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Archive for July, 2017

“You shall not steal.” ~ Exodus 20:15

This command is pretty self-explanatory.  I think we all know what stealing is – taking something that belongs to someone else.  I have not really struggled with stealing in my life but I have stolen things before.

The two instances I can distinctly remember were both when I was young.  The first, I was about six years old and my friend had a doll I wanted.  I stuck it in my shirt and thought no one would notice as I was leaving her house.  I was caught.  The second time I stole lipstick from a store because my friend encouraged me to and when I walked out the alarms went off.  I am pretty sure that is the last time I ever tried stealing anything that did not belong to me.

Still, as I meditated on this verse this morning, I began to consider ways in which “good moral Christian people” do steal from one another in ways we may not realize.  Not materially – other ways.

I looked at the other commandments in order to put it in perspective.

With the first and second commands, if we break them we steal what belongs only to God – namely our worship – and give it away to other, lesser things, people, etc.  When we take the name of the Lord in vain we steal God’s honor by failing to respect him appropriately.  When we refuse to rest we steal God’s time filling it with earthly things or work in our own strength apart from him.  It is pride that causes us to steal time from God and refuse to rest in Him.  We steal honor from our parents when we break the fifth command.  We steal life when we break the sixth command.  We steal someone else’s spouse when we break the seventh command.  We may also steal another’s purity or steal affections and attention that belong to someone else.  When we bear false witness we steal another’s good name and reputation by the evils of slander, gossip, misrepresentation, and purposefully misleading others concerning their character.  Lasting, when we covet we steal the encouragement and love we should for others and fail to give it to them out of jealousy.  Jealous people always seek to bring down, discourage, avoid and injure the party of whom they are jealous.  I have encountered many jealous people who refuse to build up, love, or even know others simply due to their own covetousness.

Therefore, stealing is so much more than taking material things – although it is that.  I personally would rather have my lipstick stolen before my reputation.  But the latter is what “good moral Christians” in the church do again and again to one another by gossip, slander, and jealousy.  God help us.

Amen.

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 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. ~1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Paul is writing to the Corinthian Church and he is telling them that spiritual blessings, advantages, and even membership with God’s people do not automatically equal God’s favor.  He points them back to their ancestors in the wilderness and proves that though they had every spiritual blessing and advantage, they did not please God.

They had a cloud and fire straight from God to follow.  They had miraculous provisions of food and drink.  We and the Corinthians have the sacraments, fellowship, membership, and provisions as well.  None of these things make us “good” with God.  None of these things make us right with God in and of themselves.  So if these things do not, what does?

The blood of Christ and obedience to him and his Word.  That is all that makes us right with God.  So, here is our warning:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. ~1 Corinthians 10:6

These people were to serve as an example for us – so we might not stumble and fall as they did in the wilderness.  What evil is Paul speaking of?  What evil were they doing?  Because we know they were doing right things – things God honors and gives to his own people such as worship, community, baptism, spiritual things, and religious practices.  What evil were they doing in addition to the good things?  He goes on in verses 7-10 to elaborate for us.

Paul gives three main examples in verses 7-10: Idolatry, sexual immorality, and discontent and complaining.  They were worshiping false gods in addition to worshiping the One True God.  The false gods they were worshiping were self, sex, food, drink, pleasure, etc.

They were impure in sexuality – in thinking about, entertaining, and doing immoral things in regards to sexual practices.  They were not content with what God was providing – namely their own spouses, marriages and what God provided for their sexuality.  They were seeking other avenues and sexual outlets.  They were worshiping these other outlets and making them into gods by their lust and desire for them, their willingness to sacrifice to and for them, and their submission to them while failing to submit to the commands of Christ.

Furthermore, they were discontent with the food and drink provided and they were eating the food sacrificed to idols and likely participating in the idol worship itself.  They complained and grumbled generally never being satisfied with what God had provided for them so mercifully.  Just like in the desert with the manna.

In all these things – this sin they were doing right alongside their religious business – they were accused by Paul of testing Christ.  That’s why Paul takes the time to remind them of what happened to their ancestors when they did these same things testing God’s patience and grace.

He’s like hey guys…remember the snakes?  They came because the people were dissatisfied with all the great blessings God had given to them.  They were spoiled brats.  So God gave them some snakes to contend with.  He gave them something to complain about.  (Numbers 21)  They were destroyed by Satan because of their grumbling.

Why does Paul bring all this up?  He tells us in verse 11:

 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. ~1 Corinthians 10:11

These things happened for you, New Testament Church!  For you to learn from!  So you wouldn’t fall into the same temptations as those before you and be destroyed like they were!  Therefore…

THEREFORE!  Since this is for you and your instruction…

12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ~1 Corinthians 10:12-13

In other words, don’t think you’re safe.  Don’t think you cannot be tempted to the point of falling into sin and being destroyed, too.  Be on guard!  Don’t just do whatever the world is doing.  Be careful!  Your God is faithful and you will be tempted but, if you are listening for him and trusting in his provision, he will show you how to resist, how to escape,  how to obey,  and how to not fall into things that will destroy you.

THEREFORE…because these things are true…

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:14

RUN!!! Run away from idolatry!  Run away from idolaters!  You are member of Christ!  Do not participate with demons!  You cannot do both!  You will not win!  You are no match for Satan no matter how strong you think you are in the faith.  Satan is stronger than you are.  God is stronger than you are.  Stop provoking and testing him!  He does not take lightly to idolatry.  He does not wink and smile at demonic idolatry, sexual immorality, and constant complaining.

Therefore…obey him.  Participate only in that which is good and you will be in his favor.  Be careful.  Be on guard.  Imitate Christ.  What a calling!  What a high calling to strive toward.  Walk as Jesus did.  Don’t be lax in your spiritual walk.  Work out your salvation with all you’ve got because that’s what it’s going to take to be pure, faithful, and victorious as a Christian.  Amen.

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 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” ~John 3:1-2

We.  Nicodemus speaks in plural.  This religious leader is not just speaking for himself.  He says, “…we know…”  It is very likely he is speaking on behalf of himself and several, if not many, religious leaders of his day.  The Pharisees.  They knew.  They knew, at the very least, that Jesus was from God – yet – they still hated him.  They still sought ways to discredit and undermine him.  They still publicly challenged and slandered him.

This is amazing!  Jealousy makes power-hungry religious men do terrible things even though they know better.

Jesus takes Nicodemus immediately to the reason and the solution for why he doesn’t know him for who he actually is.  Jesus is not just from God – he is God.  The reason Nicodemus doesn’t know that is because he has not been regenerated by the power of God.  He is a just another guy who is interested in religion.  He lacks spiritual insight and wisdom precisely because he has not come to know Christ truly yet.  He knows all about religion.  He fails to know God.  This is tragic.

What does Jesus do?

He wastes no time explaining who he is or setting Nicodemus straight about his identity.  Jesus gives him the solution.  “You must be born again.”  He proceeds to preach the gospel to Nicodemus adding that it is quite peculiar that he is in a position and in fact is a teacher of God’s people and yet has no understanding of the things of God. (verse 10)

Nicodemus is bewildered.  He is confused.  He is astonished at what Jesus tells him saying, “How can these things be?” (verse 9)

After Jesus makes the point that a teacher of God’s people ought to know these things, he reveals the real issue in Nicodemus’s life.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”~ John 3:11-12

You don’t believe me, Nicodemus.  I have repeatedly told you and showed you the truth in simple, lisping lessons but you simply do not believe it.  If you don’t believe me about things on earth – things you can see – how will you believe about things in heaven – things you have not seen?!  He gives Nicodemus the gospel as well as the reason men just like Nicodemus do not believe it.

We tend to forget that this whole John 3:16 business is in the context of Jesus talking to one of the most religious men of his day.  Think about that.  Consider the implications of that truth.

So what does Jesus say to this very religious teacher guy?  Grace is here – but, as Jesus has already told this man, it is for those who believe.  You do not believe.  Light is here.  The problem is not that you do not have enough light.  You love darkness.  That is the problem.  And why do you love darkness?  Because you’re hiding.  You are afraid that your wrong deeds will be exposed.  You care more about how you look on the outside than you do about whether you are in God’s favor.  You would rather hide behind religion than come into the light and be made clean.

The main idea here is that Jesus is not the one hiding.  God is waiting and willing no matter how or when we come to inquire of him.  We are always the ones who hide from God.  Nicodemus comes at night because he is hiding.  Likely he fears his religious friends seeing him talk to Jesus – because God forbid one of them get to know Jesus rightly and for who he truly is.  They were much more content to make him who they needed him to be in order to keep their sin hidden and their people – their followers – deceived about who they really were.

Jesus is not the one hiding.  The religious men are hiding.  When asked indirectly who he really is, Jesus pulls no punches.  He tells the inquirer the solution and the problem for why he does not know the answer to his own question.  Jesus does not have to say, “I am God” because it is extremely clear that Nicodemus has already repeatedly refused to believe the truths that would lead to that conclusion.  Instead, Jesus mercifully gives him the solution.

Here’s your problem, Nicodemus.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, Nicodemus.  There’s grace, Nicodemus.  Believe and be saved, Nicodemus.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, Nicodemus.

Have you ever had someone try to be your friend secretly?  Or treat you differently when others were around vs. when they were not around?  Religious people are infamous for this kind of behavior because they not only fail to recognize and believe who God is, they fail to know who they themselves are.  Therefore, they are not genuine in their dealings.  Jesus shows us how to deal with this kind of pretense.  Say this:

Here’s your problem, religious man.  Here’s what needs to happen in your own life, religious man.  There’s grace, religious man.  Believe and be saved, religious man.  If you do not believe, you are already condemned despite all your religious work and knowledge, religious man.

Jesus deals with pretense, fear, a religious spirit, and sin all in one blow.  He tells this spiritually impoverished soul the truth of the gospel and the solution to his sin problem.  He makes sure that guy knows exactly what is required of him and shows him that he has not yet been willing to do it.

God’s grace is waiting.  He wants people to come to the light.  We must believe, confess our sin in the light, and repent of our hiding it in the darkness.  God is faithful to meet us there and do a great work in our lives.  He will change us from religious pretenders – people who have (as the Bible says) a form of godliness but deny its power – and false friends to real sons and daughters; brothers and sisters of his very own.

Come to Jesus.  Confess your sin to him.  Ask forgiveness.  Allow his Holy Spirit to do his work in you and you will be a new creation.  You will be born again.  Amen.

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adultery

The seventh commandment that God gives to Moses on Mt. Sinai concerns purity and chastity within marriage.

Adultery is generally defined as a married man or woman being sexually unfaithful to their spouse.  So, infidelity.  Jesus, however, defines adultery with more detail.  He says that unfaithfulness is found even in adulterous thoughts and gazes.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. ~Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus knows our hearts.  He knows what is in a man (and a woman).  He knows how easily we are enticed and entangled in sin.  Jesus knows that thoughts often lead to actions and small errors often lead to big problems.  Jesus cares enough about us and our purity to tell us the truth.

Flirting with adulterous thoughts, flirting with anyone other than our spouses, and flirting with temptation on any level in word, thought, or deed is more than enough reason to be alarmed, take heed, and repent.  These seemingly “smaller” offenses are – according to Jesus – not small.

To look is to commit adultery.  To lust is to commit adultery.

If we consider the other offenses that we commit in this kind of sin, it is not hard to see why the seeds of adultery are so important to both understand and avoid at all costs.  Jesus’ advice is to pluck out our eye or cut of our hand!  It is that dangerous.  It is that important to avoid.

When we cheat on our spouse, we steal.  We lie.  We covet.  We worship another in place of God – ourselves and our forbidden partner.  We dishonor our parents.  We break almost every commandment God set before us when we sin in this way.  Men and women in the Old Testament were stoned to death for this.

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. ~ Leviticus 20:10

Death!  The penalty was death for both the man and the woman.  Now, the Pharisees tried to make it as though only the woman should be stoned but Jesus – what did he do?

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ~John 8:1-11

We also have his example of the Samaritan woman, also known as the woman at the well, who had five husbands in John 4.  How did Jesus treat these women?  Or should I say, these kind of women?

In the first case he stood up to the bullies who hated her by stooping down in a public proclamation of his alliance with the sinner. In the second case he went the way everyone else always avoided and talked with a woman – a loose woman to boot – when it was taboo in order to teach her the truth and – get this – use her to save a whole town by her testimony!  Amazing!

Why?

Jesus knows that we are guilty of breaking this command.  The level of severity is the only difference between men.  Therefore, he does what God always does.  He gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud.  That’s why we see him siding with the adulterous women and making a point to go to the people and places others intentionally and painstakingly avoided out of superiority, pride, and religious condescension.

Yesterday my husband and I were talking about temptation.  We have both done our share of failing in this area.  Temptation is never going to go away until we die.  We talked about the verse in 1 Corinthians 10 about being careful when things seem calm and when we feel less tempted.  That’s when the enemy strikes.  But today the verse of the day on my Bible app was the following verse so I’ll just read them both.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ~1 Corinthians 10:12-13

You know what this means?  It means God is faithful.  You can trust him!  Even though we will be tempted to look, to lust, to think impure thoughts, to flirt, to act scandalously – we will also be given a way out.  Every.  Single.  Time.  The way will not be some religious pretense that shuns and avoids “sinners” in order to look pious and holy on the outside and impress our religious friends.  The way will be grace for us and for the other sinners he allows in close proximity to us.

We need to get that.  We need to get it deep down in our hearts.  Jesus does not shun and avoid sinners out of pride, pretense, preference, superiority, or self-preservation EVER.  Jesus goes to them purposefully and offers grace to the humble.  It is those who think themselves too high and holy to even be in the same town with “sinners” that he deals harshly with.

So, don’t commit adultery in thought, word, or deed.  Use the escape routes God is faithful to provide when tempted.  But don’t put on a religious show just to make others think you’re not guilty of this sin.  Confess it.  Don’t hide and pretend.  We are all guilty.  There is grace for the repentant and humble in heart.

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The Secret to Life

friend

She’s small and often shy.  She flies up to the clouds and sits with the sun whenever unimportant words are spoken.  She gazes off.  She runs away.  All her life she waits for an opening in the conversation.

He’s strong.  He’s loud.  He gets his matter-of-fact bluntness and good judge of character honest.  He’s street smart.  He falls in and out of fury over that which is most important.  He drives every conversation.

She’s small.  He’s strong.  She’s shy.  He’s loud.  She flies.  He’s blunt.  She gazes.  He’s street smart.  She runs.  He falls.  She waits.  He drives.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

She’s zealous.  He’s zealous.  They both have a fire that rages against all odds and opposition.   She’s inconsistent.  He’s inconsistent.  She fails.  He fails.  She cries.  He cries.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

She hurts.  He hurts.  She’s bitter.  He’s bitter.  She prays.  He prays.  She forgives.  He forgives.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

She rides on.  She wades through an ocean of pain.  Her white dress is tattered, wet, and dirty.  Still, she sings.  She searches.  She learns.  She loses.

He waits.  He wavers.  He wonders.  He moves on.  He heals.  “Onward,” he commands, “knock loudly upon yonder’s door.”

She rides. He waits.  She wades.  He wavers.  She sings.  He wonders.  She searches.  He moves.  She learns.  He heals.  She loses.  He commands.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

The secret to life is not winning.  It is not pleasure or pain or wisdom or knowledge.  It is not favorable circumstances or power or position or wealth.  The secret to life is love.  Knowing so allows us to love the men who hate and expel us with the same tenderness we do our own children.  Let it be said of me that no matter what men may do to me, I will refuse to love them any less.

No matter what, love them anyway.  For that is all that matters in all things at all times.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. ~Galatians 5:6

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