We Are Them

I don’t know who first coined the phrase we have met the enemy and he is us. I first remember reading it in the comic strip Pogo, written by cartoonist Walt Kelly, featuring a group of animal characters who lived in the Okefenokkee Swamp.

Intended to be both humorous and convicting, it exposed the truth that we are often what we despise and criticize.

Protests aside, we are Patrick Crusius and Connor Betts.

At least in God’s eyes. And His opinion is the only one that really counts.

Two passages illustrate the point.

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 her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28).

Lust is not just a dirty thought – it’s adultery in God’s book.

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15).

Hate is not just anger – it’s murder according to God.

If people could see our hearts, they would find out that some of us (many?) are serial adulterers and serial murderers.

And those are the Christians.

Another passage puts us in even deeper. James 2:10 says Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all. So you haven’t committed mass murder but you’ve lied, or gossiped, or stolen, or ____________ (fill in the blank).

That makes you a lawbreaker and as guilty as Patrick or Connor.

There’s no room for self-righteousness here. We all stand guilty of heinous crimes.

If you don’t like what I’m saying – I don’t either. I see myself as a law-abiding citizen. On top of that, I’m think I’m OK with God.

But I’m not and neither are you. Not in God’s kingdom anyway.

You might be a law-abiding citizen as far as the laws of this country are concerned but you’re not as far as God is concerned. At the Supreme Court of the Universe you would be found a serial sinner.

And that’s why Jesus came so we, each of us, can find forgiveness. If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Forgiven yes. That’s grace.

But we still sinned. We still committed adultery. We still murdered.

We would all be justifiably outraged if Patrick Crusius told the judge he was sorry – he confessed his sin; he asked for forgiveness, and the judge let him go because he was remorseful.

I know that the analogy breaks down (our sin was put on Jesus), but my point is, that is often how we treat our sin. It’s easy to confess our serial adultery (lust); our serial murders (hate) and walk away as if nothing happened.

Because, after all, we confessed it.

Why don’t we feel the same outrage over our sin as we do over their sin?

It’s not that Patrick Crusius and Connor Betts are us. It’s that we are them.

There is no difference between their sin and my sin. Without Jesus, were we to stand before God we would be equally guilty.

And that’s the sobering reality.

My point is that we are outraged by what happened in El Paso and Dayton, but we treat our sin differently. It’s not so bad.

But it is.

We need to be as outraged about our sin as we are about their sin.

It just depends on the perspective – and it’s God’s perspective that counts, not ours.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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The World We Live In

Anyone born before 1970 probably has a good idea of just how much our society has changed in the past sixty years. Before 1960 illegal immigration was a minor issue confined to a few specific states. Drugs were something that only happened in a couple of major metropolitan areas. The vast majority of the population disapproved of same sex relationships. Terrorism only happened in some remote corners of the world.

Sometime around 1960 that all began to change.

I don’t want to paint too idyllic a picture of the pre-60’s world. While many of the issues that we face today were either not present or existed only in an embryonic stage, there were plenty of ugly and sinful things about our society. Racism was rampant (if you think it’s bad now, it was worse then), Christianity was the proverbial lukewarm (Revelation 3:15f) in many churches, abuse, particularly in families, in all it’s ugly forms was normally swept under the rug, and sexual immorality, especially among Christians was too easily ignored.

No, life before 1960 was no Shangri-La and it was only Father Knows Best on our television sets.

That said, it’s true that we are living in a very different world today. We are dealing with issues that only the most perceptive people understood were potentialities.

Which makes me wonder what our world will look like in another sixty years? What issues will our children or grandchildren have to deal with?

And even more importantly, how can we prepare them for what we don’t know?

That’s where the unchanging Word of God comes into play.

We need to teach future generations of Christians the timeless truths and principles from God’s Word to guide their thoughts and actions. Issues have changed throughout history and they will continue to change. Future generations of Christians will have to deal with things that we can’t even begin to imagine today. And that’s the beauty of having something that never changes. Every generation can examine the issues they face against the same standard that every preceding generation used – God’s Word.

God told Israel, I am the Lord God – I don’t change (Malachi 3:6, see also James 1:17). Because God is eternal and does not change, what He says in His Word is also eternal and unchanging.  That’s why the Apostle Peter can write to his generation that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us (2 Peter 1:3) and we can still hold onto its truth in every succeeding generation.

While the world around us changes, every generation of Christians can judge the issues they face by the timeless teachings of God’s Word and be confident that they can handle whatever comes their way.

I remember when my daughters worked as bank tellers during their college years. The bank didn’t teach them what counterfeit bills looked or felt like – there were too many potential varieties. Instead they taught them what legitimate bills looked and felt like so that when a counterfeit bill came their way they would know something was not right.

That’s what we need to do with the Word of God. Teach truth so that when error comes along, we’ll know that something is not right.

It’s not the issues that we should be focused on, it’s the Word of God.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Is God Unloving or Just Too Weak?

I read an online article this morning as I waited for the bank to open. The title was Where is God for the Suffering, Starving, and Freezing? Besides being a great, attention-getting title, it’s a great question. You can read the article here.

It’s also an age-old question that’s probably been around since the dawn of time. We want to know where God is in the face of evil. The typical question goes something like this: If God is a god of love then why do people suffer? The oft drawn conclusion is that either God is not a god of love or He is not an all-powerful (omnipotent) god. He just can’t do anything about evil.

But are those the only two conclusions?

In fact, are we even looking in the right place?

Certainly, God is a god of love. The sacrifice of His beloved Son is all of the evidence that we need of His love.

Certainly, He is all-powerful. The miracles of Jesus, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead are all evidences of His power.

To ignore the sacrifice or the miracles of Jesus is to rewrite history in our own image.

So where should we look for answers when it comes to people who are suffering, starving and freezing?

We need to begin with sin. It was the voluntary sin of our first parents that introduced evil into the human equation. There are theological explanations as to how that sin got down to us but let’s just say that had any of us been in Eve’s place we would have done exactly as she did. Don’t flatter yourself to think otherwise.

Suffering, starving and freezing are the result of sin, not of God’s lack of love or any perceived weakness on His part.

Let’s not blame God for the ravages of sin.

Sure, God could heal the suffering, feed the starving and provide for the freezing – and He did (see Matthew 8:1-15 for healing the suffering, Matthew 14:13-21 for feeding the starving, and Mark 5:25-34 for providing for someone).

But Jesus didn’t heal every leper or give sight to every blind person or feed every starving child.

Why?

We don’t know why He met some needs and didn’t meet others. And we don’t know why God does what He does today. Some He heals, some He doesn’t. Some He feeds, some He doesn’t. Some He provides for, some He doesn’t. (Maybe He’s waiting for you and me to be the answer that He uses to meet their suffering!).

Just because we don’t understand the reasons for the actions of an omniscient, omnipotent God don’t mean that there aren’t any.

Those answers lay in the infinite wisdom of God.

But to accuse God of being unloving or impotent in the face of evil is to ignore the question of sin and to assign blame where it does not belong.

God is neither unloving nor weak.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Evil Will Be No More

There are certain place names that have been seared into our collective consciousness. Names we will never forget. Names that provoke instant, dark images in our minds.

Auschwitz, The Gulag, Chernobyl, Sandy Hook, Shanksville.

Add one more name: Tree of Life Synagogue.

You don’t have to be Jewish to be nauseated by what happened this past Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, PA. Innocent people killed simply because of their nationality and faith.

We forget how strong hate is.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, writing against the backdrop of the Civil War reminds us of the power of hate in his poem Christmas Bells, later made into the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. (I especially like this dramatized version of the song that you can listen to here.)

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

If we stop to only look at the evil in our world this will be the verse we sing – over and over again.

But there’s more than just the power of evil in this world. And that’s the story of Christmas. Jesus came to defeat the powers of evil and in a strange twist of events did just that – not at Bethlehem but at Calvary (Colossians 2:13-15).

Longfellow seemed to understand that. He concluded his poem with these words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

No God is not asleep. He knows what is going on in our world. He knows the evil. He knows the hurting. And someday, in His time, The Right will prevail.

We have that to look forward to. Not because Longfellow said it, but because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said it.

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days . . .

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks;

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

(Isaiah 2:2, 4)

Someday the Messiah will come and The Righteous One will sit on the Throne of David and there will be peace (Isaiah 9:7).

And that Righteous One will make sure that Evil will be no more.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Where Do You Get Your News?

If you watch the news for any length of time you’ll be tempted to ask is there any GOOD news? We’re inundated with one unsavory story after another that cause us to live in fear, disgust and/or hopelessness. It seems like evil has overrun our world.

As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised. God’s Word tells us that in the days just before the return of Christ, men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We’re there.

But back to the question is there any GOOD news? The answer is YES! Yes there is good news, especially for the Christian. It’s all about where you look. Most people get their news from sources like as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or various internet sites and if you keep looking there, you’ll probably continue to get bad news and it will be discouraging. However, if you get your news from God’s Word there is plenty of good news. Here’s just a sample of the good news that God has for you as a Christian:

God is still in control. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Psalm 33:11

You are on God’s heart. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. Psalm 34:15

We have peace. Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

We have hope. Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

You don’t have to pay for your sin. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

The problems of today are nothing compared to what is coming. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

A better day is coming. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

You are loved. By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. 1 John 3:14

Think about all of the good news that’s available to us if we just look in the right place. I’m sure that you can add to this list. Don’t be jaded by the news that you get from the television, newspaper or internet – the news from the world isn’t so good, but the news from God’s Word is great!

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Who Are You Thankful For?

It’s been a run of ugliness – much of it coming out of Hollywood. There have always been whispers about the dark side of the movie industry but now details are coming into the light and they are even uglier than we expected.

It hasn’t been limited to Hollywood. Now there are similar accusations coming from women on the U.S.A. Olympic team.

I anticipate that this is just the beginning of revelations. There is more to come. And possibly from areas of society that will surprise us.

Who can women trust? Who can any of us trust?

That made me stop and think about the people in my life. People who did not break my trust. People I’m thankful for. People who made my life richer than it would have been had we not crossed paths. And there have been many of them.

But a few stand out.

Heading the list is my wife who has had an enormous impact in my life. She deserves more credit than most people realize. Proverbs 31:10-12.

My parents who raised me in a godly family are on the list. As are my children.

Then there were seminary professors who saw me as more than a student and imparted not just academic knowledge to me, but their own lives.

Along the line there have been some special friends who have been there when I needed them. They fulfilled 1 Thessalonians 5:11 in my life.

Included in the list have been people who have stood outside that ring of intimate friendship, but who in some simple way made a lasting impact.

There have been a few people who, although our contacts were relatively limited, nevertheless spoke words of truth (sometimes hard to hear) that influenced my life.

There have been others.

I’m thankful for each of these people who made me better and those who are continuing to have an impact on me. Their lives have rubbed off on my life. They are the Proverbs 27:17 people for me.

In this day of ugly news about people we need to remember the people who have been positive, godly influences in our lives. We need them.

If all you do is fill your mind with the ugliness of man’s sin, you’ll soon despair. If you fill your mind with those good people who have touched your life you’ll find hope.

Who are you thankful for?

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

A Christian Response

Las Vegas, Nevada – 58/500+
Sutherland Springs, Texas – 26/20

That’s how many people were killed and wounded at two terrible shootings in our country between October 1 and November 5. In 36 days.

84/520+.

I’ll leave the political debate to others. My concern is from another perspective. Since the vast majority of my audience is made up of Evangelical Christians, the issue for us, most of who are far removed from either Nevada or Texas, is how do we respond?

How should Christians respond to horrific events in our culture?

After the shooting in Las Vegas I suggested five Christian responses in a blog published on October 2. You can read it here.

The five responses I gave following the Las Vegas shooting were:

-Hate is Wrong
-Sinful Anger is Not an Option
-Revenge is Out of the Question
-Prayer is Always Good
-Self Inspection is Appropriate
-Forgiveness is Always Right

Those are still good points. Let me add three more.

Recognize the Awfulness of Sin

This is a bottom line issue and the bottom line is that men are sinners (Romans 3:23) and sinners do terrible things. Sure not all sinners do such extremely bad things, but we are all capable of the most horrific actions. It’s time that we faced the reality of the awfulness of sin (James 1:15). There’s nothing good about it. It’s like a cancer that eats away at your life until there is nothing left. The sin that was committed in Sutherland Springs should cause us to take swift and fierce action against any sin in our own lives.

Recognize Your Own Deadly Potential

The problem is that we downplay sin. It’s not so bad. At least my sin isn’t so bad. So we keep it and it lives in the deep recesses of our lives. And all the while it’s worse than we can even imagine. The step from lust to adultery, from anger to hatred, from hatred to murder is much smaller than we think. The deadly potential for unspeakable sin lies deep in all of us – just ask King David (2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51). We are not as far from Devin Kelley as we would like to think.

Rejoice in the Grace of God

But then there’s grace. Praise God for grace! It is only the grace of God that keeps any of us from committing more horrific sins than we do. It was grace that took a sworn enemy of Christianity like Paul and turned him into the greatest missionary of the church. It was grace that took a slave trader like John Newton and changed his heart so that he wrote one of the most enduring hymns of Christendom. And it’s only the grace of God that will help us cope with the terrible sins in our culture. And in that grace we can and should rejoice.

As you grapple with the awfulness of sin and your own potential for sin and the wonderful grace of God, remember to pray for the people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve