate pleasures and rewards makes sense only when we look at the long picture. There is another life. Eternity is forever. And God will reward us for faithfulness now. Serving a wife for a few decades, even in a difficult marriage, is short in comparison to the glory we will receive in heaven for doing our job right now. Raising children for a couple of decades with the all the labor that involves is but a blink compared to the glory of eternity. Why would anyone throw all that away for the quick pleasures we might see from self grtification?

Having the mind of Christ allows us to live with eternity in mind. Having the mind of Christ is what pleases God. Having the mind of Christ is God's purpose for us. That is why I will continually seek the mind of Christ. What about you?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If you are a first time reader to this blog, I am a first time writer. Each day, or as close as I can come to it, I will share my thoughts gleaned from the pages of Scripture and applied to daily life. Since I am only setting up today, please stop back again soon, and I should have something more interesting to read.