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.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc
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!

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A Love Song for Eternity

Original photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc
Original photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc

I’ve never written a love song—I am not gifted in music—but I’ve certainly listened to a few in my day. Love songs, it seems, run the gamut from what might be more appropriately called lust songs to those that idealize faithful and long lasting devotion. Titles are even more diverse, including famous hits like “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “Baby Love,” “Lean on Me,” and “I’ll Be There.”

If I had the ability to write a love song about God, I think it would be titled, “Perfect Love”. No human example can even begin to compare to the mind bending agape love of our Creator. Let’s face it, selfless love is highly regarded and yet we all have a whole lot of selfishness that somehow manages to contaminate just about everything we do.

[Agape] Love of God means total commitment and total trust (Mt. 5:29–30; 6:24ff.). In particular, it involves a renunciation of mammon and of vainglory (Mt. 6:24b, 30ff.). It also calls for resistance to persecution, which is a fiery test of the loyalty of love (Mt. 10:17ff.; 5:10ff.).[1]

Hour of the Soul
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The context of the New Covenant is clear: our agape love for God is far more than a momentary feeling of excitement that comes when we realize how much He has blessed us. The depth of God’s love for us was never meant to be a one way street. He has never failed to give everything for our sakes, nor will He hesitate to expect the same measure of devotion from us.

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’” Luke 10:25-28 (NASB)

I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty seeing Christ’s command to love God as anything but all encompassing.

“with all your heart . . . with all your soul . . . with all your strength . . . with all your mind”

Are you willing to:

–        Go wherever He calls?

–        Do whatever He asks?

–        Surrender anything He requests?

–        Give all He desires?

photo credit: Chris Van Den Berg via CreationSwap
photo credit: Chris Van Den Berg via CreationSwap

Being a Christian is not about following a list of rules, but living by one law (love God with all that we are) that governs our every action. Until we get this one thing settled, it’s virtually impossible to address specific types of behavior. People who draw their meaning of love from pop culture will be in the habit of practicing selfish love, if such a creature exists. They will find a way to justify almost any action under the banner of grace.

I realize that this all sounds rather heavy, but it’s not nearly so much about the “have to” as it is the “get to”. Love, in its purest form flows out of a desire to give fully of oneself to another. What an awesome, undeserved privilege it is for us to even have the chance for such a mutual relationship with the King of kings and the Lord of lords! Despite my selfish tendencies, this is not an opportunity that I want to squander. How about you?


[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (8). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Repulsed by Old Testament Judgment? Good!

photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc
photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Have you ever taken the time to think about God’s character? John 3:16 is a popular passage that speaks of how much God loves us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

On the other hand, those who read through certain sections of the Old Testament will envision a wrathful God pouring out harsh judgment for seemingly obscure reasons. These conflicting perspectives make it very difficult for some people to put any type of real confidence in our Creator. But it doesn’t need to be that way! The contrast makes perfect sense if we understand the nature of God’s relationship with the human race.

There were times of judgment before Moses arrived on the scene, but they were few and far between. I already highlighted the flood of Noah, which probably affected a relatively small number of people. (The Earth wasn’t nearly as populated in those days.) God also poured out judgments against Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, against Egypt for their cruel treatment of ancient Israel, and against the Amalekites for attacking His favored people. However, one particular event during the lifetime of Moses drastically changed the picture. What was it? The arrival of the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments.

photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc
photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc

Before the the Law, it seemed to take a long time for God’s anger to build before He would render judgment. But after the Law, judgment was both frequent and furious. However, it wasn’t God’s character that changed over the course of time but rather the manner in which He related to humanity. Law breeds judgment.

What we fail to understand is that living by law was man’s choice, not God’s. There was only one rule in the garden of Eden, meaning almost unlimited freedom. But in choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to live by standards of right and wrong rather than by a love-motivated relationship with their Creator. Laws of various sorts now govern the motivation and behavior of the human heart.

The Mosaic Law was not the first of its kind. In fact, there are three or four other legal codes on record that predate Moses. Again, living by law-based standards is innate to the human heart. Thus, in giving the Mosaic Law, God was giving the opportunity for humans to relate to Him on our terms. This point should not be taken lightly! When we find ourselves repulsed reading about the judgmental acts of the Old Testament, we should realize that God was also repulsed. He judged, not because He enjoyed wreaking death and destruction, but to allow us to taste the full fruit of a law-based existence.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc
photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

It is interesting to note that in speaking of the Old Covenant Law, Jesus never called it, “My Law” or “My Father’s Law”. Instead, He called it, “the Law”, “the Law of Moses”, or “your Law”. In the end, the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to point us to Jesus Christ who came to us full of grace and truth.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (NASB)

Christ related to us on His terms; in Jesus we find an accurate representation of the Father’s heart. While this may seem to be just another point of doctrine, grasping the full ramifications of its reality is nothing short of transformational. Are you repulsed by all of the judgment found in the Old Testament? Good. Your heart may be ready for some much-needed grace!

Why Gun Control Misses the Point

photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc
photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc

“The findings were disturbing….” So goes the beginning of a paragraph in an article about the Pulitzer Prize winning report (Assault on Learning) by the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding violence in the Philadelphia school system. After reading further, I could not help but agree—it is all very disturbing!

More than 30,000 serious incidents were reported in the district over a five-year period. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or made victims of other violent crime. As large as those numbers seem, they didn’t represent the full gravity of the problem. Many violent incidents went unreported. Some attacks were carried out by children in the earliest grades.[1]

How many students are there in the district? According Susan Snyder—one of the lead journalists in the story—we are talking about only 146,000 students.[2] The significance of the problem becomes even greater when we recognize that schools are gun-free zones. In other words, very little of this violence had anything to do with firearms.

In one particularly sad case, more than 30 Asian students were brutally beaten by their fellow classmates—most of whom were African American. This type of situation was identity related and it stems from the third primary root of our fallen natures that contributes to violence—our quest for glory. Of the three roots mentioned—self-centered lust, the desire for control, and the quest for glory—the quest for glory is probably the most difficult for us to comprehend.

Adam & Eve had been created in the very image of God, and, being clothed in His glory, they were naked and unashamed. However, by choosing to seek a sense of goodness independent from their Creator, our ancient ancestors quickly found themselves naked and very much ashamed. Painfully separated from the King of Glory, the unhappy result was a glory deficiency which is now inherent to the entire human race.

Glory is fleeting . . .
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From a very young age, it becomes every person’s goal to find a sense of significance through his or her performance, appearance, possessions, etc. It is in the fickle court of human approval that we seek to find significance. As we enter the world of comparisons and judgments, our value as human beings depends upon our ability to measure up to the ever-changing standards of our individual subcultures. In the high school scene, for example, those who meet current standards of beauty and athletic performance become wildly popular, while those who fall far short of the standards find themselves condemned as objects of scorn.

The pursuit of glory is so ingrained in the human psyche that for the most part we find it to be entirely natural. But the division it creates and the destruction it wreaks! A group of black students viciously beat 30 Asian students in Philadelphia schools simply because the Asians did not meet the standards of a black identity. Ironically, it was the same mindset used by whites to justify the horrors of slavery for so many years. We can see that at its roots this type of violence has nothing to do with black or white or any other skin color—it’s rooted in an all-encompassing effort to achieve a glory-based identity.

The tree of identity-based violence springs from the seed of contempt. Any time we despise someone who fails to meet our particular standards we commit an act of spiritual violence toward that individual. Physical violence ultimately erupts as we nourish seeds of contempt with the right (or wrong, depending on one’s perspective) environmental conditions.

At its core, the Gospel is an identity message.[3] We find our true significance through our relationship with God, not by our performance, but in our lofty status as sons and daughters of the eternal King of Glory. To abide in Christ is to be clothed once again in God’s greatness, secure in identity and free to be humble.

photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc
photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc

 Will fewer people be killed if our government implements gun control measures? Possibly. Violence and its resulting pain, however, will continue to plague American society until we strike the problem at its evil roots. Once again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most powerful solution to what ails us!


[1] Susan Snyder, The Press, the Passion, and the Prize, as found in the IUP Magazine, VOL. XXX, NO.3, p. 17

[3] Check out our Search for Me Identity Study for a much more in-depth explanation.

The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
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World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
Photo by SfMe Ministries Inc.

1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
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1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
photo credit: HackBitz via photopin cc

I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!

Jesus: Lord of Rest!

Carrot on a Stick
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We all want it in one way or another, but some of us definitely more than others. I speak of our human need to be in control—that elusive capacity to get what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. Like a vain pursuit of the proverbial carrot on a stick, a quest for control will leave us both frustrated and exhausted.

But why does the need for control matter so much to us? Why do we invest so much time and energy pursuing it? Why do we exhaust ourselves trying to attain something that we might be able to only faintly grasp? Simply put, it is the way we are wired; and it has been that way from almost the beginning of time.

The Fall
Photo courtesy of Pitts Theological Library

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were seeking to be like God apart from God. Who is God? He is the Sovereign King of the Universe. This means that our Creator is accountable to no one and that He has the authority and ability to get whatever He wants whenever He wants. God, however, has chosen to limit Himself in this regard as He relates to the human race. Because He wills it, we each have a certain degree of freedom to make our own choices. The King of the Universe then mysteriously directs those choices toward His sovereign purposes.

The human desire to be God operates quite differently. Although we seek the ultimate sovereignty possessed only by God, we lack the power and authority to fully engineer people and circumstances in directions that we deem to be favorable. Our natural tendency, therefore, is for us to try to control all that surrounds and affects us. And while the need to be in control is entirely natural, that does not necessarily mean that it is good for us. There is nothing artificial, for example, about poison ivy, but you won’t find a poison ivy beauty cream anywhere on the market.

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy Photo by Puzzler4879 — CC BY 2.0

There is something about the human will by which we think that having our way will make our world bright and rosy, yet the opposite becomes our reality. For someone who is not God to try to play the role of God is nothing short of exhausting because there is so much in our world that we can never control. Rather than experiencing peace, joy, and an overall sense of fulfillment, we find ourselves frustrated, angry, resentful, anxious, and depressed—all while immersed in a deep sense of weariness. The older we get, the more entrenched this feeling of exhaustion becomes.

Once again, the Gospel provides the answer to all that ails us. God calls us to seek first His kingdom and to completely surrender our wills, not because He is on a power trip, but because it is what’s best for us. How we begin to experience fresh life when we finally learn to surrender our need to be in control! But letting go is much easier for some than for others. Those of us who have been through especially painful or traumatic experiences will find the desire for control to be a downright compulsion. This means that we must deliberately cultivate a strong faith in God so that our hearts will be free to let go.

The Nativity
Photoby Keith Williamson — CC BY 2.0

In this Christmas season when we so often focus on Jesus as Savior alone, we will gain so much more by recognizing that the good news of the Gospel is to also see Him as Lord. Allowing Jesus to take His rightful place as Savior and Lord over our lives is to experience a measure of freedom and rest that an envious world can only long for.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 (NASB)

Cataract Hearts in a Lawless Political Landscape

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Trafficking in persons (TIP) is an international crime that involves the acquisition of a human being through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of exploiting the individual for profit through forced labor or prostitution. A modern form of slavery, trafficking constitutes a violation of human rights in which individual victims are deprived of their humanity and basic freedom. TIP can involve either sex or labor exploitation, or both.

Human traffickers earn an estimated $32 billion annually in profits, just under the amount earned through arms and narcotics trafficking. People are enslaved in circumstances of sex and/or labor exploitation, in the majority of countries around the world, including the United States . . . according to the most recent International Labor Organization figures, the number of people enslaved in sex or labor exploitation is approximately 20.9 million.[1]

If ever there were a form of injustice that angered our Creator, this would be it. Exploiting the weak and powerless is bad enough. Doing so for financial gain is worse. Forcing them into the sex trade propels the offense through the ceiling. That we have more human slaves now than any other time in history is simply unacceptable. Thankfully, Christians on various fronts are taking up the call to combat this widespread and horribly oppressive injustice.

Recently I heard a radio interview with singer Natalie Grant as she talked about her involvement in combating TIP, the content of which compelled me to refocus my attention. Grant has done such excellent work in this area that President Obama invited her to a reception focusing on the eradication of this atrocious evil.

photo credit: DVIDSHUB via photopin cc

What caught my attention, however, was not her discussion about President Obama’s invitation, but rather about the onslaught of criticism she received from the conservative Christian community because she met with a President whom many believe to be a contemporary expression of the anti-Christ. How far we have fallen from the heart of God that our anger toward our Commander In Chief would supersede our love for those caught in the vice of human trafficking!

Herein lies the second of the four political traps highlighted in this blog series—a hardening of the heart. Hardness of heart is an issue that receives little attention in the Christian community in spite of its huge importance. Our Lord Himself spoke of the danger of a hardened heart in the last days.

Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. Matthew 24:12-13 (HCSB)

Our political landscape is now lawless in so many ways. Whether through the avenues of talk shows, campaign speeches, or political ads, politics on every level can be characterized as vitriolic—bitterly abusive and caustic. It is to our shame that we have been sucked into the political trap of disregarding the heart of New Testament teaching in the name of Christian values. (Where are the days when Bible believing Christians obeyed the Scriptures by respecting a Head of State for his office, regardless of his character or platform? (1 Peter 2:13-17))

Our immersion in the vitriol of today’s politics reveals that we fail to grasp the extreme danger of a hardened heart.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV)

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The effects of the hardening of the heart can be likened to the formation of cataracts over the lens of the eye. The process is so subtle and so deceptive that a person rarely realizes it is happening until one day the entire world is dark and blurry. In a similar vein, the gradual, layer after layer hardening of a person’s heart–for whatever reason–leads to spiritual blindness resulting in an ignorance of God’s ways. Immersed in the hostile clash of human politics, we begin to lose sight of His preeminent kingdom on the horizon. Rather than walking in love and living by faith, we become increasingly frustrated and angered by the lawless world of politics.

I do not suggest that we as Christians passively withdraw from the political arena. The right and privilege to influence the direction of our nation is not something to ignore. We must, however, be vigilant to both guard our own hearts, and to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ not to allow their love to grow cold in these last days. Contending for righteousness in the name of Christ is not sufficient—our lives must also be characterized by the ever-loving heart of Christ.