Thinking Out Loud

June 11, 2019

The Peculiarities of the Definition of Sin

How many times have you sat in church and been told by the pastor that the word for sin is taken from the word hamartia, which means missing the mark? You’re then told that the meaning of the word is based on an archery term and perhaps you were given a teaching slide which showed such an image.

In the examples above, there is only one arrow and it lands appropriately in what we could call the center of God’s will or even, as applied in our generation, the center of God’s design. Of course, anything that missing that mark, in God`s economy simply doesn`t count. The following diagram makes that more clear…

…And yet we`re faced with an analogy that offers — and certainly does in the sport itself on which the analogy is based — an opportunity to come close and receive a lower score.  I`ve always pictured this more like the image below…

…and have even gone so far to say that in reference to contemporary issues of co-habitation, divorce, and even gay marriage, that some of those things borrow from the ideal, and yet still miss; the idea of a graduated response.

I wish I could articulate this better, but here goes…

I wonder sometimes if instead of looking at human behavior as being either right or wrong in God’s eyes, we should look at our various responses to His intentions as falling into categories like

  • good
  • better
  • best

In other words, a person who has lived 24 years in a committed gay relationship obviously sees some value to that; especially when one considers the hurt and rejection they have had to face [the price they’ve had to pay] from others over the course of those years. But in God’s eyes there may have been a ‘better’ or even a ‘best’ that they missed out on. Taking that to the next logical step, we can see how anything that falls short of God’s ideal standard could by some measure be considered sin because that’s how the word sin was originally defined. But it would appear to some that it was still ‘good.’* So the question is can there be activities that appear ‘good’ (either to some or to all) but also appear to be ‘sin’ (to those who have studied God’s intention or ideal plan)?

*Clarification: I went on to say that those relationships, while they are not best, might be seen by some (including the parties involved) as good or better to the extent that they borrow from the best. Perhaps it’s a Christian couple that attends church, gives, and supports a child through Compassion. Perhaps they are committed to monogamy. Perhaps they demonstrated all of the Fruit of the Spirit.

But transgression in civil law doesn`t work like that does it?

If the speed limit is 60 and you’re doing 65, it’s less than 10% over, but you’re still speeding. If the girl is due to have a birthday in two weeks, 14 days seems pretty trivial, but she’s still underage.

So why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?

In that benchmark source for all things theological that is Wikipedia (!) we read:

Hamartia is also used in Christian theology because of its use in the Septuagint and New Testament. The Hebrew (chatá) and its Greek equivalent (àµaρtίa/hamartia) both mean “missing the mark” or “off the mark”.

There are four basic usages for hamartia:

  1. Hamartia is sometimes used to mean acts of sin “by omission or commission in thought and feeling or in speech and actions” as in Romans 5:12, “all have sinned”
  2. Hamartia is sometimes applied to the fall of man from original righteousness that resulted in humanity’s innate propensity for sin, that is original sin For example, as in Romans 3:9, everyone is “under the power of sin”
  3. A third application concerns the “weakness of the flesh” and the free will to resist sinful acts. “The original inclination to sin in mankind comes from the weakness of the flesh.”
  4. Hamartia is sometimes “personified”. For example, Romans 6:20 speaks of being enslaved to hamartia (sin).

Perhaps we’ve overstated the archery image. (Preaching in different eras does go through periods of emphasis and de-emphasis of certain principles) Clearly, to God, sin is sin. You hit that target center or you don’t. You (as in Rom. 3.23) fall short of his glory. Other than The Message and J. B. Phillips, all of the English translations speak of God’s glory in that verse. (The other two looking more toward justification as key.)

It’s easy to say, “I missed the bullseye, but at least I landed on the target.” Or simply, “I’m trying.”

But knowing God’s ideal; knowing that the goal of the game is to hit the center; knowing that God’s desire is we aim for a perfect score… this has to commit us to aiming to do nothing less.

So again I ask, why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?  Or did he give us something more like Wikipedia states and we’ve simply overemphasized an alternative use of the word in antiquity?

What visual image would you choose?

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March 11, 2019

The Sermon He Did Not Want to Preach

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

The hints to Pastor Mitchell Norris started out subtly enough.

“Why don’t we do a series on “The Seven Deadly Sins,” pastor?”

He looked at the list: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. After the last almost-complete shutout of volunteers for the last church work day, he felt that starting at the end of the list with sloth would be a good series opener.

But then, the requests got more specific.

“We should have a sermon on gluttony.”

Maybe they weren’t quite that bold. They’d begin with a reference to the latest health reports on how we’re not eating as healthy as we could; or how American life expectancy is dropping for the first time; or how we have so much food compared to the rest of the world and we could solve world hunger by sharing it. Some offered more detailed statistics.

But then they’d pitch the sermon on gluttony.

Pastor Mitchell especially liked this pitch: “Nowhere in the Bible does it say we’re supposed to close our eyes to pray, but there are over one hundred references to gluttony.”

He decided to spare himself the bother of fact-checking that stat.

Why would the church be so concerned about this particular topic?

It was all about Renn.

Renn Taylor had been involved in the church for several decades. When Mitchell Norris arrived, Renn weighed 165 pounds soaking wet. He was 3rd base on the church softball team, and on his turn at bat his home runs came from his speed running the bases, not the depth of the hit.

And now, many trips to Cracker Barrel and Chick-fil-A later, he was clocking in around 285 pounds. Word was it wasn’t genetic. Renn loved a good meal. If there was an underlying psychological reason for the gorging, Renn would have to want to talk to the pastor — or someone — about it. He wasn’t going say a word, nor did he feel he needed to. Renn was a smart man who knew that his former set of clothing was no longer fitting.

People joked about it with Renn, they invited him and his wife over for some ‘health food,’ they anonymously sent him diet books in the mail, they even offered to make him a doctor’s appointment.

They were obsessed.

They were obsessed with Renn’s weight gain.

And as for Pastor Mitchell Norris, he felt there were more important things in congregational life to deal with than a topic which might only apply directly to about a half dozen people, but would be perceived as applying to one individual in particular.

As long as Renn would be in the audience — and he rarely missed a Sunday — Pastor Norris was not about to give that sermon, or do the series on “The Seven Deadly Sins” for that matter. “I cannot;” he told his wife, “do a sermon on overeating, binge eating, weight problems, or anything else on that subject as long as Renn is sitting in the audience. He’ll see right through it.”

The more he refused to address the issue, the more people in the church dug in their heels.

“Gluttony is a sin;” they reminded the pastor.

“So is materialism;” he would reply.

Or on another day, “There’s sin in the camp;” they would affirm. “We can’t simply tolerate sin within the walls of our church family.”

To which Pastor Norris would reply, “And what exactly is sin?”

To that question, responses varied. Some attempted a sound theological answer, and a few got it right, but for most, sin was Renn Taylor, spotted last Friday having a cheeseburger at the Waffle House next to the freeway.

So Pastor Mitchell Norris preached a series, but not the one they were expecting. He pulled a sermon out of the files about worrying about the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye when all along you’ve got a plank in your own.

Then he spoke about the type of people who Jesus befriended, and how none of us really deserve to be part of his inner circle, but when he lets us in, it’s an act of grace.

The week after that one, he spoke about Peter’s preoccupation over what might happen to the Apostle John and how Jesus tells him it’s really ‘none of your business.’

When it was over, they told him it was some of his best preaching. That he seemed to have a fresh passion and urgency about his preaching.

He thanked them.

And then, in the week that followed, at different times and places, they asked him if he would consider doing a sermon on gluttony.

 

 

September 27, 2018

A Worship Liturgy on Sin and Forgiveness

For the past few months, Ruth has increased her role as a contributor to Christianity 201. For last Sunday, she provided not only text, but two images and two song suggestions. After taking the time to format everything, I decided to share it here as well.

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

April 11, 2017

Judas’ Betrayal versus Peter’s Denial – Part Two

Peter and Judas as painted by DaVinci

A few weeks ago we were reading Luke 22:

NLT Luke 22:21 “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me…”

and it occurred to me while we generally accept this as applying to Judas, there is a sense in which this could apply to Peter as well. We looked at this topic yesterday, but today we return with some words from Philip Yancey:

Judas was not the first or the last person to betray Jesus, merely the most famous.

To [the Japanese Christian novelist Shusaku Endo], the most powerful message of Jesus was his unquenchable love even for — especially for — people who betrayed him. When Judas led a lynch mob into the garden, Jesus addressed him as “Friend.” The other disciples deserted him but still he loved them. His nation had him executed; yet while stretched out naked in the posture of ultimate disgrace, Jesus roused himself for the cry, “Father, forgive them.”

I know of no more poignant contrast between two human destinies than that of Peter and Judas. Both assumed leadership within the group of Jesus’ disciples. Both saw and heard wondrous things. Both went through the same dithery cycle of hope, fear, and disillusionment. As the stakes increased, both denied their Master. There, the similarity breaks off

Judas, remorseful but apparently unrepentant, accepted the logical consequences of his deed, took his own life, and went down as the greatest traitor in history. He died unwilling to receive what Jesus had come to offer him. Peter, humiliated but still open to Jesus’ message of grace and forgiveness, went on to lead a revival in Jerusalem and did not stop until he had reached Rome.

~ Excerpt from the book Grace Notes as quoted at Zondervan blog.

At Redeeming God, Jeremy Myers has an excellent article on this subject. This is a very small excerpt:

…Maybe you remember that before Judas betrayed Christ, Satan entered into him (Lk. 22:3). And we think, “That’s why Judas was so evil.” But did you know that Jesus called Peter Satan? Once, as Jesus was walking along with his disciples, he was telling them what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He said that he would be put to death. Peter didn’t like to hear this, so he took Jesus aside, and rebuked him by saying, “Never Lord! Don’t say such things. This shall never happen to you.” How did Jesus respond? He looked right at Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt 16:21-23; John 6:70-71).

So in other words, both Judas and Peter were influenced in one way or another by Satan. We can also be certain that both wanted Jesus to be someone he was not: a political, military, kingly ruler. Both wanted Jesus to rule and to reign and to judge. Both wanted him to overthrow the Romans, and set himself up as king, and return Israel to the glory they once had, and which is prophesied they will have again. Both wanted a type of Messiah that Jesus had not come to be. Again, all of us remember Judas for his betrayal, his treachery. But did you know that Peter betrayed Christ as well? Both turned their backs on Jesus. Judas sold Christ to those who wanted to kill him for 30 pieces of silver, which was the price of a slave.

…start at the beginning of that article here

Finally, a Roman Catholic website, Our Sunday Visitor, also offers was is an excellent study by Robert King on these two disciples:

…Contrary to how modern movies about Jesus often portray Peter, he was actually a religious man even before Jesus came into his life. He once responded to Christ with the statement, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean” (Acts 10:14), showing that he lived his life attempting to obey the laws and ordinances of God.

Unlike the self-righteous religious leaders of the day, Peter was also very aware of his own sinful state, declaring to Jesus, “depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Peter was so open to the inspiration of God that he was able to understand that Jesus was the Son of God (Mt 16:16-17).

We can also learn a lot from the way Jesus viewed Peter. It is quite clear from Scripture that Jesus saw within Peter something very special, an inner strength and a sincerity of purpose in following Him and in serving God…

…When we examine Judas’s character and lifestyle, we find quite a different story. Judas was the treasurer of the group, the one who held the money. When the woman poured the bottle of expensive ointment over Jesus’ feet, it was Judas who complained, declaring that the money could have been used for the poor (Jn 12:6-8).

Yet, we are told in this same passage Judas’s objection was because he was a thief who was stealing from the group’s money, and not because he really cared for the poor. Even in this incident, we see no real love or concern about Jesus, and only a false piety about the poor. Judas was more concerned about money than he was about Jesus. We can almost assume that there was absolutely no genuine concern about Jesus whatsoever.

According to the Scriptures, though Jesus often spoke encouraging words to Peter, He never spoke anything positive or encouraging to Judas. Jesus himself said that Judas was “a devil” (Jn 6:70-71). He also said that it would have been better if Judas had not even been born (Mt 26:24). Unlike the love Jesus had for Peter, there is no such evidence of any like emotion for Judas. This is because Jesus knew that Judas’s heart was full of self-interest and ulterior motives…

…start at the beginning of that article at this link

I hope you’ll consider delving into one of the last two items quoted here.

 

April 10, 2017

Judas’ Betrayal versus Peter’s Denial – Part One

Judas.

Peter.

Who screwed up most?

Does it matter?

Several years ago I was reading a classic, The First Easter, by Peter Marshall. It’s written in a style that actually reminds me so much of Rob Bell’s writing. I’ve read it out loud as part of our family Bible study, divided into seven sections of about twenty pages each. Last night was the middle part, which seemed to portray clearly great remorse on Judas’ part.

I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood… Jesus of Nazareth. He had done nothing amiss.

In a 2011 piece at the CNN Belief blog, Craig Gross discussed this topic in great detail. He describes asking his Facebook network if they believe Judas is in heaven or hell today? The first response was dogmatic.

Judas is in hell today. He’s been there for 2,000 years and he’ll be there forever.

Craig was not impressed. He notes how convinced everyone is that their view is correct. As if it matters. I know there have been times in my life where I denied the Savior. Maybe not as overtly as Peter. And I’m sure if I look there have been times where, by some mis-step, some mis-statement, some inflection or even laughter, I have betrayed the cause of Christ. Perhaps not with the same historical significance, but then, who is to say? Craig reminds me:

It is easier to debate these issues and make speculations about others than it is to actually look at ourselves in the mirror. It is always easier to think someone else is worse off then we are.

I guess my greater concern is how all of this puts the focus on the wrong person. Judas or Peter are not what this coming weekend is all about. It’s all about Jesus. It always has been. It’s a time to gaze deep into the eyes of the suffering Christ and through His pain, see Him reflecting back lavish amounts of love. To me. To you.

Allow nothing to take the focus off where it belongs. It was our sin — just as bad or worse than Peter’s or Judas’ — that put Jesus on the cross, but He willingly allowed this to give us a future and a hope.

Allow the love of Jesus Christ to overwhelm you in the next several days as we remember His death, and His triumph over death.

January 3, 2017

Updating the Classics

Of the writing of books, it would seem there is no end. I know… I should copyright that sentence. But any observer of Christian publishing knows that the new year will bring thousands of new titles. But perhaps we need a few old books. We need their wisdom, but we need them in language we can understand.

A few years ago I made this suggestion. A few days ago, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and see how hard or how easy it is to do this.

First the challenge. This appeared in January, 2010…

Keith Green

In the early 1980s before his death in 1982, contemporary Christian singer Keith Green was publishing the monthly Last Days Newsletter in which, among other articles, he was translating a number of classic sermons and shorter works into modern English.

James Reimann, a Christian bookstore owner, took a look at the classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and decided to present this rich, quality material in a way that his customers would understand it. The updated edition was published in 1992 and now outsells the original.

However, events of this type are rare. Some bloggers re-post the works of Charles Spurgeon on a regular basis, but if this material is so vital to Christian living, why not update the text?

Jarret Stevens gave us The Deity Formerly Known as God, an update of J. B. Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small, written for the next generation with the addition of bold typefaces and illustrations. When you have such a good base text to begin with, your work can’t help have value.

As a blogger, I’m often told how eloquent a writer I am, but the truth is that while I read several books per month, I struggle with older writing styles. I see the value in Spurgeon, Charles Wesley, E.M. Bounds and Andrew Murray, but I’m unlikely to impulsively grab one off the shelves unless it pertains to a particular topic of interest.

The Christian book industry needs to be encouraging more modern renderings of some of these great books. The authors’ take on scripture is often different and deeper from what modern writers extrapolate from the same scriptures. We need to connect with some of these classic interpretations before they are lost to a changing English language.

So on to the execution. This was written in January 2017 and was easier said than done; trying to get inside the author’s word usage took about three times longer than I expected. (By the way, Matthew Henry would have loved bullet points, numbered lists, bold face type, headings and subheadings, etc.) This appeared at C201 yesterday, and had to be finished in a hurry…

…The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry as amended.

So, go now and write all this down.
Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
“Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
“Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.” – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1. The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2. The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3. The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
“Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2. What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3. What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

April 7, 2016

Every Generation Has its Tree in the Garden

After writing on Tuesday morning about the Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina, I got to scrolling through old posts here and discovered one from six years ago which has never re-run.

If you know what the conference is about, you’ll read what follows through that lens, which is what I believe I had in mind when I wrote it. The idea that right now, thanks to the same wonderful technology which is allowing people all over the world to read my words, an entire generation is captivated by the empty yet addictive appeal of the latest iteration of the Temptation Tree.

Or maybe there are several…

It was a simple test. Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there. Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times. It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names. Or not so good at history. And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.” Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree. The one that looks so inviting. The one thing you can’t have. The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it. Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden. It’s there in the garden of our world. In the garden of our society. In the garden of our nation. In the garden of our community. In the garden of our families. In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront. In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided. Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten. The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees. They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees. These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence. They are above such weaknesses. They don’t eat the fruit. They don’t touch the tree. They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb. “We warned them;” they say. “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it. They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves. They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

January 15, 2016

Keeping One Foot in Sin City

Lately I’ve been trying to do more original writing at Christianity 201. While the post below is mostly scripture and commentary from others, I was struck by the similarity in these two passages of scripture and once you see that, the obvious application.

Saving Some Souvenirs from the Adventure

NLT Joshua 6:16b …Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the town! 17a Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord

18 “Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel.

Joshua 7:1a But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things…

10 But the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? 11 Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. 12 That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction. I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction.

The following is from the website Fighting The Giants:

There are some things that never fail to happen in God’s working. Just as surely as fire burns, so sin has its consequences. Sin affects not only the one who sins, but others as well. We will see that in our story today. It is a very sad story about a man who tried to hide his sin.

Have you ever had a real sore thumb—you banged it with a hammer and it got all inflamed and red. Didn’t you hurt all over? You couldn’t forget the pain so much that your whole body was affected. All who belong to the Lord Jesus are part of one big family, and when one of us sins, we hurt the whole family. We dishonor the Lord and we hurt other Christians as well.

But in our story today we learn about a man who did not believe God’s way was best, so he disobeyed God’s commands. The Bible says “He that covers his sins will not prosper.” (This means that the one who hides his sin shall not prosper.) When we sin, we need to confess our sin to God. (This means we should agree with God that we have not obeyed and that we have done wrong, because God’s way is always the right way.) We need to be convinced that God’s plan is always best. We can never have a plan that is as good as His plan, and when we disobey God’s command, that is sin…

…God had commanded them to destroy the entire city because it was so sinful. God had told Joshua, and Joshua had told the people just what they were to do. The Lord told Joshua that when the Israelites conquered Jericho they were to burn everything in the city that belonged to the people of Jericho except the silver, gold, brass, and iron. These they were to bring to the House of the Lord. Joshua had carefully instructed his soldiers, and every man knew that these were the orders. Achan was a soldier who disobeyed the orders and hid a beautiful garment, and some silver and gold in his tent. Achan felt sure no one else would find out about this.

The website continues to tell — in a way that children can understand — how the story unraveled and the destruction that this one man’s sin brought upon the nation, and all this in the wake of such a dramatic victory at Jericho.

Enjoying a Last Look Before Leaving

NLT Genesis 19:12 Meanwhile, the angels questioned Lot. “Do you have any other relatives here in the city?” they asked. “Get them out of this place—your sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else. 13 For we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it.”

…15 At dawn the next morning the angels became insistent. “Hurry,” they said to Lot. “Take your wife and your two daughters who are here. Get out right now, or you will be swept away in the destruction of the city!”

16 When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful. 17 When they were safely out of the city, one of the angels ordered, “Run for your lives! And don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away!”

…24 Then the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. 25 He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt.

Some of the stories in the First Testament which many today have trouble accepting as factual (such as Jonah’s fish, or Lot’s wife) are the very ones affirmed by Jesus in the Second Testament. In one of the shortest verses in the Bible (just 3 words in many translations) we read:

Luke 17:32 Remember what happened to Lot’s wife!

From the website Walk by Faith:

Lot, being Abraham’s nephew and a Godly man who knew the Lord, saved his family from the coming destruction due to the intervention of Abraham. God had told Abraham if ten righteous men could be found in Sodom he would not destroy the city. God sent two angels to find out if ten righteous men could be found but they could find none. The angels had to physically take Lot, his wife and two daughters and lead them from the city the morning before destruction came to Sodom. They were told to go through the plains to the mountain and warned not to look back. Lot’s wife who had come to love the riches and things of the world lingered while her heart and desires continued to draw her attention back to Sodom. I don’t believe it was the act of looking back so much as the desire that was in her heart that betrayed her and she ended up paying the penalty for her desires.

Lot’s wife is a symbol of man today. We are aware of the right things to do and have been turned in the right direction of salvation but refuse to accept it because the desires of the heart are on worldly materialistic things not wanting to forsake them for the Godly things. Lot’s wife had a Godly husband, came from a Godly background and was privileged to be saved from the destruction of Sodom but chose in her heart to reject those things in favor of the wickedness life in Sodom had given her.

The Common Thread

Both of these accounts illustrate people wanting to hang on to a piece of something God would have us flee from. Maybe you can relate: An item of clothing or paraphernalia kept as a souvenir from an earlier phase of life; pictures of someone who was truthfully the other half of a destructive relationship; a bookmark in your computer that takes you to places online you should not be visiting.

After reminding us to consider Lot’s wife, Jesus says,

33 If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.

While the text doesn’t grant me this liberty, I’d like to suggest in context we read this today as, If you are holding on parts of a past life, you’re losing a part of life in the present; but if you let it go, you’re better off.

Are there things in a drawer in your room, in a box in the attic, in a storage bin in the garage that are part of a life you no longer live? Join the Apostle Paul in saying,

Phil 3:13b …I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead

This classic CCM song by Fireworks seemed an appropriate ending for today’s theme:

November 7, 2015

When You Find Yourself in a Worship Service of Another Faith

Contradict

My wife and I enjoy touring the worship facilities of other religions. We’ve been in a variety of these, including two Muslim mosques, a Hindu mandir and a Hare Krishna temple. At the temple we were served some deep fried cauliflower. Did “breaking bread” in that sense possibly mean something to them that we missed? Did we inadvertently partake of cauliflower communion?

Okay, scratch the last sentence; but sometimes — even in the cases above where we were simply visiting the facilities on non-holy days — you could find yourself in an unexpected situation.

Many of you know the story from 2 Kings 5 about Naaman being healed of his leprosy. Naaman was an army general, but was also a man under authority, serving the king. Here’s a link to the story from The Message Bible.

Because he’s healed, Naaman wants to give Elisha a gift, but of course, the prophet will have none of that. Naaman pledges himself to worship [the] God [of Israel], but before he leaves, he asks Elisha if he can be forgiven for one transgression; something from the past, that he expects to also arise in the future.

CEB 2 Kings 5:17b Your servant will never again offer entirely burned offerings or sacrifices to any other gods except the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master comes into Rimmon’s temple to bow down there and is leaning on my arm, I must also bow down in Rimmon’s temple. When I bow down in Rimmon’s temple, may the Lord forgive your servant for doing that.”

The NIV (see further below) says the king is “leaning on his arm” while The Message version seems to make Naaman a little more complicit than the NIV indicates:

“…When my master, leaning on my arm, enters the shrine of Rimmon and worships there, and I’m with him there, worshiping Rimmon, may you see to it that God forgive me for this.”

Elisha tells Naaman to “Go in peace.”

The God he is concerned about having worshiped is “‘Rimmon’ (lit. ‘pomegranate’) is a parody of the name Ramanu, the Syrian storm god corresponding to Baal. This chief deity of Syria was also known by the name Hadad (Zech. 12:11)” [Reformation Study Bible]

I was unfamiliar with this aspect of the store Naaman’s healing until I was listening to a discussion two weeks ago on a Christian talk show* where the guest was Dr. Paul Metzger, a professor at Multnomah Bible Seminary. Not having been able to record the reference, I wrote to him for clarification.

…In the interview, I referenced Naaman, who was a military commander of the king of Aram’s army. Naaman was also a leper. He came to Elisha for healing, and God healed him of his leprosy. Naaman devoted his life to the God of Israel as a result. I alluded to the account in 2 Kings 5, as it pertains to how Christians might engage others in multi-faith settings today. Naaman asked Elisha if he would be pardoned for going with his Master, the king, into the pagan temple and bow when the king leaned on him. Elisha gave him his blessing. Here is the text in 2 Kings 5:

17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:17-19; NIV).

I made use of this text in response to [program host] Drew [Marshall] concerning the matter of what one should do in a worship service in a diverse or pluralistic context. I said it is a case by case matter of intent. Naaman’s heart intent was to honor the God of Israel, not the pagan deity. Thus, Elisha gave him his blessing. It is not the bowing as such that is the issue, or the praying, but to whom is one praying in one’s heart. Again, I don’t think it is a matter of bowing or not bowing, praying or not praying, but the object or intent of the bow or prayer.

There is the danger of taking too much liberty from this passage however. Again we turn to Matthew Henry who takes a more hard-line approach:

He owns he ought not to do it, but that he cannot otherwise not do it, but that he cannot otherwise keep his place,—protests that his bowing is not, nor ever shall be, as it had been, in honor to the idol, but only in honor to the king,—and therefore he hopes God will forgive him. Perhaps, all things considered, this might admit of some apology, though it was not justifiable. But, as to us, I am sure,

(1) If, in covenanting with God, we make a reservation for any known sin, which we will continue to indulge ourselves in, that reservation is a defeasance [voiding or undoing] of his covenant. We must cast away all our transgressions and not except [make an exception of] any house of Rimmon.

(2 Though we are encouraged to pray for the remission of the sins we have committed, yet, if we ask for a dispensation to go on in any sin for the future, we mock God, and deceive ourselves.

(3) Those that know not how to quit a place at court when they cannot keep it without sinning against God, and wronging their consciences, do not rightly value the divine favor.

(4) Those that truly hate evil will make conscience of abstaining from all appearances of evil. Though Naaman’s dissembling his religion cannot be approved, yet because his promise to offer no sacrifice to any god but the God of Israel only was a great point gained with a Syrian, and because, by asking pardon in this matter, he showed such a degree of conviction and ingenuousness as gave hopes of improvement, the prophet took fair leave of him, and bade him Go in peace, 2 Kings. 5:19. Young converts must be tenderly dealt with.

I have four takeaways from this.

  1. The Bible is wholly adequate to speak to issues which arise in a 21st century context, especially with increasing religious pluralism.
  2. You may indeed find yourself doing more than “touring the facilities” but actually being asked (because of work or family commitments) to attend a service of worship of another faith.
  3. As Dr. Metzger points out, it is the attitude of the heart that matters most.
  4. As Matthew Henry indicates, this situation ought to be the exception and not the rule, and we’re not granted permanent indulgences to participate in such worship events, but need to trust God that he will provide alternative arrangements so that we’re not doing this on a regular basis.

The graphic is a response to the popular Coexist graphic found in a 2012 blog post at the apologetics website Stand To Reason. Click the image to read more.

*Scroll down to October 24th, the “Pub Crawl” segment at this link.

October 13, 2015

My C201 Blog Post About Conviction (Not That I Was Feeling Convicted or Anything)

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 am

Isaiah 6:5 -Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Acts 2:37 -Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

Is it just me, or is conviction of sin a topic that you don’t hear preached as often as it once was? Apparently we’ve only looked at this topic at Christianity 201 once before. Another one, which I see we’ve covered more frequently there is assurance of salvation. Still, I find certain themes are just not heard so often in the modern church. When was the last time you saw an altar call for people wanting assurance?

But back to conviction. A few weeks ago a friend shared with me after church that he felt God was impressing something on his heart. As he talked, I was reminded of the movie The Color Purple (which I haven’t seen and I’m not necessarily recommending) and the song, “Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something.”

Can’t sleep at night and you wonder why
Maybe God is trying to tell you something
Crying all night long, something’s gone wrong
Maybe God is trying to tell you something

Have you ever felt conviction? At Acts 17:11 Bible Studies we read,

The first work of the Holy Spirit is the conviction of sin. If we are temples of the Spirit, His presence, His name in us will convict us, and others, of sin. We will feel more affinity towards those who, like us, long for more conviction, repentance, and the power of God to live a life that will stand the test of fire.

Often there is confusion between the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting us, and work of the enemy in condemning us. This is from the website of Marriage Missions International:

It is important for those of us who are born again Christians, to know that there is a huge difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of the enemy of our faith, because it can affect how we approach life.

Please, let there be no confusion. The Holy Spirit works to convict us to push away from the ensnarement of sin (doing that which is wrong) and towards God in freedom. The condemning spirit of the enemy of our faith works to push us away from God in shame and condemnation, so we are more prone in hopelessness, to continue to do what we should NOT. (emphasis added)

In researching this topic, I found a very lengthy article at the website Outside the Camp. In a list of the various roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives, one stood out:

  • The Holy Spirit sanctifies

So the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit is just one of many things He brings. Paul writes to Titus:

3:5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (emphasis added)

But the initial repentance and confession at the moment of salvation is not the end. Sanctification is a process; a life-long process. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul says,

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Nathan Bingham writes:

Regeneration is a momentary act, bringing a person from spiritual death to life. It is exclusively God’s work. Sanctification is an ongoing process, dependent on God’s continuing action in the believer, and consisting of the believer’s continuous struggle against sin.

Different denominations teach different things about how and when this works. In one church I attended, they spoke of “Saved, sanctified and filled with the spirit.” Was that the order in which these occur? The phrase “second blessing” or “second work of grace” is often used. But in other churches, the gift of tongues (or more generally, the filling of the Spirit) is called the second blessing. For this, we turn to that great theological source (!) that is Wikipedia:

According to some Christian traditions, a second work of grace is a transforming interaction with God which may occur in the life of a Christian. The defining characteristics of this event are that it is separate from and subsequent to salvation (the first work of grace), and that it brings about significant changes in the life of the believer.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught that there were two distinct phases in the Christian experience. During the first phase, conversion, the believer received forgiveness and became a Christian. During the second phase, sanctification, the believer was purified and made holy. Wesley taught both that sanctification could be an instantaneous experience, and that it could be a gradual process.

Regardless of your theological take on the subject of sanctification, I hope and pray you have moments where you are open to the voice of God speaking to you about sin in your life. This conviction is a gift from God, though often we don’t see it as such. Maybe God is trying to tell you something.

2 Cor 7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”


Go Deeper: The opening verses are from 22 Bible Verses about Conviction of Sin.

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