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

Advertisements

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

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

A Lesson from Reality TV (Who Knew!?)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the Duggars – the evangelical Christian family that stars in the reality TV show, 19 Kids and Counting. You’re probably also aware of the recent confession of one of the Duggar’s sons, Josh, that as a 14-15 year old he molested five underage girls (he’s now 27), including some of his own sisters.

I’m not a fan of reality television and I quickly admit that I have never watched a complete episode of any reality program (if memory serves me I’ve seen about 10 minutes of 19 Kids and Counting). I just think that we can do better than to live vicariously through the joys and heartaches of other people, especially a family that is anything but your typical family (that’s why they are on TV and your family isn’t).

According to the news reports that I have read, Josh Duggar confessed his actions when still a teen and asked the girls for forgiveness. However that is not all that should have happened. It appears that the entire situation including reporting to the authorities, professional counseling and appropriate punishment should have been handled far differently than it was. I’m sure these issues will be debated ad nauseam.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this sad story but if the Duggar’s situation does anything, it should make all of us stop and do a self-evaluation. None of us are without sin. Perhaps your sin does not rise to the level of Josh Duggar’s but that’s missing the point. Sin is sin and we all stand on the guilty side (Romans 3:23). Many who are criticizing the Duggars – and there seems to be plenty for which to criticize them – seem to be forgetting that they stand side-by-side with Josh Duggar.

When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Christ (John 8), He didn’t say Whoever has never committed adultery throw the first stone at her, He said Whoever is without sin. Adultery is certainly a grievous sin but Christ’s point was that only those who are sinless have the right to judge the sin of another. He was pointing out the reality that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness.

Yes, there are those who need to deal with the sin of others – parents, various agencies of the government and church leaders – but that’s not most of us. Most of us have no part in the Duggar scandal, except to learn from the misfortune of another. If reality television has any redeeming value it is simply this.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Splashed with Someone Else’s Sin

In my personal Bible reading I’m working my way through the book of Isaiah and I’ve come to chapters 7 & 8 where, hidden among the words of judgment, I found an important lesson.

The background for this section of Isaiah was the invasion of the southern kingdom, Judah, by the combined forces of Syria and the northern kingdom, Israel. The central issue was, would Judah trust God to protect them or would they search for a protector among the pagan nations of the world, in this case Assyria? The prophetic message of Isaiah was for the nation to trust in God and not in the strength of human armies. He was all that they would need. But as the story played itself out Judah was blinded by its own sin and chose a human protector over a divine protector.

What caught my attention was the tension that runs through the passage between the godly and the ungodly people in Judah. God was going to bring His judgment on the ungodly for their sin but at the same time the godly people in Judah would be caught up in that judgment. Through no fault of their own, they would suffer the same punishment as everyone else. The prophet clearly predicted (vs 17) that God would hide His face from Judah (withhold His blessing) because they chose to trust in the King of Assyria to deliver them instead of trusting in God. But the nation was composed of both godly people (the minority) and ungodly people (the majority) and when He withheld His blessing because of the actions of the ungodly, the godly in Judah would pay the same price.

That offends our sense of fairness. Certainly, if God was fair, He would reserve His judgment for those who did the sinning. But sometimes innocent people get caught in the sin of the world and suffer along with everyone else. That’s true when a nation sins and it can be true when individuals sin. Sin rarely, if ever, affects only the sinner. Innocent people get splashed with the mud of someone else’s sin all of the time.

The question for us is not Why should I pay when someone else sins? but How should I respond when I am not the guilty party? Isaiah tells us. In the same breath that he pronounced God’s judgment he said: I will wait on the Lord, who hides His face from the house of Jacob; and I will hope in Him (Vs 17). There’s the answer: wait and hope. In the case of Isaiah, wait for the time that God would deliver the nation and hope (trust) in His goodness. For you and me it’s wait for the time when God will make all things right (maybe now, maybe later) and trust that He does everything right even though we don’t understand it.

And that’s where we so often get hung up. We can wait for God when everything is going great, or when we can understand what’s going on. But wait for Him when the situation we are going through seems so unfair to us?

We can trust God when there’s really little that we actually need to trust Him for (after all we only need to trust when there’s trouble – which isn’t all of the time. I know we always need to trust Him but you get the point). But trust Him when we suffer because of what someone else did?

That’s exactly what God wants. He wants us to wait for His timing – after all His timing will always prove to be better than our timing. And He wants us to simply trust Him, even when it’s not our fault, because He knows what is best.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve