Something Greater than 9/11

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc
photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

It happens every year when the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I find myself wishing that those violent and horrific terrorist attacks had never happened—not only for the lives lost but because of the negative changes that have come to our world as a result of that fateful day.

It’s not that the world was necessarily a nice place before September 11, 2001, but it has definitely been even less pleasant since. Overall, from my perspective, people are less friendly, more calloused, and more fearful. I know it makes me sound old, but there are definitely times when I wish that we could return to the days of yesteryear.

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photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc

Still, I have come to the conclusion that nothing good ever comes from fretting over the negative changes in our world. Nothing. Those who fail to adapt to change will soon find themselves mired in misery. A friend recently told me about a study that found the one common theme between people who lived to a ripe old age was their ability to adapt to change. I haven’t taken the time to verify the study, but it makes sense. Trying to hold on to what once was has a tendency to sap the vitality from even the most vibrant of people.

Isn’t it ironic that the one group of people—Christians—who should be most adept at adjusting to change is usually the first to resist anything of the sort. In part, this is because we’ve seen such a moral decline in our culture over the past 50 years. Still, something deeper is at work. We often resist change due to our shortsightedness; we don’t realize that, in most cases, change equals opportunity.

Consider, for example, the sense of anxiety and security that so many people feel in our day. Can there be a better opportunity to point them toward our Rock, the One who provides peace and security in even the worst circumstances? What about the fact that so many people are unchurched? At least these folks aren’t beset by the religiosity that has plagued the church for so long.

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photo credit: faungg’s photo via photopin cc

Greater still, overshadowing every negative change in our world is the reality that the kingdom of God is advancing on this earth, that the time of Christ is drawing near, that each passing day brings us closer to the full revelation of our eternal hope.

There’s something exciting happening that is easily missed by the casual observer. The kingdoms of man are crumbling while the kingdom of God draws near. The kingdom of God! It’s that one and only government that can produce a truly peace-filled society. This is not a time to shrink back in fear, or to fret over things that have been lost. This is a time to lift up our heads and open our eyes to the ripening harvest around us.

If I could rewind the clock and somehow stop the events of 9/11 from happening, I most certainly would. But I can’t. Thus, I am working to accepting the realities of this world while pursuing the greater reality of God’s kingdom. For the person who loves God and seeks good, change equals opportunity. Let’s not allow it to slip through our fingers!

Is Change Really Possible

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photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

Change, my friends is inevitable. Nothing is static in this transient world. Nothing! This is especially true in a world of rapidly evolving technology. Today’s new thing will probably be obsolete by the end of the week!

But when we ask if change is possible, we aren’t referring to change in the general sense—our real emphasis is on positive change. Faced with a steady barrage of negative news, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if things will ever turn in a healthy direction. Violence is prevalent. The economy sits on shaky ground. Our government finds itself immersed in gridlock. The church takes only faltering steps, most of which are in the wrong direction.

There is, however, an underlying question that seems to plague the common person. “Is change really possible in my life?” is the question that most of us ask. Sure, there are the narcissists who stand convinced that they have no need to change. In addition, we find the confident few who believe that, with a bit of hard work, they can become whatever they want. Still, I suspect that most of us have run up against powerful roadblocks in our efforts to become better people. We’ve tried moving forward, but always find ourselves being drawn back into our fears, our compulsions, and our dark thoughts. As a result, deeply-rooted doubts cloud any sense of hope that we once had for a better tomorrow.

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photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc

The essence of the Christian gospel is about change. God was not content with the status quo of sin and death so He sent His much-loved Son to do something about the problem. And do something He did! Forgiveness of sin and guilt is a change we can’t live without.

Still, much more remains. God provided His Word as a roadmap to change and sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts as an agent of change. I’m not saying that transformation is easy by any means, but it certainly is possible—for every one of us.

photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap
photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap

Through my thirty-plus years as a Christian, I’ve researched, studied, and watched. My desire has been to find a Christianity that really works—not simply another humanistic or ineffective twist to an old religion. In that time, I’ve come to understand that the power of human sin runs deeper than any of us realize. But I’ve also come to grasp that the power of God’s grace is far greater than even the bonds of sin. The key, more than any other thing, is learning to continually draw upon the fullness of that life-changing grace.

Yes, change is possible for any of us as individuals. And if change is possible for the individual, societal change is certainly within our reach.  This confidence in God’s grace as realized through the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates me to press on in my Christian service, knowing full well that ours is a future founded upon real hope.

Speaking of change, we are still in the process of transitioning over to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. If you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

Why Justice Is Elusive

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original photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc

George Zimmerman: found by a jury to be not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Was justice served? Personally, I don’t see how the jury could have convicted Zimmerman of murder; there simply wasn’t enough hard evidence. That’s probably why the authorities seemed to be so reluctant to file charges. At the same time, I think that Zimmerman should have been guilty of something. His reckless actions started the chain of events that led to Martin’s death.

Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, however, is not the primary point of this post. Nor is Martin’s tragic death—as important as that should be. What I find especially troubling about this case is that opinions on Zimmerman’s culpability appear to fall along fairly well defined lines. According to what I’ve seen, most African Americans and political liberals were outraged by the verdict. The majority of white conservatives seem to feel that justice has been served. Why is that?

photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc
photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc

As a society, we have allowed race and political leanings to taint our perspectives of reality. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it is a bad sign for our nation. Any culture that allows emotion, rather than truth, to color its sense of justice will be ripe with division. I understand that it is entirely natural that we would want to side with those who share our perspectives, ethnicity, or skin color, but we create a recipe for injustice when we allow these things to form our view of reality.

The real problem isn’t race or political ideology; we are plagued by a culture full of people pursuing their own personal and corporate agendas. Personal bias is the archenemy of justice. Those who use their personal desires in an attempt to create their own reality will always bear some sort of bias as they navigate the sticky issues of life on earth.

Jesus Christ stands as the supreme champion of justice in the annals of human history. Why? He never allowed His personal desires or affinities to influence His perspective of reality.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 (NASB)

This passage both encourages and challenges me! I am encouraged by the fact that, regardless of what happens in the courts of human affairs, impartial justice will be served sometime in eternity. All who have been mistreated, abused, or unjustly accused will one day see the perpetrators of such acts called into account. This doesn’t mean that we should passively accept injustice in our world, but that our hearts can be free of hatred and bitterness as we strive for what is right.

As always, I am challenged by the example of Christ. I want to see as He sees and have the courage to speak truth. It’s counter cultural, I know. Not many among us appreciate truth—even those who claim to value and seek an accurate perspective of reality. Still, a passionate love for truth, regardless of the cost, lays the foundation for genuine hope, not to mention a good night’s sleep.

Abstinence Almost Killed Me!

original photo credit: Jo Naylor via photopin cc
original photo credit: Jo Naylor via photopin cc

Just about every area of U.S. culture these days seems to be inundated with sexuality. Advertising? Saturated with sexual images. Movies? Full of steamy and explicit passion. Sports? Does the term, “wardrobe malfunction”, bring anything to mind?

I personally believe that greed is the primary factor contributing to our sexual saturation. Astute marketers in pursuit of big profits have successfully managed to manipulate our culture to the point that we cannot seem to escape this overemphasis on sex. Our entire society is paying the price.

It’s not that sex has ever been unimportant. Let’s not forget that God was the original designer of the human body. Long before the days of internet porn, the King of the Universe created us as sexual beings. Sex feels good because God made it that way. That, in itself, should tell us something.

The problem is not that God frowns upon sexual activity in principle, but that our cultural norms have transgressed the healthy boundaries designed by our Creator. A river running within its banks can provide immense pleasure and benefit, but let it overflow those boundaries and destruction of all sorts is certain.

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photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

The fact that Christians now live in the age of grace does not provide a license for us to live according to our world’s standards. The Bible teaches that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-9) and nowhere is this truer than in the world of eros. Can such statements be biblically supported without returning to the legalistic requirements of the Mosaic Law? Absolutely!

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” . . . So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18-25 (NASB)

Thus the marriage covenant was established by God for the benefit of humanity. Unless God clearly communicates a change in His standards, His silence cannot be interpreted as an approval of our cultural standards. Only God has the authority to change a covenant He instituted (Galatians 3:15), and any such changes are clearly established in the Scriptures (e.g. from the Old Covenant to the New). Jesus Himself upheld the standard of marriage (Matthew 19:3-12), as did the Apostle Paul (Titus 1:5-6).

I argue, therefore, that sexual immorality, by New Testament definition, involves sexual activity that occurs outside of the boundaries of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman. The entire Bible has a lot to say about this issue, much of which is unpleasant at best (see http://www.openbible.info/topics/sexual_immorality).

The fact that my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years has nothing to do with my opinion on this matter. Due to our scriptural convictions, I never touched Debi inappropriately during the two years in which we dated prior to our wedding day, although, as a typical red-blooded young male, I felt at times that the abstinence was going to kill me! We understood then, and continue to agree now, that it falls upon humanity to conform itself to God’s design, not vice versa.

photo credit: Joe Hastings via photopin cc
photo credit: Joe Hastings via photopin cc

Sex dominates our culture, I’ll give you that. But sex is also sacred, established by God to celebrate the unity of covenant love in marriage. Those who use an argument of grace in an attempt to nullify God’s design open the floodgates for unclean waters to pollute and destroy the very fabric of society. Or, to use another appropriate metaphor, play with fire and you will get burned. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But the smoldering fires of sin will eventually consume everything they touch. It’s not abstinence that gives sway to death but obedience to sexual passions that lie outside of God’s design.

Have you transgressed the boundaries of God’s design for sexuality? Most of us have at one point or another, and, thankfully, forgiveness is readily available for those who are willing to humble themselves and repent. May our Lord grant us the wisdom and grace to reign over our unhealthy desires–not to indulge them!

Do This in Remembrance of Me?

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original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc

It’s easy to get confused when trying to understand how the Mosaic Law relates to the New Covenant of grace. I am intrigued by Romans 4:14-15 (NASB):

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Our initial reaction upon reading this verse might be to think that it is impossible to sin now that we are free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law. We would do well to consider the context of this passage. Paul was writing to Jews about both Jews and Gentiles, and how they were to respectively gain their right standing before God. His point was that Jews could not be justified by their age-old reliance upon obedience to the Law. This does not mean, however, that the Christian faith is entirely void of all laws.

The kingdom of God is governed by one primary law—the royal law:

 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8 (NASB)

Jesus raised the bar even higher in John 13:34 (NASB):

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

City of Brotherly Love
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This is where our second Greek word for love, philia, comes into play. And in case you were wondering, this is where the name Philadelphia finds its roots as the city of brotherly love—although I’m not exactly sure how accurate that description is in our day. I’ll be perfectly honest here—the problem isn’t limited to the city of Philadelphia; I think that very, very few professing Christians pay any serious attention to Christ’s command for us to love our brothers and sisters of the faith with the same measure of love modeled by Jesus.

Why do I feel this way? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that heaping judgment and contempt on other Christians is more of a common practice than a rare exception. What we don’t seem to understand is that Jesus is personally affected by our treatment of His covenant children. (see Matthew 25:31-46). Whenever I look down my nose with contempt at one of my Christian brothers, I might as well have Jesus Himself in my sights. What a scary thought!

What happens when we transgress God’s royal law of love? We heap condemnation upon ourselves—especially when we profess our devotion to the New Covenant in Christ.

photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc
photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NASB)

Does it really matter how we treat the body of Christ–our New Covenant brothers and sisters? Absolutely! Do you truly want to honor God with your life? Let love govern your behavior–all of it.

The topic is worthy of far more time and effort than a single blog post and so I will address it with more detail in my next book. For now, however, these are essential thoughts to ponder. The King of the Universe cares more about our love—or lack thereof—for one another far more than most of us will allow ourselves to believe.

Love that Never Dies

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original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc

Critics of the modern Christianity often complain that our modern Bibles lose something in meaning due the difficulties of language translation. In part, they are correct—although I have found that digging deeper into the original languages is common practice for most of the scholars and pastors who approach Bible interpretation with a great deal of care and humility.

There is one particular Hebrew word, extensively used throughout the Old Testament, that is rich with meaning but does not translate well into English. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains (DBL Hebrew) defines the Hebrew word hesed (also spelled chesed) as:

loyal love, unfailing kindness, devotion, i.e., a love or affection that is steadfast based on a prior relationship [1]

One of the best known uses of this ancient word can be found in the sixth and final verse of the much loved twenty-third Psalm:

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photo credit: Waiting For The Word via photopin cc

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (NKJV)

The word translated as “mercy” here is actually hesed. Various versions of the Bible also translate hesed as “love” (NIV), faithful love” (HCSB), “unfailing love” (NLT), and “lovingkindness” (NASB). As you can see, limitations in the English language make it difficult for us to get a full understanding of the word’s intended meaning.

Adding yet another layer of significance to Psalms 23:6 is the Hebrew word for “follow” (yirdpuni), which, according to the DBL Hebrew can be translated to mean chase, pursue, and even hound.[2] Do you see it? God’s faithful, undying love will pursue His children all of the days of their lives! God loves everyone ever born, but His hesed is now only fully expressed to those who have entered into a New Covenant relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. What an amazing privilege it is for us to be the apple of God’s eye!

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photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc

Plumbing the depths of God’s undying love for His children, however, is not my primary purpose for addressing this concept. The nature of New Covenant Christianity merits a paradigm shift from following lists of rules (in order to gain God’s acceptance) to returning God’s faithful love with a faithful love of our own. Just as two married people are to be faithfully devoted to one another for all of their days, so, too, God’s children are to practically live out their love for their Lord and Savior.

There is nothing nebulous about genuine love. God’s grace both frees us and compels us to live in a manner which is very different from the cultural mindsets that constantly seek to define us. The Christian life is in no way defined by adherence to the Mosaic Law, but by a faithful covenant love that finds its expression in three specific areas as identified by three Greek words for love –agape, philia, and eros—that were used in the writing of the New Testament.

Over the next several posts, we’ll use this foundation to build a framework by which we can see how New Covenant love is to govern the manner in which we live out our Christian faith. I know I’ve gone a tad technical with this post, but this stuff is too good (and important) to ignore!


[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Grace Dilemma

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The New Covenant is amazing! We are free from the requirements of the Old Testament Law and now have a profound measure of freedom under God’s paradigm of grace. I have, however, made it clear over my last several posts that grace is not a license to live in any manner imaginable, and that our Savior fully expects us to die to our old sinful natures.

The connecting point between freedom and obedience creates a huge point of confusion for many of us. If we are no longer under law because of grace, and if grace empowers us to a new lifestyle, how do we know exactly what’s acceptable to God and what isn’t? On the surface, it all feels very nebulous, but if we dig a little deeper, we can find a basic New Covenant framework to help guide our actions. We begin by examining God’s primary expectations under the New Covenant:

 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15:9-10 (NASB)

Photo by Sam Hakes
Photo by Sam Hakes

In a previous post, I laid out the two predominant commands of New Testament Christianity: faith and love. For the purpose of our current context, we’ll focus primarily on the Bible’s central command—to love God with all that we have and to love those around us (Matthew 22:34-40).

Love, according to the Scriptures, is so much more than our culture’s definition of love. How often do we see Hollywood celebrities getting married because they are deeply in love, only to hear of them filing for divorce a couple of years later?

I can’t help but contrast their example with that of my late neighbors, John and Roseann Palilla. As they aged well beyond the age of retirement, John and Rosanne continued to set a powerful example of faithful love, both as parents and as spouses. Sadly, Rosanne developed Parkinson’s disease, and although her mind remained sharp, her physical issues created a huge burden for both her and John. For as long as he was physically able, John faithfully cared for his frail wife’s every need—even to the point of exhausting himself. Eventually, they had to enter a personal care home where they lived together until death came knocking.

Love, in its very essence, is both free and constrained. John Palilla, for example, freely chose to marry Rosanne, but the strength of that love constrained him to be a one woman man—and a faithful one at that.

Palilla love, as opposed to Hollywood love, would undoubtedly be closer to heaven’s standard. Faithful, sacrificial, selfless love, according to the Scriptures is to be the driving force that governs our decision making processes. Thus, the one law that defines New Testament living is the law of love (Romans 13:8-10), which James also calls the law of liberty (James 1:25) and the royal law (James 2:8).

Dilemma
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Understanding these things doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it does point us in the right direction. In my next post, we’ll take a brief look at what I like to call covenant love and then we’ll address three specific applications that will help us to understand that our dilemma isn’t as much about confusion over what’s right and wrong as it is about a struggle between loving others and selfishly pursuing what we want.