Is Change Really Possible

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc
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.

photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc
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.

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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 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!

It Is Exhausting Not to Believe in Jesus!

I lied the other day. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not in the habit of lying, and on a scale of 1 to 10 in importance, this particular fib probably came in at around a 1.5. But it was a lie nonetheless. I had found myself in an awkward situation and before I knew it, my mouth was uttering words that were untrue. Immediately my conscience assaulted me, but its influence was not enough for me to correct myself on the spot. Within 60 seconds the situation was over, yet a nagging sense of guilt remained.

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There are only so many ways that we can deal with our sin. The most common, perhaps, is to attempt to justify ourselves; to minimize any wrong doing on our part by downplaying the gravity of the situation or by placing the blame on others. Humans are masters of self-deception, and if we do something enough times with a convoluted mindset, wrong behavior will eventually be lauded as being right.

Another frequently utilized approach is to simply stuff the guilt into the recesses of our hearts. We know the deed was wrong, and we feel really bad about our actions, but what are we to do? In order to get on with life we cram our guilty feelings in with all of the guilty feelings from days gone by. Like overstuffed grocery bags, many of our guilt sacks are bursting at the seams, creating an underlying and inescapable sense of unworthiness.

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The first approach means that we can do nothing wrong; the second screams that we do practically everything wrong. The first is tiresome because we are compelled to constantly protect our delusional egos. Each difficult situation requires that we somehow deflect any personal sense of responsibility for inappropriate actions, all while managing to create straw enemies to be identified as the source of all that is bad. But because this coping method is highly delusional, over time our self-deception becomes our reality, and so self-justification can eventually become entirely natural. Those who try to cram or stuff their guilt, on the other hand, live in a very real world of self-condemnation, creating a thoroughly exhausting sense of self-loathing–the result of which is often manifests in overeating and various other addictions.

There is a better way, of course. Even from the very beginning of time, God thoroughly understood how exhausting life would be in this sin-soaked world. And even from the very beginning of time, our heavenly Father designed multiple cycles and systems of rest for the benefit of all humankind. From a good night’s sleep, to a Sabbath day, to a time of honest prayer at the foot of the cross, rest is a vital part of God’s plan for His people. Even under the strict and exhausting Mosaic Law, God commanded periodic days—and even weeks–of rest. How much more would the New (and better) Covenant in Christ provide rest for our bodies and our souls?

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It is through the New Covenant in Christ—and only through the New Covenant in Christ—that we can find thorough and complete rest from our guilt. You see, the other day when I lied, I chose not to minimize my guilt, or deflect the blame, or wrestle with condemnation, or bury my wrongdoing. No, within minutes I went directly to God in prayer, confessing my pride and deceit with total honesty before my Lord. Knowing that I have the privilege of coming to God’s throne through faith in Jesus Christ, and knowing that the heavenly Father hears His children’s prayers, and knowing that He is always willing and ready to forgive through the blood of Jesus, I was able to make short work of my guilt and move on with my day.

Life has so many challenges that we are foolish to drag around a ball and chain of guilt—a weight that our heavenly Father long ago made provision to remove. While it is exhausting not to believe in Jesus, the opposite holds true. In the shadow of the cross, through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Christ, we can find real rest for our souls. For this I am ever thankful!

How to Catch a Crustacean

Original Photo by Kevin Connors – morgueFile

Are you a fan of lobster? It is without question a delicacy in many parts of the world, but such hasn’t always been the case. Early settlers to New England found lobsters to be so plentiful that at times they could wade into the ocean and capture them by hand. An overabundance of lobsters actually served as a common staple for prisoners. Can you imagine a law in which New World colonies restricted the number of times per week a penal institution could feed lobster to its inmates? Prisoners could be heard making statements such as, “It’s horrible in here! All we get to eat are these stinkin’ lobsters!” Of course, things are much different today; with an amazing increase in transportation and a bit of skillful marketing, lobster has essentially become the steak of seafood.

Interestingly, lobsters are negligibly senescent, meaning that they don’t show the normal symptoms of aging seen in the majority of life forms. No dimming eyesight, loose antennae or creaky claws for these guys. If not for the pleasure to our palates and the benefit to our stomachs, a lobster might live for 100 years or more. The primary downfall for the lobster, it seems, is the lobster trap.

Photo by Hartmut Inerle – CC BY-SA 3.0

A working lobster trap consists of three main parts: a combination wooden and wire frame, a rope and buoy to mark the location and bait (i.e. something that appeals to a lobster’s tastes). Mr. or Mrs. Lobster smells dead fish (or some other convenient bait) and is drawn to investigate. Access to the trap is easy as the oblivious victim races toward an easy dinner. Once the pleasant meal is consumed, however, life becomes rather unpleasant as the design of the trap turns freedom into a distant memory.

When Lucifer launched his zombie conspiracy we can image he spent considerable time designing a trap that would be effective in capturing and binding the human race. Humans are smart you know, so he had to get it right the first time. Any stupid mistakes and the opportunity to open Pandora’s Box could be lost forever.

More cunning than The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, old slewfoot determined that the most effective bait would be the very same temptation that led to his precipitous fall from glory—the desire to be as God; or more appropriately put—the desire to be like God apart from God. And the plan worked, perhaps beyond even his twisted imaginations. In eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity found itself not only separated from God, but also under the devil’s crooked thumb, entrapped by a power called Sin from which no human could ever escape (or so Lucifer thought).

Thus began what we call the human condition. Upon the once peace-filled and pleasurable Garden of Eden, pain, suffering, violence and death descended like darkness—the full scope of which is yet to be seen.

Photo by Miles Teg – CC BY-SA 3.0

Christ came to deliver us from the zombie conspiracy, not only freeing us from the trap of sin, but systematically working to eliminate the three tentacles of the temptation (self-centeredness, self-sovereignty and self-glorification) that captured us in the first place. For us to experientially know true and lasting freedom, it is imperative that each of those ensnaring tentacles be thoroughly severed from our hearts.

Humans were intended to be non-senescent–unaffected by time or age. But unfortunately for us, separation from God unleashed torrents of death. If only we can get back to abiding in God’s grace, no power in hell will be able to squelch the power of the life He imparts!

God’s Indwelling Presence

Photo by mensatic – morgueFile

I remember a time in my childhood days when I tried to picture what God looked like. The best image I could muster was that of a very old man in with a long, flowing robe and a full white beard regally sitting on a golden throne. My image was by no means original; I probably borrowed it from a movie.

Many years later I attended a debate at a local university between a Christian and a prominent atheist. And while I have difficulty recalling the names of debaters, I remember well the confident argument of the atheist: “God does not exist because God cannot be measured.” I wouldn’t mind seeing his attempt to build a machine to measure God. Comprehending an infinite God presents an obvious challenge for finite humans!

John 4:24 tells us, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (NASB).

Spirit is of a totally different nature than the matter of this natural world. God is omnipresent (everywhere) and yet we can be completely oblivious to His existence.

I find the Apostle Paul’s famous Mars Hill sermon quite fascinating:

Photo by Clarita – morgueFile

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us . . . . Acts 17:24-27 (NASB)

The presence of God is so near to the unredeemed soul, and yet so far. While God is physically everywhere, to the sinful human He may as well be hanging out on the far end of the universe. Pondering these thoughts might lead us to believe that it’s entirely impossible for any human to know the presence of God, and such would be the case except that our Creator has an unwavering desire to draw near to us.

So how do we go from being oblivious to God to knowing His nearness in a very real way? We begin by recognizing that the Bible speaks of three dimensions of God’s presence:

  1. The omnipresence of God
  2. The indwelling presence of God
  3. The manifest presence of God

In this understanding lies perhaps the greatest good news element of the Gospel—that self-absorbed, sinful humans can become the dwelling place of God. As stated by Paul,

Photo by Sam Hakes

“The God who made the world . . . does not dwell in temples made with hands,” but because of the cross of Christ, He does now dwell in human hearts. (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19)

This is what the Bible calls being “born again”, or “born from above”. (John 3:3) The idea is that sin and God cannot peacefully coexist, God must therefore keep His distance from unredeemed people or the torment would probably be worse than that of hell. God’s loving remedy to our insurmountable problem was the sacrificial death of Jesus on that horrible instrument of death—the cross. The power of His sacrificial blood is the answer to sin’s separating power.

Wow! We can be reborn as covenant members of God’s family! The Holy Spirit literally comes to dwell within us, fusing with our human spirits and bringing them to life—an existence that is out of this world!

Again, these are difficult concepts for us to grasp, but this is where faith meets reality. It’s not about us somehow trying to measure up to God’s unattainable standards of perfection, but simply letting go of our pride, believing the Gospel message and yielding to God’s loving will.

I can’t imagine a higher honor than to be a dwelling place of God. It makes me want to live in a manner that honors Him!