Friday, January 28, 2011

Longing for a Better Country

“Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.5 Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. 6 You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge Me,” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 9:4-5).

What an image. When you read a passage like that, you cannot help but wonder what kind of evil, monstrous people these must be that God would say this concerning them. A majority of Christians who read this would say - I'm sure - that they have never witnessed such a people.

Don't be so sure. Perhaps they are closer than you think.

First, in reading this text, one cannot assume malice. One person tells a deliberate lie, intending to mislead you ... another passes along false information, although they did not realize what they were saying was untrue. In either case, deception has taken place ... whether intended or not.

I do not believe that these people were all monsters. I'm sure there were many nice folks, just like our neighbors, co-workers or family members. ... But that doesn't mean they were not sinners.

According to the text, these people were "friends" and "brothers." The problem though was that not one of them was speaking truth. They had grown accustomed to living apart from the word of the Lord. You don't have to be a murderer or a rapist to offend God ... just ignore His word ... the end result is the same.

I wonder what the Lord sees when He looks at our "civilized" society? I wonder what He thinks of our "friendly" congregations? Actually, I don't have to wonder ... I've already been told what He thinks of anyone - be they friend or brother - who lives apart from His will. Friendliness and civility are not the measures by which God has chosen to judge us. The Holy Spirit was sent to "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Are we disregarding the word of the Lord? Then we are sinners, though perhaps the friendliest sinner on the planet. Do we do what God says is right? If not, we are unrighteous ... and no amount of your "brothers" who stand shoulder to shoulder with you and tell you how wonderful you are will sway the decision of an impartial and just God who was given us His word as a standard to be upheld.

Satan has already been judged (John 16:11). Now, the father of lies is doing everything he can to convince people that being good is good enough. He loves it when people are friends and brothers ... and not one of them knows enough of the word of God to speak truth.

I empathize with Jeremiah. I can relate to the prophet. As you immerse yourself in God's word ... when you submit yourself to His leadership ... truth will be revealed (John 8:32). But the more the truth is revealed, the more the falsehoods are also revealed. No wonder Jeremiah wept. He saw good people ... friends and brothers ... who had all been deceived by Satan. They had grown so accustomed to the "truths" they had created, that they no longer cared what God really said. "That's the way it is" became more important than "that's what God said."

And the prophet's reaction? Jeremiah 9:2, "Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people."
"I wish I could get away from them all!"
But Jeremiah, these are your friends and brothers!
"They're all adulterers, cheating on God by sleeping with the world."
Jeremiah, I understand. So did Jesus. Here's what He said about the good people of His day. "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Matthew 17:17).

How hard it is to live by faith. How difficult to live "without fault in a crooked and depraved generation" (Philippians 2:15). Sin so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1).

Friends and brothers? Civilized people? Then why have God's people been "tortured," "faced jeers and flogging," been "chained and put in prison," "were stoned," "sawed in two," "put to death by the sword," and "went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated" (Hebrews 11:35-38)?

God has declared, "the world was not worthy of them."
"They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground"
See, Jeremiah? There were others who just wanted to get away from it all. No wonder "they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:16).

I do, too, Jeremiah. I do, too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Walking in Agreement ... With Sin?

Comedian Flip Wilson always used to say, "The devil made me do it."
Today, Christians have adopted similar mottos, like, "We're only human," or "We're all just sinners," or "No one's perfect."

The Bible allows for no such excuses. Amos 3:3 says, "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" Oh, by the way, that means that no one sins on accident; sin is a choice. Ezekiel puts it this way, "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him" (Ezekiel 18:20).
Seriously ... how clear is that?
Yet we want to make excuses for sin ... as if it is some nervous tic which we cannot prevent.

"Oh, but that's the Old Testament," someone will say. "We're a New Testament people, and the New Testament tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). See? Everyone sins!"
First, that was not offered by the apostle as an excuse, but as a fact. You cannot make an argument for a Savior, unless there is something a person must be saved from. That something is sin.
Second - and the book of Romans is a wonderful example - the responsibility for sin is laid completely at our feet. There is no one else to blame. The buck stops here. Romans 2 says, "Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger" (Romans 2:5-8). 

"Hey, wait a minute! That's exactly what the Old Testament said."
Yes, it is.

"But how do I stop sinning?"
The same way you started sinning ... make the choice. The apostle of Christ gives us that choice in Ephesians 4, "put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires [and] put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22,24).

God gave you a free will ... use it! Say no to sin, and yes to righteousness. On the Day of Judgment, you will be glad you made the decision to walk in agreement with Christ, rather than with sin.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Real Love

The first real mention of love isn't found until Genesis 19:19. Lot has received the angelic message that Sodom and Gomorrah are going to be destroyed. His response to God is, “Now behold, Your servant has found favor in Your sight, and You have magnified Your lovingkindness, which You have shown me by saving my life” (NAS).

The second usage shows some similarity, in that “love” shows up in a time of crisis. In Genesis 22:2, God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (NIV).

Sure are a lot of questions brought up by these two verses. God has created the universe and everything in it. The man and the woman were placed in the garden of Eden. They were in fellowship with God. Skip forward to the flood. God saves Noah and his family in order to repopulate the earth. Skip forward again. God reveals Himself to Abram, sends him out of his homeland to a “promised” land, and makes a covenant with him. Yet nowhere in any of that do we hear an “I love you”? Seriously?

When we finally get to our first two passages on love, what do we see? Hearts, flowers, candy, and a warm, ooshy-gooshy feeling? Nope. We see actions. Oh, did you notice that God isn't the One talking about His love? But apparently He's showing it. Lot recognized it immediately when God saved him from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham recognized it when – after being told to sacrifice his only son – God saved his son, Isaac, from certain death.

So why are we always focusing so much on how we feel when we talk about love? “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7, NIV).

We are no different than Lot or Abraham. It is in the time of our greatest crisis that God has – not talked about love, but – shown us His love. Real love is about what God did. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole. Thank you, Lord, for giving to me Thy great salvation so rich and free!”