Sin

Tuesday Devotional: Zephaniah 2

bibleThis is the city of revelry
that lived in safety.
She said to herself,
“I am the one! And there is none besides me.”
What a ruin she has become,
a lair for wild beasts!
All who pass by her scoff
and shake their fists.

The lie of sin is that we not only have the right to take the throne as King but that we will never be overtaken, deposed or removed.  What Kingdom has ever outlasted time?  What King has ever sat on a throne for eternity?  None.  All people pass.  All kingdoms collapse.  The most foolish thing we could possibly do is to ignore the words of the living God.

The second most foolish thing we could possibly do is to deny the historical record that proves God’s point. What you see today will not last.  What you do today will last for eternity.  Seek truth and find it, or pursue a lie and believe it.  In God’s great grace and mercy He has not hidden the truth from us.  He has revealed clearly and for all eyes to see where we’ve been and where we are going.

But sin runs deep and in sin is a king who has stolen the crown and will fight at all costs to retain control.  Don’t let it.  The fight to take the throne cannot be won, not should it ever be fought.  Fighting for control of the throne WILL precede a downfall and will destroy the kingdom and the king at the same time.  The throne and the power you think it gives you is a lie, and it can never give you what you hope it can.  The throne belongs to Christ. Only under His lordship can you find what you are truly looking for.  Look hard at Christ and turn your eyes upon Jesus.  His Lordship does not take anything from you other than the delusion that is slowly taking your life away one day at a time.  God has always intended for us to live and to live forever.  A life hidden in Christ will last forever and it will outlast all else.  Choose to live.  Choose life!

 

 

Tuesday Devotional: Micah 3

bibleMicah 3:11

Her leaders judge for a bribe,
her priests teach for a price,
and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
“Is not the Lord among us?
No disaster will come upon us.”

The church is not safe from sin.  In fact, just as the church has the most potential to do good for the Kingdom of God it is often the most susceptible to attack from the enemy in the form of worldly temptations.  Viewing church as a haven from sinful activity or protection from sin is misunderstands the church altogether.  The church is a place where believers can gather to pray, worship and learn in unison with the shared belief that drawing closer to God through Jesus Christ is our only hope in this world.  However, as believers gather at church to pray, sin is still there.  As believers gather at church to worship, sin is still there.  As believers gather at church to learn, sin is still there.

Never be deceived that simply attending church protects you from sin.  Never be deceived that becoming a leader, elder, deacon or pastor of a church removes you from sinful motivations, intentions and activity.  If the church is often a target of the enemy to thwart the spread of the Gospel, it stands to reason that her leaders, especially the pastors and priests, are at the focal point of those attacks.

Pray for your leaders.  Pray for your pastors.  They are fighting a fight that many will never know or understand. It will be as a result of your offensive and defensive prayers on their behalf that they will ever bear fruit in their respective ministries.  They need your help, your fellowship, prayers, and guidance.  The temptation of a pastor is to seek the approval of a congregation before the approval of God.   The temptation of a pastor is to seek the success and growth of a ministry rather than the quality of disciples being developed.

Church leaders need to be the first to serve, to listen, to learn and to repent.  Becoming a leader is not the sign that you’ve arrived.  It is an opportunity to lead on behalf of God Himself, at the tip of the spear, pursuing the presence of the living God by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the direction of God’s Holy Scriptures.   A leader/disciple professes to the congregation that God is the ultimate judge and we are all convicted equally by our sin.  A leader/disciple teachers with the guidance of the Holy Spirit as Counselor and holds the line of truth found only in God’s words.  A leader/disciple acknowledges the omniscient and sovereign authority of God alone to know where we are headed in the future and what we will do.  A leader/disciple also reveals to the congregation that suffering is not only imminent but is the sign that Jesus Christ is truly living in us.

The temptation to stray from God’s presence is as much a threat to the pastor and leader as it is to the average churchgoer.  Do not be deceived.  God is with us but so is sin and the only defense we have against the attacks of the enemy is to cling to the Holy words of God and to always demand truth from those privileged enough to be His ministers of truth in this world.

 

 

Tuesday Devotional: Obadiah 1:15

bibleObadiah 15

As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.

The judgment of God has been a stumbling block for many people.  Many people never make it to the cross of Christ before turning back at the sight of a God who judges.  We prefer a God who supports us, encourages us, forgives us, loves us and provides for us.  Not a God who will judge us.  We perceive His judgment to be unfair or unnecessary.  We believe that to be a good person and to love your neighbor as yourself is the answer to the ills of humanity and the suffering of this world.

But why hasn’t this approach worked?  Have we reduced suffering in this world?  Why is the golden rule truly not sufficient for the world we live in?  The answer is sin.  Sin is not a comfortable word, but in the context of human history, it is the most sufficient explanation for the trajectory of our world’s suffering and pain.

Within us is a desire to be the judge but not to be judged.  Therefore, due to our innate sinfulness, God has no need to judge us according to His standard of holiness.  With our overconfidence in our own authority and righteousness, God simply lets our own standard be the standard we are ultimately judged by.  Every time we think that someone ought to do this or that.  Every time we think that someone should have done this or that.  Every time we make private proclamations to ourselves that we will never do what he or she did.  In these moments we construct our grading scale. This is not a new perspective on God’s judgment.  This is verse 15!  These are God’s words.  When left with this prospect of judgment, what we see is not a God that upholds a standard too high for humanity to reach, but individual men and women with such an inflated view of their own perfection and such a limited ability to exercise grace and forgiveness that none can stand to be judged according to their own standards.

According to verse 15 and an honest reflection of the self we are truly in need of a savior.  We have failed to maintain our standard of righteousness from the very beginning, and we will never successfully uphold it.  Never.  We need a mediator.  We need someone perfect.  We need someone to go before us and plead our case.  Verse 15 has nothing to do with people doing Christian things or not doing Christian things.  Verse 15 has everything to do with people.  It has everything to with the human heart.  It has everything to with our collective sin.  We are all guilty of judging those we have no right to judge.  The perfect God has always had the right and authority to judge an imperfect creation.  We are nowhere as good as we think we are, and God is so much more perfect than we think He is.  How hard is it for you to forgive someone who lied to you?  Just one.  How many more times has God been lied to by His own children?  And is the end now?  No.  Verse 15 says, it is near.  He has waited and waited and waited for us to turn from our diluted state of self-glorification back to His holiness and perfection, as the only means for us to survive our own judgment.  God is not the one with a short fuse and a readiness to judge.  We are.  God is not the one that established unrealistic standards for others to abide by while never consistently abiding in the standards Himself.  We are.  The judgment of God is terrifying, but nowhere near as terrifying as our own.

 

Hell: A Place of Delusion

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This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of delusion.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

Most people can relate to chasing the elusive, longing for more and settling for less. We desire fellowship, love, and presence, and often drive it away or can’t hold on to it when we have it. The tragedy is that for all our awareness of our problems, most of us do little to change the state we find ourselves in. We go year after year chasing things that repeatedly leave us dissatisfied. We go year after year making choices that do more to isolate us from others than unite us with them. If we know this to be true, why don’t we do anything to change and stop the cycle?

The answer lies at the center of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. While the Rich Man is open to his suffering and loneliness, what he isn’t open to is his desire to leave the place he is in, or to admit to where he is. Not once does he ask Abraham to take him out of hell. He instead requests satisfaction be brought to him in hell. He even believes that he remains the master to Lazarus even after Lazarus is in the Kingdom of God and the Rich Man in hell. The Rich Man is hopelessly delusional about his problems and his fate.

The terror of hell does not end suffering and loneliness. The scariest aspect of hell is that the Rich Man is hopelessly delusional about himself and his condition. In the same way an addict will deny the damage they have caused to themselves and others, an occupant of hell is forever in denial. The nature of sin is such that a person bound in it is so obsessed with, so fixated on themselves that although they suffer and although they are unhappy, they are addicted to the very suffering and loneliness they want to escape.

Sin tempts us with things that God knows will not satisfy us. But under the influence of sin we are willing to damage anything, anyone, even ourselves to have them. Sin creates delusion, and hell is the end result of sin in a human life, cementing eternal delusion on what is good for them and what they actually need.

Only Lazarus is named in Jesus’ story. This detail is not subtle at all, if one sees that the choice to only name Lazarus was made in the context of a lesson regarding hell. The named man Lazarus has an identity. He is real. He is accepted. He is loved. He is forever at peace with the Father, as Lazarus. The unnamed “Rich Man” is eternally anonymous. He does not know who he is. He does not know what he needs. He does not know how to fix what he knows is wrong. He is eternally separated from the God who gave him life, left to live out eternity in isolation, forever searching for what he will never find. His life was consumed by wealth that replaced God as the focus of his worship. Thus, his eternal state in hell echoes the priorities of his worldly life. In eternity as in life, he was simply “the Rich Man.”

Tuesday Devotional: Isaiah 16

bible3Hide the fugitives,
    do not betray the refugees.
Let the Moabite fugitives stay with you;
    be their shelter from the destroyer.”

So I weep, as Jazer weeps,
    for the vines of Sibmah.
Heshbon and Elealeh,
    I drench you with tears!
The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit
    and over your harvests have been stilled.
Isaiah 16:3-4, 9

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 
James 1:17

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

God’s character does not evolve and change like ours.  God’s character does not learn and grow like ours.  The character of God was not underdeveloped in the Old Testament and fully developed in the New Testament.  God has never changed and never will.  This pertains to His grace and mercy as it does to every aspect of His character.  God has always sought to preserve life and to bless the children He created.  God has never sought the destruction and suffering of any people.  When we observe the punishment and discipline of people or nations in the Bible the question is not, “Why is God so angry?”  The more pertinent question is, “Why did the people ignore God’s commands and do that which they knew they should not?”

The Bible is filled with God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness even predating the human life of Jesus Christ.  Grace and mercy are God as much His power and sovereignty are.  Sadly, as God’s mercy predated the life of Jesus, so did the sinfulness of man.  If a child is told not to steal and then goes ahead and steals, would our first question be, “Why is the child receiving discipline?” or, “Why did the child commit the crime?”  For most of us it would be the latter.  We complain that God seems quick to judge, but we say this as we show ourselves to be even quicker to judge than He is.

In the same way that Jesus’ commands seek to free us from our slavery to sin, God has always sought to free us from the sin of Adam.  God is aware that a life dictated and controlled by sin not only separates us from Him but will harm, enslave, and ultimately kill us.  Why would we choose death over life?  When the alternative has been explained, the warning given and the way out of death into life provided, why do we choose death over life?  Before we criticize God for disciplining we should better criticize our stubbornness to the point of death.

If God declares His desire to save you, why not be saved?  If God declares that your life of suffering and pain grieves Him, why not believe that His desire is for your life rather than your ultimate demise?  We must come to faith in Jesus Christ to have life, but we must never deceive ourselves into believing that with Jesus Christ came the first sign of God’s desire for grace, mercy and life.  God has always loved and has always recognized our need for Him in order to live.  Allow yourself to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and allow Jesus to reunite you with the Father who has always sought your eternal salvation.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Ezra 5

bibleRead Ezra 5

God is a creator, and, if we were designed in His image, we are creators as well. We were designed to design and create beautiful things worthy of a Holy God, reflective of His perfection. The issue is not that we have an inherent gift and desire to create. The issue is why we create. Sin makes us want to create so that we can become to focal point of worship. We create so that WE can make a name for ourselves, so that we can be remembered, so that we can obtain approval and value. Sin drives us to create a new thing, something that can add to something that already exists.

Ultimately this approach to creation tends to reveal the worst in us. Creation in the hands of sin leads to competition, rivalry, bitterness, pride, winners and losers, life and death. Creation in the hands of sin says, “Look what I did.” Creation in the hands of God says, “Look what God HAS done and IS doing.” Creation with the heart of God never seeks to glorify the self, but seeks to restore what has been lost.

The heart of God gives us an awareness of past, present and future in regards to His creation and reveals our place in that design. We become aware of how things used to be, how things should be and how we can create in order to bring this world back to God, not further distance from Him. A Christian with the heart of the Gospel is always restoring the world to Jesus Christ. Every creation should redirect people to what was lost by the first man and what was gloriously restored in the second man.

45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:45-49)

It is undeniable that we were designed to create and we have all been blessed with different skills and gifts in order to create. Creation is of God. Self-glorification is not. We cannot create for our own glory and simultaneously glorify the living God. This is impossible. Creation of God and for God reflects what HE created and lost through the sin of man and what lengths He went to in order to restore the sight to the blind. Until we create as a process of restoration we will never create anything worthy of the resurrection.

Communion: The Provision

communion-bread-and-wine

source

For the next few weeks we will be discussing Communion.  Four aspects of Communion are central, necessary for us to understand if we profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We will find that a study of Communion reveals:

1) The Command of Jesus Christ

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ

3) The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

4) The Legacy of His Church

Last week we discussed the command of Jesus about Communion.  This week’s reflection discusses the provision of Jesus Christ as it relates to Communion.

2) The Provision of Jesus Christ 

The practice of communion was not simply a command to be followed “just because.” As was the case in everything that Jesus chose to do concerning his earthly ministry, there was a deeper purpose intended for the eyes to truly see and the ears to truly hear. While the primary focus of the communion meal was to direct the Apostles’ hearts toward the upcoming sacrifice on the cross, Jesus, through the communion meal, also intended for the Apostles to reflect back upon the provision of the past three years with him. At the feeding of the 5,000, before Jesus performed the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish, Jesus took the bread, looked up to heaven, asked God to bless the bread and then broke it so as to feed the hungry crowd.

Mark 6:39-44

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

At that point in Jesus’ ministry, only Jesus could have known how poignant the breaking of bread to feed the hungry was in the light of his upcoming breaking of the bread at the Last Supper the night before he was ultimately broken on the cross as a result of his sacrifice. At that point in his ministry, the focus was on the miraculous provision of Jesus, not on his sacrifice. Thus, the practice of communion, while a somber reflection of the sacrifice of Jesus at the hands of a sinful and broken world, it functions also as a reminder that God has always given us what we needed precisely when we needed it.

John 6:35 

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The practice of communion is a call to reflect on the death of Jesus Christ, on the new life and victory given to us as a result of his death, and on the reality of daily and eternal provision in the person of Jesus.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Samuel 12

bibleRead 2 Samuel 12

Often we understand the act of sinning in the same way we understand breaking a rule.  Committing a sin is doing something you are not supposed to do.  Although to a certain extent this understanding is accurate, the reality of sin that requires a savior is much more complex.

If avoiding sin was as simple as not breaking certain rules, then there’s reason to believe that we could do away with sin altogether with hard work, focus and determination.  If we can be law-abiding citizens when it comes to traffic laws, why can’t we be law-abiding citizens when it comes to God’s law?  The difference between breaking a traffic law and sinning against God is that one brings to mind a clear framework of consequences, while the other does not.

When we approach a red light we slow down to a full stop, because we know that if we are caught speeding through a red light and breaking a traffic law we will have to pay a fine that we would rather not have to pay.  So we stop.  Sin is different.  While there are specific things God has commanded us not to do, we tend to understand God in one of two ways.  On the one hand, God is love and Jesus forgives us so we say, “Sorry,” and we move on, no harm no foul.  On the other hand, God is outraged with our transgression, but thankfully can be appeased with enough prayers, lit candles, hours at the church or hours reading the Bible.  We say we understand the consequences of sin, but in reality we believe strongly that the terrifying consequence of eternal damnation can be avoided or prevented at the hand of grace or good works.

The biblical representation of sin and the problem of sin is quite different than most of us think.  While we tend to view sin as action the reality is that sin is an identity.  It is not something we do from time to time.  Sin is something we are, what we breathe in and out even in the moments when we feel far from sinful thoughts or actions.  Sin is in us. It is desperately, persistently seeking opportunities to act.

To understand sin in our lives we must understand its origins.  If we look at how sin entered the world we learn two things that help us to understand the echo of sin throughout history and into the present day.  First, sin entered the world as a result of direct disobedience to God’s command and God’s creation.  Second, and more importantly, the act of disobedience was preceded by the belief in a lie: that we know better than God what we should or shouldn’t do, and that while God seeks to merely glorify himself, freedom from God would end our bondage to His laws and allow us to create our own laws and rule according to our own desires.

Looking back to the origin of sin it also becomes clear that the consequences of sin are more comprehensive and expansive than we once thought.  If sin is disobeying God’s commands and creation and deciding to glorify ourselves as opposed to God, sin is not what we “sometimes do.” We sin throughout the day, and the impact  of our sinfulness on others, the world and God is too complex for us to cover up.

Sin is our instinct, and it is a destructive one.  Sin does not multiply peace.  Sin disrupts peace.  Sin destroys peace.  It is vicious.  Sin blinds us to the consequences our actions and thoughts have on those around us in wild self-glorification.  We can’t fix our sinful natures; we need to be rescued from them. The most powerful prayer we can pray is “Lord, save me from myself!”

Tuesday Devotional: Ruth 3

Read Ruth 3bible

12Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I.  13Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem.  But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it…”

Sin is not a fun or comfortable word.  It conjures up a collage of negative imagery that most of us would rather not think about.  However, while the consequences of sin or separation from God are terrible, perhaps we can approach the word through another word that most of us are comfortable with.  The word is hunger.

Sin capitalizes on our appetites.  Throughout the day we have a physiological appetite that nourishes our bodies, and a variety of appetites related to our emotions and our personalities.  Sin within us finds a good thin, something we all have a healthy appetite for, and makes it into an ultimate thing that we are starving for.  Over time, left unaddressed, sin creates in us a famished appetite that hunts for satisfaction and pleasure, an unhealthy need for a particular thing.  Appetite does not consider right from wrong, consequences or righteousness.  Sin creates in us an addiction that relates the thing we hunt for to the source of our emptiness and our need to fill it in order to survive.  Sin creates a spirit in us that ignores right and wrong, and ultimately opposes God altogether.

On our own we are not able to control this appetite.  This is not to say that everyone who is not following God is a rabid animal wreaking havoc on villages of innocent people.  However, sin unaddressed creates in a person appetites that have the power to kill or take away the good things in our life.  Sin can destroy a marriage.  A job.  Friendships.  Families.  Sin creates self-righteousness and destroys mercy and grace.  Step by step, sin divides rather than creating harmony.  Submitting our lives, including our appetites, to Jesus as our King and Savior, we are suddenly given the power to not only resist our prior feelings of starvation but we begin to lose our appetite in our old addictions and instead hunger for new things, pure things, Holy things, Godly things.  While sin creates a tolerance for theft, the righteousness of Christ creates a hunger to give away what we have.  While sin feeds a tolerance for dishonesty, the righteousness of Christ creates a hunger to tell the truth.  It is beyond us to always do the right thing, especially when doing the right thing stands in the way of us feeding our appetites.  But as Christ said, “With man this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible.”

Tuesday Devotional: Joshua 20

Read Joshua 20 bible

There is a scathing irony in how man views God and how man views himself. Man’s belief in his own humanity and righteousness is foolishly skewed and misguided. Man possesses a view of himself in regards to righteousness and justice that has been proven to be false throughout all of human history. Within man does in fact exist the purity of love and justice that man so desperately defends and professes. However, alongside this purity exists an inability to wield the power of sin also present within man in abundance.

This presence of sin makes executing pure love and justice naturally impossible for man on his own. While man may attempt to be fair or righteous on a daily basis, there will ultimately come a time when he is wronged and seeks justice not for the sake of pure justice but out of a personal and often irrational reaction to the injustice done to him. When action is taken from a standpoint of being wronged, one can no longer claim justice. Justice is objective and unbiased. Justice must be upheld with a standard based not the emotions or opinions of any one man but a fair verdict applicable to all. The scathing irony is that while man often views God as being unjust in the unequal distribution of suffering and blessing portioned out to all of humanity throughout the world, the true source of injustice does not fall at the feet of a Holy God but at Sinful Man. The instinct of man is to be moved by injustice and yearn for justice but falls short in execution. Many people want to act but do not. Many people want to speak up but remain silent. Many people want to be unbiased but cannot.

Therefore, fully aware of his creation and the inadequacies of the human heart to be a judge, the creator God found it necessary to establish law in the world where man could not be expected to create justice. Just as children cannot rule over a household, nor would they ever be expected to, God acknowledged that humankind would not be capable of running the world on its own. While the rules of a household may appear confining to a child or the rules of God may appear confining to human desire, God’s rules and regulations are not purely an exhibition of God’s authority and power. The mere fact that God has given the law and regulations by which to follow it is a testament to the loving nature of God himself. Seeing that a creation left to its own devices would destroy itself, God knew that lacking the law meant death for his children and giving the law meant life. The law is not an oppressor. The law and the regulations that come with are liberators. Within the law is freedom to enjoy this life without living in fear of losing it at a moment’s notice. The law does not prevent us from experiencing our true potential for good. Rather, the law protects us from experiencing our true potential for destruction. With God one finds peace in knowing that in his presence is safety from ourselves. Without God we are left out in the open, unprotected and vulnerable, living in a constant state of anxiety, apprehension and fear.