Monday, June 27, 2011

Redefining Marriage

We here in New York have been the latest to have to watch our legislators attempt to redefine marriage.  They won't describe it as redefining marriage; they think they are merely allowing people with alternative lifestyles to be able to enjoy the privileges of marriage.  But there are a couple of things they choose to ignore.

First of all our Creator has defined marriage as between a man and a woman and made us so that a man compliments a woman and she in turn completes a man.  His Word very clearly establishes this parameter and says that those that don't follow these guidelines will not inherit the kingdom of God.  

"But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!  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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."  (To mention just one place)

The point here is that marriage is between a man and a woman and so a union between two people of the same sex is not marriage.  It might be some sort of civil union that mimics marriage and it might be legal but is not marriage.  To call it a marriage is to rebel against how God has defined it and suggests that somehow it is legit when it is not.

The other thing that the enemies of marriage remain eerily silent about is that once you say that there is no standard by which to define marriage except whatever society comes up with, then we open the doors to allow all sorts of unions with no ability to judge anything as wrong.  This is already being seen in European countries where the pedophiles are using the same arguments as the homosexuals are using, that no one has a right to stop them from doing what they want to do.

So inevitably marriage must be accepted as a union between a man and several women or a woman and several men or a woman and her chihuahua or a man and his eight year old son.  What disgusted society fifty years ago no longer does and little by little society becomes an immoral cesspool and it falls apart.

As Christians we need to be able to answer those who can't think beyond the next five minutes with biblical as well as logical arguments.  Burying our heads in the sand or just calling someone a pervert isn't being ready to give an answer to the hope that is within us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Oh Death, Where is Your Sting?

1Co 15:55  "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 1Co 15:56  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 1Co 15:57  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death.  Death is the last and greatest enemy of the Christian.  We also know that it isn’t physical death that is our worst enemy but spiritual death.  This is the second death which is eternal separation from God.  

For the lost this comes at physical death.  Up until we die even the lost have some common grace; they can experience some common blessings of life and goodness from God.  Certainly they all have the opportunity to come to Christ for salvation; so there is hope in their lives if there is nothing else.  But once they die physically all hope is gone.  They are cast from the Lord’s presence into the eternal misery that being separated from the Source of all life and happiness brings.  In a word this is Hell.

The above verses tell us that victory over this death comes through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Since sin’s punishment is spiritual death, then it is through the forgiveness of sin that we escape the second death.  So we might say that death is that last enemy that we all must face.  For the Christian the sting of death has been removed because death will merely usher us into our final reward.  But for the lost death will sweep them into the eternal judgment of God.  We will be saved through it; the lost will be destroyed in it.

All this is illustrated in the Old Testament when the Children of Israel came to the Jordan River before crossing over into Canaan.  There is a reason why the Jordan is a type of death and that Canaan is referred to as the Promised Land.  It was that final obstacle they had to face before they could enter into their rest.  So Canaan is a type of Heaven for the saint.  

The problem for them was that the Jordan was at flood stage and they could not just wade through it.  To do so would have meant to be swept away into death and they would not inherit the land.  Many see sin and the death it brings as something we can face in human strength.  By our good works we can wade across God’s judgment and face him on our merit and all will be well.  But the Bible teaches just the opposite.  For any sinner to approach the Holy God apart from Jesus is certain death.

The good news illustrated in Joshua is that the Lord provided a way for his people to cross safely.  As soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark touched the waters of Jordan the waters parted and they crossed over on dry ground.  Absolutely no water touched them; they didn’t have to suffer any of the judgment of sin because the priests had already been touched by it.

The Ark speaks of the place where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice to remove the wrath of God against sinners.  It was here and here alone in which Israel found forgiveness of their covenant sins.  And so the Ark of the Covenant illustrates Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.  He bore the wrath of God so that sinners might find forgiveness in Him.  Consider Heb 2:9,  But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”   As soon as his foot touched death, so to speak, we read that the veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  A way of access had been provided.  

Now through faith we can find peace with God and live with him forever.  And the good news doesn’t stop there.  We aren’t left with a little to do, a few sins to atone for because Christ has done everything necessary for our forgiveness.  It isn’t a cooperative effort; we have no part in our salvation because God must receive all the glory.  That to me is the significance of the dry ground.  They didn’t have to wade through shallow water nor did they have to plod through thick mud.  Christ’s atonement saves us to the uttermost.  There is nothing left for us to do because there was never anything we could do to please a holy God.  Jesus alone is our salvation.  He alone has paid the price for every sin that separates us from God.  This is grace, praise the Lord!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Out of the Mouth of Babes

2Ki 2:23  He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" 2Ki 2:24  And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.
I know this isn’t a very “uplifting” passage but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering this passage that helps us understand and learn from it.  First of all Bethel was the center of idolatry in Northern Israel and these kids were no doubt just parroting their parents.  Also they weren’t just playing beside the road and poking fun at his bald head as he passed by.  There was a mob of over 42 boys perhaps 10 to 12 years of age following him out of the city probably telling him to get lost.  In other words they were rejecting his authority and thus the Word of God.

One reason I see this as being a result of their parents upbringing and therefore they are standing as representatives of the rest of the nation is from what we read in Lev. 26:21-22, "Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”  It is clear that Israel by its idolatry had broken covenant and were merely bearing the curses they had agreed to.  This is far from just a case in which Elisha was having a bad day and these kids were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This was more evidence of Israel’s apostasy and the Lord’s righteous judgment.  Thus it becomes a warning to all who would reject the Lord.

But there is perhaps a more practical lesson for God’s people in this age of grace in which we tend to downplay God’s wrath and only think of God in terms of love and forgiveness.  We must be on guard of the worldly influence that tells us that boys will be boys; let children be children; let them play now they will grow up soon enough.  It seems God holds even young children accountable for how they perceive the Lord and submit to him.  So we need to be careful to train them from the start to know and understand God as he is revealed in his word to us. 

Don’t take me wrong.  I love to watch my grandchildren playing and being cute and silly and all the things that children do.  But more important than our being entertained by their cuteness is the matter of their eternal souls.  There is a time for play but there is also a time for training and teaching and we need to be faithful to our children in teaching them that life is not just about having a good time, even as a child.  Life is about serving the Lord and let this biblical example remind us that even our children are expected to honor him. 

In Matt. 21:15-16 we have a little different thing going on than we saw in 2 Kings, “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant, Mat 21:16  and they said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, "'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise'?"  

There were young children in the temple praising the Lord!  If their children could do it, so should ours; even our young children as Jesus indicates these were young.  It seems that this was one of the things that the Pharisees didn’t like.  In 2 Kings the parents evidently had no problem with them belittling God’s prophet and here the Pharisees were offended at these children offering up praise to the Lord.  But Jesus says that it is that it was ordained from the beginning that the Lord should be honored by our young children.  Evidently there were some parents in Jesus’ day that were faithful to their children.

If you wait to get serious with your children about spiritual things until they are older you do two things.  You do a disservice to your children by teaching them of first importance in their young lives is that life is about having fun or something other than serving the Lord.  So you put their souls in jeopardy.  But you also ignore one reason God gave you children; that while they are young they might offer praise to him as the older saints do.  I don’t think the issue is that they have to be saved before they learn to praise God but that from the start they learn that this is what his creatures are to do.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Where Does Peace Come From?

In John 14:26-27 we read, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." Here Jesus tells his disciples that part of the Holy Spirit's work in us will be to give us a peace that is far beyond anything the world can understand. Unfortunately it seems many try to bypass the means and just pray that the Holy Spirit would just give them peace; "Wave your sanctified magic wand and give me peace amid all my problems."

But as vs. 26 points out, the greater context teaches that the Holy Spirit will use the teaching of Christ to be what gives them the strength to overcome the world, sin and the Devil. In other words, the peace that Jesus is going to give isn't just going to come down on us suddenly; it comes through learning God's Word and thinking through the implications. The Bible never tells Christians that we need tranquilizers to be calm instead it teaches that we need to have peace with and know our God and know him well.

I like the way the book of Numbers puts it: 6:24-26, "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." Job 22:21,22 is good as well, "Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart." Again, notice how listening to him is where our strength is.

Just as I sat down to write this article I had an interesting question posed to me in a phone call. It was concerning the trauma caused in someone's life due to horrible experiences in their past. In this case it was young women who not only had suffered abuse themselves but had children as young as two years old who had been abused. Clearly such things can devastate lives especially when one doesn't know the Lord as Savior. The question was, "Can the Holy Spirit erase these memories out of their minds"? As I understood the question, the point was can he do this so that they aren't haunted by these things and can have some semblance of a normal life. My answer was yes he can erase any memory from our minds but I don't believe that is what he will do.

This relates to what we have been studying on Wednesday nights for the last few weeks. The process of sanctification doesn't happen all at once. The Holy Spirit doesn't just make us strong, mature Christians. We can pray all we want for him to make us holy but if we don't use the means the Lord has given us, it just isn't going to happen. Sanctification comes through growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we learn more of God and his will and more of ourselves and as our love for Christ grows we are better able to deal with whatever circumstances he sends our way.

So in the case of those who have suffered some horrible things in their past, the way to overcome them is to have a right relationship with Christ through the cross and to come to understand why these things happen and what God's will is for us in them. The Holy Spirit will give us the strength and peace we need through the Word.

The problem I see with him just erasing them out of our minds is that this defeats the whole purpose of this life in the flesh to begin with. If he was just going to make all our problems disappear then why does he send them to start with? It is glorifying the Lord in affliction that gives our lives meaning. If memories of past horrors disappear from my mind then how can I serve him through them? How can I take up my cross daily and follow Christ if I can't remember the cross?

The words in John 14 were spoken to his disciples so that they would have peace. They were for the most part going to suffer all sorts of horrible things before they died. This has been the case of God's people all through history. Read Hebrews 11. Are we to suppose that the family of some prophet who was sawn in half were supposed to take a sedative to "cope" with this? Even less likely did God see fit to cause them to forget all about it so that they were able to go on their merry way? I don't think so.

Sin brings a lot of sorrow and even horror to life. This is true for all of us and for some in particular. But it is knowing that there is a purpose behind it all ordained by a Holy, Sovereign Lord that allows us to be faithful in it. The only alternative is that God didn't want it to happen but couldn't stop it and so such things have no meaning. Surely the Truth shall make us free; knowing truth gives us the answers we need.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

One Reason Why The Local Church Is A Great Place To Be.

More than ever it seems popular for people to leave the local church setting to meet in their homes with people they are comfortable with and have more in common. Getting along with people that we ordinarily wouldn't have much in common with is hard work mainly because we all have a lot of remaining sin within. We are experts at justifying ourselves for not obeying the clearest commands of our Lord, saying "These parents don't raise their children as strictly as I think they should", "These people dress in ways I don't like", "This man is just unpleasant", "That woman talks too much"; (sorry, no stereotypes intended).

But we all know that it is easy to find faults with even our brothers and sisters in Christ and be as blind as a bat towards our own shortcomings. My point here is that learning to dwell together in peace in the local church is actually a good thing and not a reason to cut and run because it is hard to get along with each other.

It is not unlike the reason some couples have justified living together instead of committing themselves to each other in marriage. Somewhere down the road they are going to wake up and realize that the person they are lying next to has some real irksome ways. The newness has worn off and it is apparent that if this relationship is going to continue there is going to have to be some self-sacrifice. They are going to have to learn to be patient and forgiving. They are going to have to learn to love even when feelings aren't always cooperating. For the relationship to continue both are going to have to grow and mature and learn that they aren't the most important person.

Today in our narcissistic society it is accepted as the norm to just cut and run. Life is too short to spend it with someone who doesn't please me as I want to be pleased so off I go to find someone else. The problems with this type of thinking are many but let's look at one in particular.

Everyone knows that taking the easy way out means there will be no exercise. If you take the elevator all the time your legs won't get a workout. The same is true if you drive when you can walk. The same principle applies in the spiritual realm. The Bible is full of examples and teachings of how we are to tackle trials and affliction in our lives. These things come that we might learn how to be godly as we overcome the flesh and learn to glorify God in adversity. Think of a few verses that speak to this:

Rom 8:28 "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."; Rev 3:21 "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."; Jas 1:3 "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. Jas 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
And then there is 2 Pet. 1: 5-8, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

My point is simply that to cut and run when things are difficult means you deny yourself ways to grow in the Lord. In other words, one reason the Lord instituted the local church is because we have to learn to get along with other sinners and this is good for us and we need each other for spiritual growth.

A pastor friend of mine recently put it this way and I paraphrase. "We pray that the Lord will conform us to his image but then turn around and refuse to stick it out in the church. We refuse to be patient with each other, refuse to be forbearing and loving. We will not forgive but hold on to offenses until we can't stand to be around each other." We want the Lord to wave his magic wand and make us patient but we don't want to be patient.

We need to stop and think about this. The church is a great place to exercise the new life we have been given and if we can't be patient with each other, then let's at least stop pretending we want God to conform us to the image of his Dear Son. God is "conforming" us in this life to his image. It means we are going to have to learn how to be something that this flesh does not want to be. It will sometimes be hard but learning to love other sinners is a great place to start.

Php 2:2-5: "Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus."