Friday, March 22, 2013

A Word For the American Church: Flee Sexual Immorality

Paul wrote a letter (or two) to the Thessalonian church. They were dear to his heart. He was experiencing the joy of seeing this fledgling work, a church for which he labored diligently, grow in the grace of the Lord. His letters reflect this pleasure.

But in this First Letter, he makes clear, without a doubt, the need to live a holy life. And he gives some interesting insight into what appears to be a primary contribution to sanctification.

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.     1 Thess. 4
I must say, I have been enjoying the directness of these Holy men of God. They knew their God and they spoke boldly, without apology, knowing that He is Love itself. Who needs to apologize for Love? And why on earth would one compromise Love? After all - Love is what the world desperately needs.

And so, in love, he speaks clearly this word: make a clean cut with sexual immorality. DON'T GO THERE! Don't dabble, don't dilly-dally, don't peruse, don't tinker. Scram, run, high tail it. Get away and leave all traces behind.

Don't entertain passion of lust and self-gratification. Don't do it. Don't mull it over, or you will be trapped. And once your flesh tastes self-gratification, it demands more and more. Maybe that is why this sin is listed as the primary course to sanctification for these dear people. If we indulge our flesh in this consuming sin, we will need greater measure of indulgence. It is like a black hole.

The American church is dallying. Dabbling. We have entertained compromise. We have practiced tolerance. And we shouldn't.

Why? Because, as J.B. Phillips puts it, "The calling of God is not to impurity but to the most thorough purity..."

The most thorough purity.

Not even the eyes should be indulging. If you have read the gospels, you already know and understand that. 

This temptation is far from new to our generation, to our time, to our church. But thanks be to God, His grace is far from old. And His mercies? They are new every morning. 

Rise up, oh men of God! Have done with lesser things. Give heart and mind and soul and strength to serve the King of Kings!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Fear

"Fear is the most tolerated sin in the church," Keith Tucci boldly declared.

Well, that statement stirred my heart. And reminded me of a story.

Once upon a time, I guess it was around 1978 or so, a pretty little thing from small town USA married a fine young man from Long Island. Early in their marriage her husband, quite familiar with New York City, decides that a quick trip to Manhattan for a Broadway show would be a fun adventure. How exciting! And a musical show, too!

Now, she had seen these streets once before as a ten year old girl vacationing with her family, but that was far away and long ago. Her only knowledge of them now is what she reads in the paper or sees in the cop shows on TV. She can't wait to experience them first hand with her dashing prince as guide!
Off they go! Over bridges, through tunnels. The sights, the sounds! At last, the island of Manhattan!
The first thing on their agenda is the purchase of tickets at the "two-fers" stand, a booth in Times Square selling admission to that day's performances at half-price. Two or three times around the block confirms a common dilemma - no parking spots.
He quickly pulls over, saying, "You get out here and get in line. I'll drive around until I find a spot and meet you at the booth." Hurriedly, hoping to time this maneuver with the light just ahead, he rushes her out of the door as she questioningly sputters unintelligible syllables. The door closes, he pulls away and disappears into traffic with no answer.
He's gone. Panic floods her as she instantly recalls every news story about the dangers of New York City streets. The vast crowd presses her as she moves one step from the curb, suspiciously eying each person around her. Glancing beyond the faces, she realizes she is unsure of the location of the booth. How will he find her? Is she possibly safe here? Will she ever see him again?
Paralyzed and unable to move, a mass of confused emotion overtakes her - anger, hurt, and deep fear. "Oh, Lord! What do I do? What do I do?" She knows she must quiet her soul and look to Him, to Jesus. Almost immediately she realizes a lesson is here for her to learn: fear is a disabler. Her commitment had been to serve Him wherever He sent her. Her promise was to be a helpmeet to her husband. Fear is keeping her from fulfilling these things.  And God has not given her a spirit of fear.
She repents and commits her service to Him once again. "God, help me. I do not want to be a slave to fear, but to You alone. I refuse to be subject to anything less than your Holy Spirit. Please help me."
The end of that story was simple. She found her way to the line where her husband soon joined her, apologizing profusely for having left her in such unfamiliar surroundings.

But the lesson learned was invaluable, serving her well for many years. And the preacher was right. Fear is tolerated and ought not be. It is not from Him. We are to repent for accepting, and even worse, embracing fear. It prohibits, diminishes, and disables.

Yes, I recall that lesson learned long ago. My heart has been stirred. I repent for allowing fear to creep into my heart and mind. I will face tomorrow with all its challenges courageously. I am free to serve and go and do. All because of Him.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Oh, To Be a Friend Of God

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.     James 4.4 ESV

James uses strong, direct language. There is no frill, no hedging, no softening the blow.

He did NOT say, "Be careful, now! Being friends with the world might taint your testimony!" Or, "You mustn't befriend the world. It might compromise your love for God."

friendship with the world = enmity with God

Clear, plain, hard truth. Ya gotta love these Bible guys. They sure don't make us all winners, do they? No equal distribution theory, no "trophy for all" plan. They probably would fail 21st Century Correctness 101 with Nancy Pelosi (or was that Laura Bush's class? Maybe Obama's? Nah...)

Here's what good ol' James was saying: Christians need to take care or it won't go well. We are NOT to make friends out of this world's ideology. Or this culture. We are IN the world, not OF the world. Oh, Christian, we must take care. This is no joking matter, no trivial concern. James was quite clear about that.

This world is not to be our meat and drink, but His Word alone. Our thoughts, our desires, our passion, our love - all Christ centered, Word based, Spirit motivated.

Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things. Proverbs 23.33 NASB

What we look at matters. The eye beholds and effects our mind. Maybe we should all take a second look at that favorite movie or TV show we've been watching. How tainted is it?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Phil. 4.8 ESV
The meditation of our heart and mind matters.  What we think upon transforms us. Let's look closely at those blogs we read, that magazine arriving every month. Is it based on true and honorable things?

There has been a trend in current American Christian circles. It goes something like this: Let's look like the world so they'll come to our churches; let's convince them that we are normal, run-of-the-mill folks, no different than they are so they'll listen to us.

Huh. If we really believe we are no different than they are, than what is it we have to say to them that they don't already know? But  if we acknowledge amongst ourselves that we are extremely different, in fact so different that we even live in a kingdom completely unlike their own, then are we practicing deception in order to present truth? How does that work?

We are not like unbelievers. We are not supposed to be like them. God has separated us from them, called us out from amongst them. For Pete's sake (who is Pete anyway?) - God LIVES in us!!! It is the hard, clear, wonderful truth.

We are concerned, maybe even afraid - yes, I think we are afraid - that such separation makes us unloving, haughty, arrogant. It didn't Jesus. He went into the tax collector's home. He spoke out on behalf of the adulterous woman. He served the poor and sick. He loved the man who did not yet have salvation. We can, too. But we don't have to look like them or become like them in ideology, in culture, in dress, in action, in thought, in speech, in humor. We should be markedly different. Peculiar.

Uncomfortably so.