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!

The Church of Whatever We Want Jesus to Be

Paul's Letter
Valentin de Boulogne – Public Domain

If ever there was a person who was an authority of the Christian gospel, it was the Apostle Paul. Author of one-third of our New Testament, Paul penned letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia, both of which have become premiere sources for our understanding of the gospel.

Notice how Paul begins his letter to the Romans:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…. Romans 1:1 (NASB)

This verse provides a point of convergence for all Christians. Would any of us dispute Paul’s calling—or his authority for that matter? We all might also agree that the gospel (good news) is integral to the Christian faith. Even those who do not consider themselves to be evangelicals still revere the centrality of the gospel.

Christ's Resurrection
Noel Coypel – Public Domain

Professing Christians begin to diverge when it comes to the heart and purpose of the gospel. Jesus came to earth as God incarnate—that is God in the flesh, in human form. The Son of God walked amongst us as the Son of Man. After fulfilling a supernatural ministry on earth, Jesus suffered a torturous death on a wooden cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all men and women. But death could not hold the Son of God! On the third day following, Jesus rose in power from the grave, never to die again.

Sadly, there are some professing Christians who would disagree with this Biblically-based representation of the good news of Jesus Christ. They might say, “Humans aren’t all that bad and are able to please God by being good people and doing nice things—like helping little old ladies across the street.” They might say, “Sure, Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he never believed himself to be God. A few misguided souls simply misunderstood his teachings.” Further still, they might say, “Jesus never performed any actual miracles and we all know the resurrection to be scientifically impossible.” “Of course, these things are recorded in the Bible, but the book is more of a teaching tool intended to help modify human behavior than it is the inspired word of God,” they might say.

It is not my goal to be rude, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand how such a perspective can be called “Christian” when it attempts to strike a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith. If we remove the reality of Christ’s miracles and His subsequent resurrection, we lose the power to transform human lives. Christianity, then, becomes more of a humanistic self-improvement project than the radical, life-changing movement it was intended to be.

I understand that some people find certain tenets of the Christian faith to be repulsive. Seriously, how many of us relish the thought of needing a Savior to remind us that we are thoroughly inadequate in heaven’s eyes? The picture of a bloody sacrifice does little to make me feel warm and fuzzy. And, of course, dying to my own selfish desires has never been at the top of my bucket list!

I disagree with the theology of Unitarian Universalists but I do respect them for their honesty; they don’t claim to be Christian. On the other hand, I really struggle with those who profess Christianity but deny the substance thereof. It is one thing to disagree about the meaning of Scripture. It’s a totally different issue to deny its authority.

Church of WhateverWe live in a world in which the title “Christian” means just about everything; therefore, it means nothing. What makes this state especially sad are the precious human lives adversely affected by such confusion. Would we, perhaps, be better to make a distinction between those who embrace the supremacy and authority of Christ, and those who would like to reinterpret the Bible according to their own desires? We could call one group the church of Jesus Christ and the other the church of whatever we want Jesus to be.

I realize that the abrasive tone of this post breaks from my usual pattern but I believe there are times when we sacrifice honesty for the sake of nicety. If you would like to make your own religion, have at it! Enjoy yourself! Do it up right! Create whatever makes you feel good. But let’s not forget that Jesus Christ is the head of His church and that He will form and shape her according to His desires—not ours.

Have You Seen God?

photo credit: Micah Boy via photopin cc
photo credit: Micah Boy via photopin cc

I’ve seen sunshine, rain, and snow, but in all my years I have never seen the wind. While I was hiking through the woods recently, a huge gust of wind picked up bunches of dry leaves along the trail and threw them swirling into the air. I’ve felt the wind and I’ve seen its influence; its presence is very real but the wind itself remains invisible.

None of us have ever seen God. Some would say that He does not exist. As with the wind, however, we can feel the presence of the invisible God and see various indicators that He is near.

photo credit: SJU Undergraduate Admissions via photopin cc
photo credit: SJU Undergraduate Admissions via photopin cc

The greatest evidence of God’s existence is that transformation that takes place in the lives of those whom He touches. The selfish become generous; the arrogant, humble; the insecure, confident; the hopeless, full of anticipation. When the Creator of the Universe touches a person’s life, those around can’t help but notice.

We dare not forget, however, that the fruit seen in the life of a professing Christian presents a two-sided coin. While a transformed life will attract others to God, an existence mired in the sins of the flesh will have the opposite effect—genuine seekers will be driven to unhealthy, and even dangerous, spiritual paths.

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t see or hear of someone being alienated from God’s love because a professing Christian, by virtue of ungodly behavior, called God’s goodness into question. Sometimes sharing my faith involves doing damage control more than it does speaking of the God’s goodness.

photo credit: Ryk Neethling via photopin cc
photo credit: Ryk Neethling via photopin cc

Grace is transformational, empowering us to rise above the corruption of this world to new heights in Christ. And how do we know when we are on the right track? The Bible provides us with guideposts along the way. By looking at lists of good and bad behavior found within the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:16-24, etc.), we can get a general sense of what many of those around us already know—whether we are living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. I’m sure that we’d all like to think that we are living according the Holy Spirit’s ways but the human heart is deceptive; we need the objectivity that the Scriptures provide.

We each have our struggles against sin and anyone can go through a bad stretch, but over the course of time, a person’s lifestyle should begin to align with his or her profession of faith. A transformed life, brought about by His life-giving grace, provides irrefutable evidence of God’s good presence at work in this world!

The Greatest Holiday Ever!

photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc
photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc

There is something about Easter that sets it apart as one of the most significant holidays to celebrate. Thanksgiving and Christmas rank right up there, of course, but aside from peanut butter eggs and sugary peeps, Resurrection Sunday continues to be one of the most meaningful days on the calendar.

One thing that I especially appreciate about this three-day holiday experience is that it conveys a profound message of hope while still maintaining a firm grasp on reality. In a natural sense, there is very little good about Good Friday, and yet, its continued remembrance provides an ongoing reminder of humanity’s desperate need. Sin is dark and violent—a reality that we dare not ignore. Yet through the cross, not only is sin addressed but it is dealt a fatal blow with Christ’s resurrection from the grave.

The timing of Easter is also quite meaningful as it signals the arrival of new life bursting forth after the long, cold months of winter. The lengthening days and increased warmth of the sun provide a powerful sense of hope and anticipation. What an awesome time of year!

If there is one word that I could use to describe Easter, it would be new. That we speak of new life is evident, but a greater dimension remains that often receives only lip service. The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the initiation of the New Covenant. The original meaning of new in a Biblical Greek context doesn’t simply mean a more contemporary version of something one already owns. Rather, it speaks of something entirely new and different compared to what has previously existed.

photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc
photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc

If I decide, for example, to purchase a new car to replace the one that I already own, I am simply buying another vehicle of a similar type. But if I chose to purchase a car that also serves as a boat, a submarine, and an airplane, I would obtain a vehicle that is unlike anything known to all of my neighbors, friends, and relatives.

The New Covenant, while yet another in a series of sacred and binding relationships between man and God, is totally different from any type of relationship previously known to humanity. Through the New Covenant of grace, we are offered the extreme privilege of being able to relate to God on His terms—not through the law-based existence of our ancestors.

People who are repulsed by the all of the judgment seen in the Old Testament often focus on only a small piece of the puzzle. One of our most deadly errors is to miss the fact that the Apostle Paul compares the Mosiac Law to a harsh school-master who points the way toward the New Covenant of grace.

Before the coming of faith we were all imprisoned under the power of the Law, with our only hope of deliverance the faith that was to be shown to us. Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him. Once we had that faith we were completely free from the governess’s authority. Galatians 3:23-25 (Phillips)

photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc
photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc

This passage calls to mind the image of a strict Catholic school nun of an earlier era. (I know that they weren’t all hard-nosed, but there were enough mean ones to make the stereotype somewhat viable; each of my Catholic childhood friends had his own traumatic story to tell.) Step out of line in any way and you could be sure that Sister Mary Meanheart would immediately smack your fingers with her wooden ruler—her continued harshness awakening within each heart an intense desire for salvation, or, at the very least, a nicer nun.

God never intended the Mosaic Law and its judgments to be a permanent way of life. His goal was to show the futility of a legalistic worldview and leave us longing for a new type of existence. This realization makes it especially unfortunate that we so often define Christian maturity in light of how well people obey certain rules. At its very core, the Gospel is a message of freedom, not one of requirements and obligations.

Not only does Easter mark the arrival of spring, it indicates the initiation of a truly new way of life—one filled with hope and peace and everything good. For those who grasp the true meaning of the season, this is a holiday worth celebrating!

I Love the God of the Old Testament!

Judgmentalism
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I love the God of the Old Testament! Honestly, I do. I suppose that some people will imagine me to be a judgmental enforcer of rules—or perhaps a really cruel-hearted guy with violent tendencies. Those prone to stereotyping might picture me carrying a protest sign alongside the members of Westboro Baptist Church—you know, that mean-spirited group of people who hate just about anyone who differs from their narrow-minded view of religion.

If you think that any of these things are true of me because I love the God of the Old Testament, you would be wrong. One of the most disastrous misconceptions held by people today is that Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, is a cruel, violent despot and that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is a passive and somewhat timid teddy bear. Why would we have such an inaccurate understanding of God’s nature? We generally don’t know the true character of God, nor do we understand the manner in which He interacts with the human race.

What are we to make of statements made by Jesus about His relationship with His heavenly Father (Yahweh)?

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 (NASB)

More than once, the New Testament proclaims that Jesus and Yahweh are of the very same essence (nature). The much maligned God of the Old Testament is the very same God who, because of His great love for us, sent His beloved Son to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and our relationship with Him restored. This is the Old Testament God who is slow to anger and full of mercy (Psalm 86).

Jesus and Money Changers
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Many who proclaim only the warm and fuzzy aspects of Christ’s love fail to recognize that it was He who turned over the tables of the money changers and blasted the Pharisees for their unjust practices. Yes, we are referring to the King of kings and Lord of lords who will one day return to judge all who have walked this earth.

All too often, we fail to understand that love without justice isn’t love at all. We don’t realize that God pours out wrath, not because He wants to, but because He would be unjust not to. Would a loving God wink and look the other way when an adult male abducts, molests, and kills a little girl? We may struggle to understand why God allows such things to take place, but we can rest assured from the Scriptures that He will one day call such actions fully into account. The guilty will not go unpunished!

The cross of Jesus Christ is where God’s wrath and mercy meet. Through the cross, the vilest of sinners can be both forgiven and transformed. Through the cross, we discover a love so profound that it overloads the natural mind’s ability to comprehend. If we are to believe the writings of the New Testament—and we should—we can’t help but recognize that God the Father is every bit as loving as Jesus Christ.

All of this, of course, leaves us with one massive, nagging question: If Yahweh is so full of love and mercy, then why do we see harsh judgment throughout the Old Testament? The question is entirely reasonable and well worth further explanation, but the short answer is profoundly simple. Through the course of time, the nature of God has never changed. What has changed is the manner in which He relates to the human race.

The short answer to our question is not complicated; however, understanding the details behind that answer is somewhat more involved. In future posts, I’ll further address God’s interaction with humanity. To set the stage, however, I’d like to highlight an ancient proverb that continues to speak deep wisdom even in our day.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NASB)

Study Bible
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Quick judgments are easy and usually wrong. Humbly searching the Scriptures, while asking God to open our eyes, is an entirely different matter. Those who are willing to search beyond the realm of natural appearances may soon find themselves encountering a heavenly Father who is very different from what our world thinks!

Is God Cruel?

photo credit: Albion Europe ApS via photopin cc
photo credit: Albion Europe ApS via photopin cc

Anyone who has ever read through the Bible will have come upon some deeply disturbing passages. Some of them are historical in nature—simply recording the horrible atrocities committed by one group of people against another. But there are several other passages, such as 1 Samuel 15:3, that can leave a person wondering about the true nature of the God.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:1-3 (NASB)

This commandment to kill women, children, and even infants seems to fly in the face of what we know about God as recorded in the New Testament.

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8 (NASB)

Our natural tendency, then, is to draw one of two conclusions:

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1. Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was horribly cruel, while Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is as sweet and kind as the day is long.

2. The entire Bible is not really the inspired word of God so it’s entirely up to us to decide what we think is acceptable and what isn’t.

Personally, I see a third option that is rarely addressed: The problem lies not in the character of God or the integrity of the Bible, but in our misunderstanding of God’s relationship with the human race.

One of the great mistakes we all make is our tendency to draw judgments based on our natural abilities to understand God and the world around us. If it doesn’t make sense to me, then it doesn’t make sense. But if a supreme and eternal God does exist—something of which I am convinced—then it stands to reason that He would be far more intelligent than even the most astute scholar. This is, of course, what the Bible teaches.

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9 (NASB)

Wow! God’s ways aren’t just different than ours—they are on a totally different plane. The ways of heaven will never make sense to the natural human mind. But does that mean that we can never understand God’s way of thinking? No, not at all. The key lies in humbling our hearts, admitting our blindness, and asking Him to open the eyes of our hearts to understand His ways. This is something I have spent much of my adult life doing and the results have been rich beyond my imagination.

Human Judgments
Photo by Sam Hakes

I have discovered that there is something noble about choosing to humbly search out God’s ways as opposed to making rash judgments based on one’s own intelligence. Deliberately taking such an approach can open up to us an amazing, unseen world far greater than what our natural eyes can see. My life has certainly been transformed!

Passages like 1 Samuel 15:3 continue to disturb me but I have discovered that God actually wants me to be bothered by these things. I’ll expound on this concept more over the next several posts, while showing that even though God commanded the killing of the Amalekite women and children, He did so contrary to His desire.

Understanding the nature of God’s interaction with the human race is nothing short of fascinating. You’re going to want to stay tuned!

No Power, No Game – A Key Lesson from the Super Bowl!

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
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It was an odd moment in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suddenly went half black. The players and coaches stood befuddled, the broadcasters went ominously quiet, and the television cameras simply panned the half-darkened ceiling of the massive dome. Nobody really knew what was going on but one thing was certain—no power meant no game. At least for the next 34 minutes.

As I begin to wrap up this series on violence, I can’t help but make an observation that is somewhat critical of the conservative community standing in total opposition to any form of gun control. This is quite difficult for me to do because I have quite a few good friends I might possibly offend.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes that God has given His church powerful spiritual weapons for the purpose of advancing His kingdom.

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (Phillips)

I understand that the primary context of this passage is the Apostle Paul writing about truth as our primary weapon for breaking down enemy strongholds; however, in the greater context of the New Testament, we find that truth is not our only spiritual weapon.

Receiving from God
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In His final words before ascending into heaven, Jesus made something quite clear to His followers—He would empower them, through the person of the Holy Spirit, to do all that He called them to do.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. Acts 1:8 (AMP)

In addition to His awesome truth and the amazing power of prayer, God has invested within the heart of every true believer a power that far exceeds anything that the human race could ever envision. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a power that lies dormant as we pursue a multitude of other methods to satisfy our lives and to do ministry.

A fundamental strategy of any type of warfare is to attempt to disarm the power of the enemy. And I must say that, for the most part, Satan has done an effective job of getting the Christian church to lay down its weaponry. We often give minimal attention to the truth of God’s word, a lesser amount to individual and corporate prayer, and even less to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The church has been effectively disarmed to the point of having minimal influence in a society being overrun by dark forces.

Gun Rights Rally
photo credit: Elvert Barnes via photopin cc

Our reasons for allowing this to happen may be many but I think they are as weak as our spiritual vitality. In the end, we are either ignorant of God’s power available to us or we aren’t willing to pay the price to lay hold of all that He has for us. Perhaps it is a mix of both, but either way, I can’t help but wonder how the spiritual landscape in America would look if we as conservative Christians were as outraged at the loss of our spiritual weaponry as we are about the possibility of losing our gun rights.

Still, there is good news in all of this! If we will only take the time to dig deeper into His word to discover the power and authority available to us, if we will fast from food and some of our media, if we will spend extended time in prayer seeking His face, God will gladly restore the church what has been lost and neglected. Although God’s power is readily available to every believer, generally, it does not come as easily and quickly for us as it should. Deliberate and extended effort may be necessary.

No Power, No Game! We can whine and complain all we want, but unless we take up the call to spiritual arms, the spiritual landscape of our nation won’t be changing any time soon.