Monthly Archives: November 2014

Sin – forgiveness precedes all other upgrades

Genesis 3:7 reveals that Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with fig leaves, the garment seamstress Eve conceived to hide their shame.  Still…they fled from God because they feared appearing before him.  Genesis 3:21 reveals that God clothed them in skins, a significant upgrade in threads, cleansed, tanned, soft, supple, but more importantly, God’s answer to their guilt.  For the reference assumes God’s sacrifice of a young bull to forgive their sins.

A priority we must reinforce today:  God removed their sin before he re-clothed them in the skin of the animal they undoubtedly watched him slay, with appropriate explanations.  Forgiveness came first, then their shame vanished under new clothing.

Let us learn from Adam and Eve.  The forgiveness of sin precedes the acquisition of the upgrades in life we all seek:  financial security, daily provisions, mental health, emotional stability, career advancement, happy marriages, satisfying friendships, et al.  Seeking those upgrades without a spiritual cleansing from God is like Adam and Eve clothing themselves with leaves.

Leaves offered Adam and Eve’s response to shame:  cover it.  Skins offered God’s response to the guilt causing the shame:  forgive and remove it.  Why settle for an improved life now, then die in our sins, when God provides all our needs now and guarantees an eternity of ecstasy for those Jesus Christ forgives?

Christian – the kind of example Jesus inspires

General Sherman’s letter to General Grant in early 1864 revealed absolute trust in his superior.  (He had learned of Grant’s appointment to Lt. General, a rank granted previously only to Generals Washington and Scott.)

Sherman’s confidence in Grant, his “simple faith in success” Sherman could only compare to the “faith a Christian has in a Savior,” The War Years II, p. 542.

While that statement offered no appraisal of Grant’s religious faith—which was remarkably indistinct—it did reveal an example of persistent faith Sherman had only seen in a disciple’s trust in Jesus Christ.

What nameless Christian had been the example of such faith, we don’t know.  Whoever it was, that person made it easier for others to trust Jesus.

What of our Christian example?  Seeing it, do people want to become disciples of Christ; want to develop virtues they lack; want to shed vices they possess?  We will influence people, for or against Jesus.  Surely, such a Savior as he deserves the BEST of whatever we have in us.

Christ – rejected by the Left

The Left in America has more policy influence in America than ever before:  in the media—T.V., movies, literature, PBS; in education—the schools from kindergarten through to universities; in politics—big government intrudes its all-pervasive presence even as irrefutable evidence proves it’s ineffectiveness.  The bigger government gets, the less flexible it is and the more authoritarian it becomes.  Even those hating it and dreading its ever-expanding tentacles rely on it for benefits.

The most obvious characteristic of the Left is its response to Jesus Christ.  It can hardly stomach GOD as the Almighty Being to whom we’re all indebted.  But it vomits in paroxysms of rage when hearing JESUS CHRIST spoken, except as a profanity.

Why is the Left so fanatically and viscerally vindictive when hearing his Name?  We know that demons reacted that way when Jesus lived among us.  Every time, without exception, they came bawling and crawling, shrieking and bellowing, declaring his holiness and begging his mercy.

However, note the difference between demons and today’s liberals.  The demons reacted from their knowledge of Jesus as the Holy One of God who had come to condemn them to Hell.  The Left reacts as they do because they don’t believe Jesus is anyone significant at all, and certainly NOT the Holy One of God sent to Save or Condemn them, depending on their response to him.

The demons had a right to fall into spasms of regret, remorse and self-pity.  They KNEW Jesus Christ’s Authority over them.  Paradoxically, if the Left is right, and Jesus is no one important, WHY react so vehemently to him?  If he isn’t what he claimed, why not quietly ignore him?  If he’s the figment of the disciples’ imagination, just blow him off as they would a leaf on their sleeve.

As it is, with demons and liberals reacting to Jesus Christ the same way, the demons were at least honest.  They admitted what they knew by experience.  The earthly fools, meanwhile, claim such sovereign knowledge for themselves that they can casually deny whatever they refuse to accept, and it immediately becomes useless.  In arrogance only Satan inspires, they consider Jesus Christ isn’t true because they consider him false.  Psalm 2:1-3 perfectly describes today’s unbelievers.  Psalm 2:4-6 still perfectly describes God’s cool, collected, reasoned reaction.

There is one more question for the Leftist.  If all religious leaders are the same, and Jesus Christ especially has no singular renown, WHY…when they express delight, surprise or anger, do they invariably invoke the name of God or Christ?  To spread their ecumenical unbelief in the uselessness of deity and all religions and their leaders, they should at least invoke Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, et al when they want to curse, to damn, to begin a sentence.

As it is, their very continued use of only God and Christ in these situations, and the absence of other religious leaders in the profanities, etc., is evidence that Satan knows his only enemy is God in Christ.  He’ll gladly use human ignorance to both deny God out of one side of our mouth while we take his name in vain out of the other.

 

Christian – light of never THAT bright

Advertisers regularly employ big name movie T.V. and sports figures to sell their products.  The human psyche somehow feels convinced that famous faces lend an air of authenticity to whatever they represent.  But all it really means is that manufacturers have, or spend, the money needed to attract attention from the buying public.  They choose their endorsers carefully, aware always of the market to be reached.  Good taste isn’t always necessary, as the Carl’s Jr. ads prove.  But they never want a representative who’s so personally photogenic he/she overshadows the product.

When the apostle John wrote that John the Baptist had come to bear witness to the light, John 1:8, he added that the Baptizer wasn’t the light.  Brighter by far than the religious luminaries of his day, yes.  But not to be compared with the Light that would come.  And never a threat to eclipse the One he introduced.

No one since has posed a threat to Jesus either, Christians certainly not excluded.  However strong our witness and life, we never overshadow the faith we profess and the Christ we serve.  We may outshine each other—or least claim to–but compared to Christ, we, not he,  suffer terribly in the comparison.  Indeed, as he’s by far greater than  any of us individually, he far excels all our lives combined.  In fact, should we combine into one person all the devotion, love, skill, ability and service ever shown in all the centuries by all of God’s people, even that light would be but a pinpoint compared to the noon-day brilliance Jesus Christ surpasses.

Like John the Baptist, our purpose is that of witness to the Light, pointing others to Him.  Unlike the few human  models whose charisma dominate the sponsor’s products, our witness always remains in the shadow of Christ’s radiance.

Jesus – always went a “little farther”

Johann Goethe, distinguished intellectual poet of 19th century Germany, once wrote that
“the human mind, no matter how far it may advance in every other department, will never transcend the height and moral culture of Christianity as it shines and glows in the Gospels.”

As Matthew 26:39 shows, he remarked truly.  Jesus always leads out and advances to forward positions, then beckons us.  In Gethsemane, he left the eight behind, took the three, left them and “went a little farther.”  As a devotional thought, he always went “a little farther” than his disciples.  While Peter was willing to go beyond the law and forgive a foe seven times, Christ “went a little farther,” commanding unlimited forgiveness.  Where the disciples willingly allowed adults to flock around Jesus, he “went a little farther,” inviting even children into his innermost counsels.  Where they lavishly loved their friends, he “went a little farther,” loving his enemies.  And on and on.  He laid it down that his disciple had to do more than the Pharisees.  Then he led the way, doing more, serving more, loving more.  He was always out in front.  To this day, he remains there; we haven’t caught up with his standard and example, for all our advancement in scientific and material areas.

We should then make our Christian lives as broad as possible.  We should think how much good we can do in the short time God grants us.  After all, Jesus told the story of a man who did everything expected of him, then had to admit he was unprofitable because he didn’t exert himself beyond duty.  How many of us would be just as guilty today?  When we don’t go the extra mile or turn the other cheek or give our last coat?  When we do all the law demands, but not what grace expects.  Christ’s life stands as an incontestable example that true greatness in the spiritual life only begins when we do what is “extra,” “unnecessary,” “beyond the call of duty”; in short, when we, like Christ, “go a little farther.”

 

Humanity – Christ is our only benefactor

In 1987 I wrote an article about the first California condor hatched in captivity.  At a time when only 23 of the monster carrion-eaters existed in the California wilds, wildlife biologists hailed it as a seminal event.  To personalize the chick, they gave it a name and, because they intended to release it into the wilds, and didn’t want it to mistake humans with its own kind, handlers fed it through a condor-beak puppet.

The breeding programs have been successful and the condors have benefitted.  Bi-national agreements between Mexico and California promise to continue the trend.  The biologists carefully identify compatible genetics before matching the male and female.  In addition to 400 condors world-wide, another 250 wait in breeding centers to be released.

At the time I noted a parallel between the individual care given the ugly little thing and Christ’s concern for each person.  The difference then, and now, was adaptability:  the condor chick flourished under the care given it and humanity hasn’t flourished spiritually under God’s personal benefaction.

The reason for our failure is simple:  while God in Christ alone can feed us, love us, save us, resurrect us, and all the other good things we want from life, unsaved sinners keep looking to other sources.  We’re like the American troops who entered Naples in October, 1943.  They expected wildly enthusiastic crowds screaming their welcome.  But hardly a person appeared along the parade route, and few in Garibaldi Square when they arrived.  They later learned that thousands had massed a mile away, in Plaza Plebiscito, since conquerors were traditionally received there.  The GI’s simply went to the wrong place.   (Gavin, On To Berlin, pp. 72-73)

So long as we seek our identity in philosophy, theology, medicine, politics or technology, we’ll continue to wonder, “If God cares, why doesn’t he help?”  “If he’s concerned, why do problems in humanity mount, not diminish?”  “Why, given all numerous brilliant moral people working to alleviate our tragedies, do they accelerate?”  “Why does each generation walk deeper into a moral maze from which we cannot find an exit?”

Yet, an exit exists, and in blazing letters above that door we read:  “Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life.  He alone provides for this life and for eternal life.”    Stand beneath that sign and be blessed.  For, if we fail to receive Christ’s grace, it’s because we’re standing elsewhere.

Action – follows “Lights…Camera”

After defeating the British at Saratoga, General Gates dispatched a courier to Philadelphia with the news.  But he travelled so leisurely that the victory was announced in Congress before he arrived.  It had long been a tradition to honor faithful army messengers, one delegate proposed a gift of a sword to the courier.  However, since the man’s behavior had betrayed his trust; since he had been ordered to report good news to the colonies in a timely way, and he took his time doing it; since where action was demanded, he lingered, where haste was expected, he dawdled, John Witherspoon, a member of Congress, urged a substitute motion:  give the courier, not a silver sword, but a pair of golden spurs.

The people of Israel in Isaiah’s time felt offended because the prophet kept criticizing their lives.  What did God want anyway, they questioned?  What did he expect from them?  They believed; they offered sacrifices; they fasted.  What more could God demand?

Action, Isaiah replied, 58:6-7.  Life-altering, behavior-modifying action that turned faith into deeds and confession into practice.  Where needs existed, to meet them; where help was demanded, to give it.  But, above all, to act.

We are similar to the Israelites.  We often substitute theory for fact and compliments for obedience.  How easy it is to be moved to tears by the sight of hungry children; or by the benefits of starting new churches; or by the self-destructive behavior people practice, which conversion would begin remedying.  But will we open our checkbooks and offer solid, personal assistance?  Or, as needed, volunteer to be a servant of the Christ?

On movie locations, the last words before the Camera rolls are “Lights…Action….”  Lights first so what is filmed can be seen.  Action second so what’s filmed is in motion before Cameras roll.  All three phases give the film its reality.  Discipleship also involves three phases.  One, learn about Jesus.  Two, strategize how to effectively teach what we learned.  Three, DO IT!  All three together achieve Christ’s purpose in each disciple.  Leaving any out limits our witness.

 

Choice – often determines destiny

James Michener tells of two different groups of Indians in early America.  Of one group some turned south to Mexico and founded the Aztec Empire; others in it stayed in Colorado and became the Ute’s.  One enjoyed a dazzling civilization, the other a marginal one.  Of the other in Baja, California, some turned east, found easy access to the valleys of Peru and founded the Inca Empire; others turned westward and found themselves trapped in the Baja wilderness.  From one came the treasures that enchanted Pizzaro; to the other marginal existence.  Centennial, pp. 117-118

 Choices and destiny cannot be separated, not among nations or among individuals.  What we are and become often relate directly to the choices we make each day.

Israel had a choice before them, Isaiah declared in 58:5, that would determine their future.  They could continue in their time-honored sinful ways and be irretrievably condemned by God.  Or they could humble themselves, obey Moses, live the faith they professed, and receive God’s favor.

We also face choices:  in our careers, marriage partners, places of residence.  Each choice offers benefits and disadvantages.  But no choice so radically affects our destiny as our acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ.  If we resist him, we consign ourselves to monotonous failure in this life, whatever success we may claim.  If we accept him, we assure ourselves of success in this life, as God estimates success, and life eternal beyond the grave.

Think about that when we postpone a commitment to Jesus.  That decision may precipitate the loss of our soul.  For who says we may have another chance to make that choice?

Repentance – not penitence, is what God seeks

Eleventh century Christians looked favorably on self-beating for religious purposes.  Italy adopted it with wild abandon.  Nobles, peasants, children as young as five years and ancients barely able to totter, all walked by the hundreds through villages and towns, wearing only a cloth around their midsection.  And that in the dead of winter.  Visiting churches, and armed with scourges, they lashed themselves without pity, groaning and crying.

They thought to show penitence.  Which differed from repentance.   They thought to punish themselves for their sins.  But they senselessly beat themselves since Jesus had already secured the removal of their sins.

God demands a change when we come to him.  But scripture nowhere teaches that the beating of one’s body guarantees, or even contributes to, repentance.  The context of I Corinthians 9:25-27 indicates that Paul’s language is to be understood figuratively, not literally.  Especially as we see his disregard of all the forms of religion popular in his time Colossians 2:20-23.

Repentance means change, not just sorrow.  Sorrow leads to repentance, as Paul wrote in II Corinthians 7:10; it isn’t repentance.  Oftentimes we sorrow and call it repentance, but it is not.  Penitence creates sadness while Repentance provokes a life-change.  Repentance means making an apology, or restitution, or a resolve not to do the evil again, or to start doing something neglected.

God invites us to come to him.  He urges us.  He craves our fellowship.  But on his terms, not ours.  And his first requirement is always, “change your life”!