Sin?

cure for sinA recent op-ed piece in a large newspaper has garnered a lot of interest. In essence, the writer stated that what’s right and wrong changes over time. In other words, truth evolves. Although this may be accurate in certain areas of culture – fashion, for example – it is not true in all areas of life.

The writer of the above-mentioned editorial wants the Church to change the definition of sin. The reality is that we don’t have that option. We human beings don’t get to decide what is morally right and wrong in God’s eyes. Only He can do that. And He has.

He has stated clearly and plainly that there is a line that we can cross. When we traverse that line, we have sinned. Jesus uses the word “sin” and its variations (sinful, sinner, etc.), more than nearly any other word. According to the Lord Himself, there is right and wrong.

The fact of the matter is that if we reject the idea of sin, then we reject the core of what Jesus came to do. If we have no sin, then we don’t need a Savior. If we can do whatever we want, based on our own inclinations, then Jesus’ death was for nothing.

But it wasn’t for nothing. Sin is real. God has stated that there is right and there is wrong. There is a clear demarcation between those two. And we don’t get to change that because the mores of society change.

The prophet Isaiah said it well: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…” (Isaiah 5:20)

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Holding a Grudge

holding a grudgeThis morning, as I was reading the Gospel of Mark, I came to the section about John the Baptist. He had told Herod, plainly and clearly, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mark 6:18) Of course, that didn’t make Herod very happy, but it made his wife, Herodias, even less happy. Scripture says she “had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe.” (Mark 6:19-20, author’s emphasis)

Then came the opportunity. Herodias’ daughter danced at Herod’s birthday party. She pleased Herod so much that he offered her anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. Wait … what?! Up to half his kingdom? Think of the possibilities.

  • The ongoing income from a percentage of the taxes from half the people.
  • The Roman soldiers at her disposal for protection or vengeance.
  • The villa by the sea.
  • The servants and slaves to do her bidding.

So many – and varied – possibilities.

But when the daughter asked her mother what she should request, the response – in the face of all those possibilities – is startling. “’For what should I ask?’ And she said, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’” (Mark 6:24-25)

Herodias’ grudge (vs. 19) had become all-consuming. She could have seen her daughter receiving great treasure. Instead, she wanted John dead. John died because Herodias held a grudge against him.

Most of us don’t have the authority or ability to kill someone else. And it’s probably good that we don’t. Yet, holding a grudge can be just as deadly to us.

Someone once said that harboring unforgiveness in your heart is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Herodias’ grudge caused the death of John the Baptist. For most of us, by holding a grudge, we are more likely killing ourselves.

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Worn Away?

Mississippi RiverSome time ago, I went on a personal prayer retreat. The retreat facility where I stayed overlooked the Mississippi River. One day as I walked along the shore of the river I noticed several places where man-made piles of rock jutted out into the water. These were not just small accumulations of stones but large boulders forming blockades, fifty feet out into the river. At the time I wondered why they were made.

Later, as I sat outside the small hermitage where I stayed, I noticed that just down river from each of these collections of rocks was a place where the shoreline was considerably worn away. These stone barricades were not just someone’s personal piers for walking on. The ferocious waters of the mighty Mississippi were wearing away large sections of shore line. The never-ceasing current of that great river had pulled away rocks and soil from the edge. Left unchecked, those waters would have destroyed even more of those sections of river bank. These blockades were obviously designed to help keep any more of the shore from eroding.

Are there places where you need to build some blockades in your life? Are there areas of your spiritual life that have worn away that need to be protected?

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Too Old? No!

respect for eldersThere is a massive danger in us thinking only in terms of being relevant in regard to age. Our culture teaches us that the older you are, the less relevant you become to society and, especially, to those who are younger. But this is only a cultural idea. You won’t find such a notion in the Asian or African cultures, and you certainly won’t find it in the Bible.

Rather, there is a respect that is demonstrated for the elderly. Those with more experience at life – those who have lived for multiple decades – have learned lessons that the younger generation needs to hear.

As the Church, we – first and foremost – should embrace the wisdom of the gray hair. If we shift them to a position of being irrelevant, we have made a grave mistake. When we refuse to learn from those who have walked before us, we are destined to make errors that could be prevented by their wisdom.

Some time ago, I read a story about a missionary who was ministering among a Native American tribe. One day, one of the Native American tribal leaders posed a scenario. “If you knew there was some horrendous catastrophic event coming, and there was one last flight out, you, in your culture, would take the younger people and leave the elderly behind. We, from our cultural perspective, would do just the opposite; we would take the elderly and leave the younger ones.”

The missionary admitted that the tribal leader was likely correct in his assessment, but asked why they would do it that way.

The tribal leader responded, “Because we know it only takes nine months to make a baby. It takes sixty years to make an elder.” Then, the tribal leader added another thought: “In your culture, you only have senior citizens. We have elders.”

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God Is Always Faithful

faithful GodIf I’m honest, I have times of tremendous faith as well as times of plaguing doubt. I’m confident and I’m wavering. I trust completely and I wonder.

I have seen and declared God’s faithfulness. I have given testimony to His amazing provision. And, shortly afterward, I have wondered whether He will, indeed, continue to provide for my needs.

Yes, I’ve known His manifold blessings. But that was yesterday. Will He come through tomorrow? I am sometimes doubtful.

Yet, I don’t think I’m the only one who has struggled with this. I have heard from too many others who, in moments of candidness, have shared similar stories. We humans seem to have a tendency to lean toward being mercurial: changeable, fickle, flighty.

The Lord, on the other hand, isn’t like that. He is unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19)

And one of my all-time favorite passages of Scripture: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

Do not fear. God is faithful.

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Thunder?

airplane flyingIt was nearly fifteen years ago, but I remember it well.

Monday, October 16, 2000, was a dreary-looking evening near our home in rural Missouri, just outside St. Louis. It was rainy and foggy, a stay-home kind of night. My wife and I were in our family room when we suddenly heard – and felt – a rather strong rumble. “Was that thunder?” she asked, seemingly uncertain.

“Of course it was thunder,” I responded, somewhat condescendingly, “what else would it be?” I had no doubt that what we had heard and felt was thunder. It was the only thing in my experience that would have caused such a rumbling.

The next morning, taking our kids to school, we found out I was wrong. Dozens of news vans, with satellite dishes mounted on the tops, lined the small two-lane road between our house and the kids’ school. It hadn’t been thunder. A plane had crashed less than a mile from our home. Everyone on board was killed, including the governor of Missouri.

I had never heard a plane crash before. It was outside the realm of my experience. Consequently, I had tried to make reality fit into my experience. It didn’t work.

We can have a tendency to do the same thing with Scripture. We read something in the Bible and try to understand it based on our previous experiences. Yet the truth of God’s Word doesn’t always fit nicely and neatly into our experience.

Instead, we should allow God’s Word to shape our experience. Jesus told us that His Words should be abiding in us. (John 15:8) The Bible is the greater reality. God’s truth – which will stand forever – is far more real than our experiences.

So, rather than trusting our five senses, we should trust the eternal Word of God.

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19)

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How Deeply Do I Care?

Jesus arrestedImagine for a moment that you are being arrested for a crime that you didn’t commit. You knew the arrest was coming. You are even aware that you’ll be unjustly convicted. It’s no surprise to you that the authorities have come to take you.

So, as they’ve surrounded you and your friends, with guns drawn, what’s your first response? Do you try to run? Do you ask your friends to help you resist? Are you even aware that there are others there with you? After all, the impending arrest must be foremost in your mind, right?

Jesus found Himself in a situation like this.

“So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’” (John 18:7-8)

I find it amazing that even in the hour of His arrest, Jesus was so very concerned about His friends. “If you seek me, let these men go.”

They were surrounded by the authorities, when Jesus, in essence, said, “Take me and let the rest get out of here.”

This scene causes me to flash forward to the cross, where Jesus again demonstrates His care and concern for His mother and also for His good friend John. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27) Even with His dying breaths, Jesus demonstrated great compassion.

As a leader, I am challenged by Jesus’ reactions. Do I care that deeply and fervently for people? Jesus certainly did.

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