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

Don’t be Like the Saudis

The Saudis are in a world of trouble over the Khashoggi affair. Call me Captain Obvious. I don’t bring this up to step into the world of politics, but to use it as an illustration.

Think about how the Saudi government has handled, or should I say mishandled this entire affair. There’s a good summary in the New York Times that you can read here. They have:

  1. Claimed that Khashoggi had left the consulate the same day.
  2. Denied that he was detained or killed in the consulate.
  3. Denied any involvement in his disappearance.
  4. Denied any knowledge of the affair until days later.
  5. Denied that their leaders ordered the operation to take place.

Is anyone really buying this?

So far they have done everything except admit the truth (that seems to be the opinion of many people). Slowly their explanations are unraveling.

In a kingdom as tightly controlled as Saudi Arabia their denials ring hollow. This is a sin that will reach to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Sooner or later the truth will come out.

But this blog is not about the Saudis. It’s about us. And OUR sins.

As Christians, when we sin we are tempted to act like the Saudis. We issue denials (even when no one else knows about our sin). We make excuses. We attempt to justify our actions. We offer alternative scenarios. We do everything except admit the truth.

While it’s easy to criticize the Saudis for their sin, we give ourselves a pass for our sin.

For us it’s not a matter of when the truth will come out. The Truth is already out – at least to the one who counts the most.

And that’s the insane part of this – God already knows so why do we try to hide our sin, or worse yet, act like it never happened?

It’s because we are more like the Saudis than we would like to admit.

We try to save face. We try to put the best spin on it. We try to come out of it smelling like a rose. Meanwhile the whole world (or at least the people who know about our sin) knows the truth. When we try to convince ourselves that our sin really doesn’t matter – it’s not that bad, we are kidding no one but ourselves. Just like the Saudis.

King David had the right perspective when he wrote, I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me (Psalm 51:3).

When it comes to sin, be like David. Don’t be like the Saudis.

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

Responding to the Face of Evil

Blacksburg, Virginia (2007) – 32 & 17
Fort Hood, Texas (2009) – 13 & 32
Aurora, Colorado – (2012) – 12 & 58
New Town, Connecticut (2012) – 27 & 1
San Bernardino, California (2015) – 14 & 21

These are not all of the mass killings in the past ten years but they are enough.

And now we can add Orlando, Florida to the list – 50 & 53. Fifty killed, 53 injured.

There are so many unanswered questions. Why? Why now? Why here? How do we move on? How can we stop the killings?

One question that we need to ask from a Christian perspective is How should we respond to the face of evil?

Is it enough to build a higher fence? To limit immigration? To pass stricter laws?

Probably not.

But those questions miss the most essential point. God has already told us how we are to respond.

Before I get to that, there is another important thing that God has told us that plays into all of this.

He told us to expect it. Perhaps not mass shootings exactly, but evil. We should expect evil to happen in all of its ugliness and in many twisted forms.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come (2 Timothy 3:1). The Apostle describes the perilous times as men without self-control, those who are brutal and despise the good and those who have a form of religion but don’t know Christ.

So how should we respond to this kind of evil? Again the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. . . do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . . do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

I bet you didn’t see that coming! You may not even like it. But it’s there, right in the Bible.

Some take-a-ways from this passage:

1) We are to do everything we can to live in peace with all men. Even those who attack us.

2) Responses to evil are to be left up to God. Any attempt on our part to get even comes out of a place of wrath and anger – which comes from the pit of hell.

3) We are to treat the enemy in ways that are counterintuitive and run totally against our natural inclinations.

4) The winning formula is to overcome evil with good.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that we should stop making good laws. Or that we don’t need police security. Or that we should never protect ourselves and our families.

But what God wants is for us to 1) Do all of this in the right way, 2) Not be motivated by revenge, 3) Strive to live in peace even with the peace-breakers, 4) Treat those who attack you with love, and 5) Leave the rest up to Him.

There is a way for Christians to respond to evil – and most of us have missed it.

Maybe that’s part of the reason that people of other faiths have such misconstrued and misinformed ideas about Christians.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Power Behind Our Sin

Sin has been in the news recently. Surprisingly it’s been one of the major topics of conversation. I’m not talking about murders, infidelity, robberies and political scandals. That kind of sin has been with us so long that we’ve become impervious to it. I’m talking about sin from a religious perspective.

For example there have been articles (again) about why Joel Osteen won’t address the topic of sin in his sermons. You can read about it here. Then there is the 261 page document released recently by the Pope titled Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) that has a lot to say about sin especially in the context of marriage. If you don’t want to read the entire document you can read articles here and here. For such an unpopular subject people are suddenly talking about sin.

Admittedly, sin isn’t a popular subject. In fact it’s become so unpopular that it’s mentioned less and less in churches where you would expect to hear something about it. We would much rather talk about grace – and that’s not all bad. The problem is that you can’t have grace without sin and there’s no salvation without something to be saved from.

Even when we do talk about sin we often try to absolve ourselves and blame it on someone or something else.

We even try to blame Satan for our sin – as if he held a gun to our head and made us do something we didn’t want to do.

But the Apostle James had a different take on it. He said each one [of us] is tempted [and gives in to the temptation] when he is drawn away by his own desire and enticed (James 1:14).

The key words here are by his own desire. Here’s what James is saying in a nutshell: Sin is the result of our own Selfishness.

The power behind sin is the fact that we are selfish people.

It may be most evident in sins that we classify as the BIG ones: abortion, adultery, etc. etc. But it’s also evident in the sins that we wink at: lying, gossip, anger etc. etc.

We sin because there is an advantage that accrues to us in our sinning. It feels good. It benefits me. It simplifies my life. It removes a potential problem. Most sin (perhaps all sin) is the result of selfishness. Our focus becomes us.

But the Christian life is the exact opposite of selfishness. It is not about me, it’s about others. Even Christ did not come to be served (it’s about me) but to serve (it’s about others (Mark 10:45).

We’re taught to be others focused.

Philippians 2:4: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

1 Corinthians 10:24: Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

To put it into perspective, selfishness is one of the predominant sins that the Apostle Paul lists (in fact it’s first on his list) as characteristic of a sinful world in the last days: men will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2). A clear condemnation.

When we realize how serious selfishness is and the grip it has on our lives – when we begin to recognize that it is the power behind our sin we have taken the first step in leaving the me culture and gaining some degree of control over sin in our lives.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve