Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Plusses and Minuses

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
Romans 6:20-21

Occasionally, as I drive around Nashville, I will see a homeless person with a dog on the side of the road asking for money. This always leaves me with very conflicted feelings. On the one hand, I'm happy that this dog can meet some real needs in his owner's life. A dog can help keep him safe and warm at night. It serves as a much needed companion. On the other hand, that dog may just be the one thing anchoring its owner to homelessness. I don't think a person can stay overnight at the mission with a pet. It would be near impossible to go through a jobs program or even get a job, because he wouldn't have anywhere to put his dog while he was working. It pains me to think of having to be in this position where I would have to choose between my pet and opportunities to get back on my feet again. This dog may be the only lifeline this individual has left, their only emotional support in this world, and it may at the very same time be preventing him from getting off the streets. What a terrible position to be in. 

The above verses make me think of this, because I think our sin operates the same way for many of us. Sin works its way deep into our lives because we are convinced that it meets a real need, even if it does so while creating other problems. Maybe you get drunk because it's the only way you know to numb the pain. Or maybe you are sexually promiscuous because it makes you feel loved and happy, for at least a little while. Maybe you turn to pornography because it helps you meets your sexual desires. But I challenge you to take stock of the costs of the sins you are caught up in. When you really look at it, are they worth it? 

I know I am asking you to let go of a behavior that just may be the only thing keeping you hanging on, but it also might be the one thing holding you back. The truth is that no matter what side benefit sin brings into your life it ALWAYS results in death. Sin always brings pain, dysfunction, difficulty, and separation from God. I guarantee that it's hurting you more than it's helping. So why not let go of  your sin coping mechanism and let God take a crack at your problems instead.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Uphold the Law

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin...Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:19-20, 31

God's law stops every mouth from boasting before God. It holds the whole world accountable for sin. This is a role that it plays even in New Testament times and that it must continue to play today. God's Old Testament law is not null and void. Jesus Himself said, 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-19

It's true that Jesus fulfilled all the law. Parts of the law He rendered inactive or inoperative (see original Greek for Ephesians 2:15) in that their primary function was to separate God's people from the Gentiles as holy and set apart for Him. Other parts of the law had served to point forward to Jesus and His sacrifice and were therefore no longer to be practiced. This is why we don't offer blood sacrifices. Jesus is the only sacrifice we could ever need. Still other parts of the law were civil in nature and were intended to govern Israelite society during the time when God's presence was physically manifested in their midst. These laws required very high levels of holiness and strong punishments for sin (including capital punishment) to avoid God's wrath from breaking out against the entire people because of sin in the camp. BUT the laws that were moral in nature do still apply to us today. Many of these moral laws are quoted or re-emphasized in the New Testament and serve the function highlighted in this passage. They reveal our sin.

Of course, we don't like having our sins pointed out. We hate regret, and we avoid true repentance. That is why we don't often praise God's law like the psalmists did (see Psalm 119 which is an acrostic poem praising God's law). No, we vilify and attack God's law, even in our churches, because we don't understand it or how it works today. 

Don't ignore the law or write it off. Let it silence you. Let it make you aware of your sin. Submit to its correction and allow it to shut your mouth before God. Let it serve as a reminder that no one may boast before Him, that no one may think he may be justified by keeping the law. Don't nullify the law; uphold it and its condemnation of your actions! Then repent and draw near to God. 

If you want to start fresh in how you relate to God's law, here's a good place to start. Read the Ten Commandments and let them silence you before God (Exodus 20:1-20).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wade through Regret

Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.
Deuteronomy 9:7

This past week I vacationed with my wife's family in California. One day as my daughter played in the sand, I watched a surfer struggle against the tide as she to get into deeper waters where she could catch waves. I had never considered how difficult it must be before, but she appeared to struggle to manage the bulky board as she jumped over the waves crashing into her. Working through the shallows didn't look like much fun, but of course it was necessary work to get out to depths where one could catch a wave before it folds over on itself.

Regret is like this shallow water that meets the shore. It crashes into us in waves, reminding us of all our failures. It fills us with shame as we try to manage all the baggage of our poor choices. Most of us would rather avoid it altogether, but we can't. Regret is the only approach to God's grace. We must wade through the shallow waters of regret in order to plunge ourselves into the deeper waters of God's grace. 

You simply cannot appreciate God's grace until you have considered your own sin. Remembering your sin enables you to realize how good God has been to you. When you make light of your sin or ignore it altogether, then you make light of God's grace. How can we declare the glories of God's amazing grace to us, if we do not occasionally consider how undeserving of it we were and are? Don't forget your sins! Remember them. Even though they are already forgiven, periodically call to mind your current and past sins. This will help prevent you from making the same mistakes over and over in life, and it will help stave off a presumptuous attitude before God. 

Truthfully, I hardly ever think about my sin. Sadder still, when I do kneel in prayer to confess my sin, I can hardly think of anything to confess. This isn't because I am so saintly as to no longer need confession, but rather it's because I am so oblivious to my own sin that I live practically as if I had none. Theologically I know I am a sinner, but I have turned a blind eye to that truth in my every day experience. Jeremiah 6:15 scares me in this regard:
"Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the Lord.
Father, please do not allow me to become so hardened to my sin that I no longer know how to regret it. I know that I can't repent of my sin without being sorry for it, so teach me to be ashamed of my sin, so that I might repent and experience more of Your grace. Most of all, Father, help me to understand and be awed by Your grace.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

I pride myself on being a hard worker...though some days I wonder if this is more pride and less a fair evaluation of my work ethic. Still I try to live up to the standard of my heroes. I try not to give in when things get difficult or give up when something doesn't quite come together. This is good, but there are limits. It is possible for a person to work himself into the ground. It's also possible to work and work and work and never quite get anywhere. 

The teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes understands this well. He laments the vanity of life, the cyclical nature of our world that makes it hard for any one man to make a lasting impact. 
All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. (Ecc. 1:2-5)
You do the laundry, and the clothes get dirty again. You mow the lawn, and the grass keeps growing. No matter how hard you work there will always be something else to do and what you have done will almost invariably undo itself again. So how are we to live in a world this maddening?!

Our passage for the day gives us insight. We should be careful not to get caught up rushing, rushing, rushing all the time... doing things that don't make any lasting change. Ultimately, we can't break completely free of the cycles of life. In some ways we are stuck on this hamster wheel. We can run as fast as we can but all we'll accomplish is making the wheel spin faster. We aren't really getting anywhere. 

Instead, the teacher challenges us to pause. To look around us and consider what God has blessed us with and what has come out of all our hard work. Take time to enjoy the gifts God has given you, not selfishly, but expressly as gifts from God. Take time to thank Him for these things. You just may find that taking time to pause and turning to God in gratefulness will foster more spiritual growth than all your activity ever has.