Tag Archives: purity

All sins are not the same? [False ideas Christians believe about…Sin. Part 4]

28 Feb
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This week we have been fact-checking Christian statements about sin. In part 3 yesterday we looked at the phrase “all sins are the same.” Today we’re investigating its opposite: sins are different. There is an important sense in which sins are very, very different, and they are not the same.   In part 3, we saw how this statement is true in the claim the person made when they said that they are not a sinner because they haven’t committed murder or rape.  They are correct that there is a major difference between, say, shoplifting on the minor end, and human trafficking on the major end. 

As I already said in part 3, sins are equal in God’s eyes only in the sense that all humans are sinners.  But God’s word also gives evidence that all sins are not equal.  There is no doubt that some sins have much more devastating consequences, and are thus treated much more seriously by God.

Look at 1 Corinthians 6, for example, in verses 9-11 where Paul is talking about the equality of many sins.  He lists out a whole bunch of sins saying that they are equal in the sense that people who are engulfed in these sins cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.  But look at his flow of thought as it continues in verses 15-20.  There he singles out one sin in particular and shows how deeply damaging it is to a person: the sin of sexual immorality.  He says in verse 18, that all other sins are committed outside the body, whereas sexual sins are against one’s own body!  What is so egregious about sexual sin is that a Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul is saying, therefore, that sexual immorality is not the same as other sins!  But hear me, he is not saying that sexual immorality is the worst possible sin.  He is simply saying that it is different and should be seen that way, as it affects a person deep within.  How many of us have seen sexual immorality wreak havoc on people and relationships?  There is such a better way!  The way of Jesus.  That’s exactly what we saw last week when the writer of Hebrews quoted Deuteronomy 31:6 in Hebrews 13.  He said that Christians should be committed to keeping the marriage bed pure. 

That means that sexual expression should be between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage only.  When you are married, Christians are not to have sex with people other than your spouse.  Before you are married, you are not to have sex at all.  Why?  Because it is an intimate gift and when handled outside of a marriage commitment it hurts, it damages and can cause lasting effects.  God of course can forgive, but there are always effects to sin. He wants the best for you, so he sets up guidelines for that purpose. You can follow that standard for disciples of Jesus because God says that he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Why am I saying this?  Not to elevate sexual immorality as some super special category of sin.  No.  I am bringing it up because in the Bible we see that sexual immorality is not the same as other sins.  Think about the damage that sin does.  This is why Paul makes a big deal about sexual immorality, it does damage in relationships.  There are other sins that do massive damage as well.  Obviously, murder.  It is right for Christians to view murder as altogether different from other sins because murder is the taking of a life.  This is but one example of many.

Another is when Jesus taught, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  He was pretty serious about protecting children.

So sins are all equal?  Or sins are different?  Both are true.  While we all have equal sin in God’s eyes, there are sins that are way worse than others in God’s eyes.  All are forgivable.  Redemption is possible in everything.  He can teach us through it all.  Some sins, just by their nature, have more effects, more ripples on more people and on His temple, our bodies, on his body, the church, and on his creation.

God wants to transform our mess [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 5]

18 Jan
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

From our murder mystery in part 1, into the bizarre dead body ritual of part 2 and part 3, and through the messiness of crime in part 4, what have we learned about God’s heart through the teaching of Deuteronomy 21 about crime and punishment?  God is serious about the purity of the land, and the purity of his people.  Because he is so passionate about purity, of course his heart beats for justice.  Even if the perpetrator of the crime is not discovered, as we saw in this passage, there is still a process for justice and atonement.  God’s justice and purity, therefore, are interrelated.  When impurity has occurred, he not only wants impurity to stop, but he also wants to bring justice to the situation. 

So how do we Christians apply these principles of purity and justice to our lives?

First, remember that this is not our covenant!  We are not the Old Testament nation of Israel, and thus we are not bound by their covenant.  Christians don’t have observe ancient Israelite rituals for handling dead bodies.  We don’t stone disobedient kids.  We are the church of Jesus, and we are bound by his New Covenant, which is the teaching of the New Testament.  What we can do with this Old Testament teaching is focus on those underlying principles of purity and justice. 

Let’s take a look at justice first. Christians should be actively pursuing a just society.  Justice in society touches many more issues than we can discuss in this one post.  Since Deuteronomy 21 is about crime and punishment, let’s talk briefly about crime and justice.  Crime is unacceptable in a just society, and it needs to be dealt with.  Right out of college I worked on staff for three years at what was then called Barnes Hall, Lancaster County’s Juvenile Detention Center.  During those years I got to have an up-close and personal view of the justice system, particularly the juvenile justice system.  We saw kids go to a variety of placement and treatment centers, including some who went to jail.  I was shocked to learn that almost nothing helped most kids.  80% would come back, eventually committing more crimes. 

I did some research this week on adults and prison, and here in Lancaster County, PA, 4 out 10 will return to prison in the first year after their release.  Thankfully, Lancaster has some very successful re-entry programs for people coming out of jail.  In the town of Leola, for example, the Potter’s House is a transitional discipleship ministry for former convicts.  Potter’s House and other similar organizations in the county have proven effective, dropping the recidivism rate to 15% for those who successfully complete their programs.  Lancaster’s model is so successful it has caught the eye of counties state-wide, including the city of Philadelphia.  It is amazing to see Christians actively involved in providing alternatives to crime and punishment.  This is right in line with God’s heart for justice.

But Deuteronomy 21 also reminds us about God’s heart for purity. There are many places in the New Testament that affirm that Christians should pursue holiness and purity. I am not saying that unless we are perfect all the time, something is drastically wrong with us.  We must remember that Christ is our atonement.  His birth, life, death and resurrection is the work of making things right.  Jesus defeated sin and death and the devil, and thus he set us free to pursue holiness. 

This is what Paul teaches in Romans 5 and 6. I encourage you to read that this week.  Paul says what Jesus did out of love for us is amazing.  God’s grace in our lives is wonderful.  God’s grace has come to us in the person and work of Jesus, and that has set us free to pursue righteousness!  In other words, disciples of Jesus do not abuse God’s grace, but we seek to purge the evil from among us.

So many people have experienced this transformation.  I recently heard the story of Carla Faye Tucker who was transformed from a killer on death row to an imprisoned preacher.  I also encourage you to read the Testimony articles at end of each issue of Christianity Today.  These are stories of God at work changing lives.  Finally, ask yourself: What impurity is there in your life?  What do you need to remove and deal with?  What will it look like for you to pursue God and his holiness?

Can we learn God’s heart from a ritual for a dead body? [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 3]

16 Jan
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Imagine the scene. In ancient Israel, a murdered body is found in a field, and no one knows who committed the crime. Who should deal with the body, and how does God want the people to deal with the blood guilt? In this series we’ve been exploring the fascinating ritual God commands the people to follow. Read part 1 and part 2, covering verses 1-5, and the beginning of the ritual. What happens then in verses 6-9 is the remainder of the ceremony. Thus far, the nearby towns have measured the distance from the body to their towns. The closest town has jurisdiction, and the elders from that town must take a young heifer to a wadi with a flowing stream, and there they break the neck of the heifer with priests observing them. The elders, then, ritually wash their hands over the dead heifer and they recite a prayer to God declaring on behalf of the people that they are innocent, and they ask God to consider them now atoned for. 

This ceremony has led to some amazing speculation as to what was going on with all these unique features.  Ancient Rabbis, one scholar reports, said that “the ceremony [was] an act of punitive magic. A swarm of worms from the heifer finds the killer and seizes him so that the authorities can bring him to justice; [another Rabbi said] the worms themselves kill him.”[1]  Notice that the text says nothing about these magical worms!

So what is the meaning of the wadi with the stream, the heifer, the neck breaking and the hand-washing?  There are numerous views, and one scholar I listed above suggests that we should see the ritual “as a reenactment of the murder…, since it…suggests a reasonable explanation of why it must take place at a barren wadi: that is, so that the imitation blood guilt is kept far from civilization. Nevertheless,” the scholar says, “this view is far from certain.”[2]

But what is certain, is what happens at the end of the ritual.  The prayer.  By going through this ritual, verse 9 tells us, the people will have purged themselves and the land of guilt from bloodshed, declaring that they are innocent, and they are declared as having done what was right in God’s eyes. 

Fascinating ritual, isn’t it?  It is a unique section of Scripture, but what does it matter to us?  What do we see of God’s heart in this passage? 

Through it all, we see God’s heart for purity.  Even when a crime is committed and though they don’t know who the guilty party is, Israel still needs to atone for it.  Purity in the land, and purity in his people is vital before God.  Tomorrow we add to this theme in part 4 as we have two more illustrations of crime and punishment, through which we will learn more about God’s heart.


[1] Tigay, Jeffrey H. Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. Print. The JPS Torah Commentary.

[2] Ibid.

A biblical murder mystery? [Crime & Punishment – Deuteronomy 21, part 1]

14 Jan
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Do you like crime dramas? Last year I watched a Netflix documentary called Making A Murderer.  It was gripping, often feeling like an extended episode of the TV show, Law & Order.  There were many interesting characters and plot twists, but in this documentary, all of it was real.  No actors.  Real interviews. Courtroom and TV news footage.  Making A Murderer follows the story of one family over the course of many years, as a police department investigates a murder, as the justice department builds a case, and eventually as suspects are convicted and thrown in prison.  But they appeal, and the appeal process takes time, and there are more court room scenes.  Surprisingly there is an acquittal.  Then there is another murder seemingly involving the same family, which leads to another investigation, court case, imprisonment and appeals.  The process is messy and expensive and time-consuming, and you never know what really happened.  I was glued to the screen.

In this series of posts in our study through Deuteronomy, we have three illustrations of crime and punishment, and the first one looks a lot like a murder mystery. 

If you’d like, see for yourself by reading Deuteronomy 21. What we are seeking is to learn more about God’s heart through his teaching to Israel about crime and punishment.

Look at verse 1, our first crime. As you can see, the text gives us a couple clues that this an unsolved murder case.  The first clue is the word “slain” at the beginning of the verse.  This is a vivid word in the Hebrew, better translated by our English word “pierced.”  It gives us the image of body that has been pierced by a sharp object, like a knife or sword.  The second clue that this is a murder is the phrase, “and it is not known who killed him,” at the end of the verse.  So we have a body that has been pierced and is dead, but we don’t know who did it. 

My mind immediately thinks: murder mystery!  I want to know more about this body and who did killed the person, and why.  But interestingly, the circumstances surrounding this death are barely in view in this passage.  There is no mention of tracking down the perpetrator, or anything like that.  It simply says, “it is not known who killed him,” which is vague.  We have no idea how much they investigated.  Was the body just found that day?  Have they been working this case for weeks?  We don’t get any details.  You might be thinking, but those are important details!  Shouldn’t God care about justice for the victim?  Absolutely, he does.  In fact he already dealt with that, as we will see below. 

God has another reason, however, for bringing up unsolved murders here in chapter 21.  Look at the middle of verse 1.  The body is found lying in a field, and yet notice how he describes the field.  It is “in the land the Lord their God is giving them to possess.”  That should sound familiar, because throughout our study of Deuteronomy we have heard a lot about the land. 

The land they are about to possess is the Promised Land, Canaan, the land of their forefathers, the land flowing with milk and honey.  God references the land 178 times in the book of Deuteronomy, and in all but three chapters.  I don’t know that it would be possible to overstate how important the land was to God and to the people.  For a people without land of their own, it is incredibly emotional when they obtain land.  Think about how you felt when you rented your first apartment or purchased your first house?  Overjoyed!  You had a space of your own.

So jump back with me to chapter 19, verse 10, as there is a mention of the land that connects to what God is talking about here in chapter 21.  In chapter 19, you might remember, God gives his people instructions for creating cities of refuge in the land.  People can flee to these cities if they have accidentally killed someone.  In those cities, they will be protected from any family members of the deceased who might want to take revenge on them.  And why?  Chapter 19, verse 10 tells us: “Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.”

In another place, Numbers 35:33-34, God teaches Israel something similar: “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.”

Teachings like these, and many others we have seen throughout Deuteronomy, illustrate how deeply God wanted purity in the land and in his people.  He not only wanted the physical land, the dirt, the earth, to be pure, but he also wanted the same for his people.  The Canaanites who were living in the land, though, did evil in God’s eyes.  They practiced the sacrificing of babies in worship, they were ruthless and murderous.  God wanted Israel to be different, to be holy and just, as he was.  So he is particular about purity.  There must be no innocent bloodshed.  When blood was shed, Numbers 35 tells us, the murderer must pay the blood guilt with his own blood (death penalty), and then God declares that the land will be pure again.  But what if the murderer can’t be found, or is unknown?  How will the blood guilt on the land be dealt with?  In other words, they still need to deal with the body!  So God gives them a method to deal with the blood guilt in the land when an unsolved murder happens Deuteronomy chapter 21, verses 2-9.

In part 2, we’ll examine what turns out to be a very strange ritual.

The surprising thing God says about sex

19 Sep

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You fill in the blank: “Sex is ________”.

Too often we Christians have responded to our culture in negative, hurtful ways that have led people to conclude that we hate sex, that we think sex is bad.  Our young people have heard so often “don’t have sex”, that many Christians teens are scared of it, and they know very little about how God thinks of it.

I remember as a kid reading the biblical book Song of Solomon and thinking, “Woah, I cannot believe this is in the Bible.”  And yet there it is.  A husband and a wife expressing their sexual desire for one another in colorful language that leaves little to the imagination.  Some of the figures of speech seemed really kooky because in our culture we generally don’t use animals like gazelles to describe one another’s bodies.  But in Song of Solomon, as we read this racy story about marital sexual expression, we get it.  Their longing for one another, their description of one another is very real, very much like our own experience of sexuality.

And yet, it can be kind of embarrassing to read Song of Solomon.  Have you ever heard a sermon about Song of Solomon?  Mostly likely not.  Why?  Because we tend to think of sexual expression as deeply private.

We Americans need to realize, though, that not all cultures think about sexuality quite like we do.  Though we live in a sexualized culture, and that aspect of our culture has become a lot more open, we still are more cautious than many other places around the world.

So we read Song of Solomon and can question whoever decided to put this R-rated book in the Bible.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because the Bible says a lot about sex.  I mean, really.  A lot.

Additionally, we live in a culture very much like the culture in which the New Testament was written. Through most of 2014, I taught through the book of 1st Corinthians.  Paul talks about sex a lot in 1 Corinthians because sexuality was a part of their city.  It was even a part of pagan worship.  The local temple had hundreds of prostitutes, and one element of worship was to pay to sleep with a prostitute.  So when he was writing a letter to people living in a sexualized culture, Paul knew he had to talk about it.  And so do we.

Sexual expression is all over the place.  Commercials, TV shows, and even news programs are cluttered with it.  With the rise of the internet in the last 20 years, the sex industry has exploded.  We are bombarded with messages that say to us that we should express our sexuality however we want.

Unrestricted sexual expression has become commonplace.

I mentioned a favorite show a few weeks ago: Running Wild with Bear Grylls.  He recently had Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn as his guest traipsing through the wilderness.  She told Bear that she was married at 22, called it wrong decision, and got divorced.  Then she dated Tiger Woods, but with crazy schedules, they couldn’t manage a relationship.  Bear asked “What about kids, do you see them in your future?”  She said “Yes, but no more of this marriage stuff.  I don’t want to go through all that.  If you want to be with someone, just be with them.”  That’s pretty normal to hear these days in our culture.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to the surprising thing God says about sex.  What do you think?  If God were to fill in the blank, just like you did above, what word would he use to describe sex?  Sex is ________.

One college art professor says “Nothing reduces a collegiate art classroom into nervous giggles quite like the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. As an art teacher for 13 years, I have seen reactions to David that have varied from amazement — “Wow! What an amazing work of art!” — to embarrassment and even outright anger — “How dare you show this in class?! He is… well, he is… you know…. Naked!”

She goes on to say that “Culture sends us many messages about the human body, nudity and sex. Unfortunately, these messages can taint our views of sexuality, causing us to feel shame about our bodies and the act of sex. For many, the word “sex” is synonymous with the words “dirty”, “shame,” and “guilt.”  Shame is not from Jesus. God created our bodies, including our sexuality, for good.  Our bodies reflect God’s image, and God created sexuality as a fundamental part of life.”

What that means is that the surprising thing God says about sex is that it is good!  Because God created us as sexual beings with sexual desires, and that means his plan for sex is good!  Here is a key principle: God designed sexuality to be the way a man and woman can become one. I brought this up a few weeks ago when I talked about marriage. In Genesis 2:24 we read “The two shall become one flesh.”  Marriage, then, the proper place for sexual expression, and it is so good.

Because of that, consider the amazing gift of your purity, your virginity.  You get to give that gift one time.  Imagine that you wait and give that to your spouse after you are wedding!  There are few gifts that you give them that are so exquisite at that.  By waiting your are saying “I saved this incredibly precious part of me for you and for you only.”  Isn’t that wonderfully romantic?

This gift is so important because the expression of your sexuality is much more than just a physical act.  The act of sex is also very emotional and relational.  When you make connection of becoming one with another person, the two becoming one flesh, you are connecting much more than physically.  We need to see sex as a deep connection in all these ways.  This is why it is such a powerful gift.  When you give the gift of your sexuality, you are giving your entire self to that person.  It is, therefore, genius of God to reserve sexual expression for marriage, for that one lifelong partner.  Your spouse is only person you are to go that deep with.

As a result, the writers of the NT have a lot to say about purity.  Here are few examples:

1 Cor. 6:12-20 “That is what you were,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “You used to indulge in an openly free sexuality, but no more.”  He goes on to teach that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so it is to be treated that way.  What you see, what you eat, what you touch, all of it.  Strive for purity.

Eph. 4:17-5:20 is a long passage, but a very good one to read. One comment Paul makes in this passage is that “There should not be a hint of sexual immorality among you.”  Not a hint.  In other words, strive for purity.

But what if you haven’t been pure?  Are you ruined in God’s eyes?

I recently learned of an interview of a woman in 40s who was physically intimate with a number of men in college days.  20 years later in her 40s she was still reliving, with great pain, all the brokenness of those relationships, emotionally and physically.

That is not to say that if you mess up, if you have premarital sex, that you will be in pain for the rest of your life.  God is a God of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  He can restore.  He is a God of making things new.   Many people have experienced the transformation that God has brought to their lives.

You can be restored.  You can say “from this day forward I am practiced God’s way.”  You can be a virgin from that point on.  One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is where he says in Revelation 21:5 that he is making all things new.  In Christ we are made new.  No sin from our past is held against us!

We can be pure, and we can remain pure.  Do pursue ongoing purity, we need to talk about the roots of sexual purity.  If God is in the business of making us new, how do we have purity in our very sensual society?  We may desire purity, but we live in a society that makes purity difficult.  So what do we do about that?

Practicing purity starts in the mind, with our desire.  Jesus notes in Matt 5:27-30 that if you look at a woman lustfully, you have done the same thing as committing adultery with her.  Jesus wants us to take lust seriously.

But when he says “if you look at a woman lustfully, gouge out your eye!” he is speaking in hyperbole.  Or making an argument from the absurd.  What do I mean by hyperbole and absurd?  Let’s look at each one.

Hyperbole is exaggeration.  Jesus didn’t want us to literally gouge out our eyes if we lust, as just about every Christian would then be blind on their first day of being a follower of Jesus.  Instead, one way to understand Jesus’ teaching is that he wants us to take serious action to eradicate lust from our lives.

Then there is the argument from absurdity.  He and everyone else in the crowd listening to him that day knows, obviously, that gouging out your eye, won’t stop you from lust.  In fact, when he said “gouge out your eye,” there may have been laughter in the crowd.  Why?  Removal of your eyes clearly won’t stop lust!  You can still lust in your mind.  Lust is a problem of the inner life.  What really needs to change is your heart.

How, then, do we apply Jesus’ teaching to help us live with purity in a sexualized culture?

Someone has said that you can’t help it if a bird poops on your head.  But you can prevent them from a building a nest there.  Some of you know that you cannot handle certain forms of sexual expression or encounter.  And you may need to get help.  Stop allowing sexualized music, movies, TV shows, books, etc. into your life.

If you are allowing pornography into your life, even in light forms, like looking at pictures of scantily clad people on Google Image search, then you need to take action. Use both the argument from hyperbole and absurdity.  Take action.  Admit what you are doing, first to yourself, that it is wrong and confess to God as well.  Then confess to someone you can trust.  You simply must get the truth out.  Invite accountability, take the initiative to be held accountable.  Put the filtering and accountability software on your computer. And if you addiction is controlling you, seek professional help.  Locally here in the Central PA area, you can contact Day Seven as they specializing in helping get free from sexual addiction.

In addition to taking action to remove sexualized content and encounters from your life, seek to fill your life with pure, wholesome content and encounters.

In Psalm 119:9-11 we read some excellent advice: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

One way to do this is to fill your mind with God’s good things.  Read, study and memorize passages from the Bible.  Get an accountability partner to work with you.  Fill your mind with good things, and that is what you will think about.

When considering purity, know this: God’s vision of human sexuality is not to impose rules on us.  God is not saying that if we express our sexuality in a way that is disobedient to him, we have committed an unpardonable sin.  God’s vision of sexuality is with our best interest in mind, and when we don’t live up to that best, know that there is grace, there is hope, and there is new life in Christ.  God is a merciful, forgiving God!  He loves you, and he continues to want what is best for you.

What if we’re totally wrong about what it means to follow Jesus – Part 2

4 Nov

My son walked up to our pantry closet in our kitchen, looking for a snack.  He quickly put his hand over his nose, uttering a muffled “Ugh! What is that smell?”

I looked over at him standing there, and said “What do you mean? Is it the trashcan?”  Our kitchen trash bin is right next to the pantry, which is maybe not the best location.  Because it can get stinky, I thought it must be the source of the smell.

But no, he said, “It smells like poop! And it’s coming from in the pantry!”

I got up from the sofa and went over to check it out.  I caught a whiff of something, which smelled a bit like poop, but not quite either.  It wasn’t strong, so I started to dismiss it in my mind.  I reached down and halfheartedly shifted some boxes on the floor of the pantry, and I didn’t see much beyond some dust.  Admittedly, I was pretty sure the smell wasn’t coming from the trashcan.  And I didn’t really want to deal with whatever was causing the smell.  So I said, “I don’t know.  Let’s not worry about it.”

And with that I put it out of mind, and a few days went by.

A couple days later, I saw my son standing in front of the pantry again with his hand over his nose.  In the ensuing days, I had stuck my nose in there a couple times when I, too, was snacking, and there was definitely an odor.  But it still seemed faint, and I didn’t want to deal with it, so I didn’t.

This past Monday morning, though, the odor had become strong.  Michelle pulled out all the boxes and containers on the floor and found a dead mouse caught in a glue trap.  I will confess that I suspected that all along, and did nothing about it.  We had seen mice sneaking around lately, and eventually caught three.  It took hardly any time or effort to vacuum up the remains of a snack bag a mouse had hidden in the back corner to feast on, as well as the accumulated mouse droppings (I guess my son was right about the poop!), and then wash the floor, and put the boxes back.

Why did I wait to deal with the foul smell in my pantry, when it was relatively easy and effortless to resolve?  Have you ever experienced that feeling of not wanting to deal with the junk of life?  Have you ever let it linger?

Last week I introduced Luke 11:14-36 by suggesting that we might be all wrong about how we follow Jesus.  In that section, Jesus casts a demon out of a man, and people in the crowd confront him with two questions: 1. Did he exorcise the demon by Satan’s power?  and 2. Would he show them a sign from heaven?  To give you a little preview of the answers, they are “No” and “No”.  But these answers gave Jesus the opportunity to talk about what it means to follow him.

I find it fascinating what he does not say.  He does not say “Believe in him.”  Clearly, believing in Jesus, trusting in him, is a good thing, but why would he not mention that?  Christians, and especially Evangelicals, have put a lot of emphasis on believing.  Instead, he says that if we are to be his followers, we should have no neutrality about him.  We are either with him, or we are against him.  And when a person in the crowd shouted out “Blessed is your mother!”, Jesus responded with “On the contrary! Blessed are those who hear God’s Word and obey it.”  Jesus is saying that following him will affect our choices, our behavior.  Following him is not just about belief.  Instead his followers will show what they believe by hearing his word and doing what it says.

There are two primary applications of this, the inward and the outward.  Or as Jesus said “Love God and Love your neighbor”.  Inwardly, God wants to enter the smelly closets of our lives and clean them out.  He wants access to our secret thoughts and actions, our perversions, our addictions, to transform them into something far better than we could ever imagine.  As someone has said, we too often hear Jesus knocking at the door, let him in, and just hope we can hang out with him in the living room of our lives.  We know the place is messy, and we’re embarrassed about showing him around.  But he says “I think I smell poop coming from the pantry in your kitchen.”  And we respond “Nah…it’s no big deal.”

That sinful habit, that addiction, that undisciplined mind, that attitude, that complaining spirit…we know they’re in our lives, and we have a halfhearted desire to allow Jesus to clean us up, but we put it off.  Maybe we have become accustomed to the stink, and we don’t smell it anymore.  Maybe we think that it’s not so bad.  Maybe we’re afraid we won’t be able to change, and this is just who we are.  But Jesus says “hear my word and obey.  Either you’re with me, or you’re against me.”

There are also the outward ways we show that we’re with him.  Particularly, he said “Make disciples.”  The primary way we show that we are his disciples is to make more disciples.  But so many of us are not making disciples.  We say that we believe in him, but we do not do the major task he called us to do in his word: “Make disciples”.

So do you need to allow Jesus to clean up that stinky closet in your life?  Do you need to make disciples?  Are you hearing his Word?  Are you obeying what he says? 

How do you write a letter to a church in a hyper-sexualized culture?

3 Jan

How do you start a letter to a church that is out of control?  What would you say?

Imagine you’re a leader of a group of churches.  Maybe a denominational CEO, a bishop, a district superintendent, a conference minister.  You are responsible for the spiritual health and vitality of the many pastors and congregations under your care.  To stay in touch, you visit them once each year or so.

You start hearing some strange stories from one particular church.  Apparently their worship services are wild.  People are interrupting one another, pushing each other out of the limelight.  And at communion, one group is gobbling up the food and drink, leaving nothing but crumbs for the rest.  But it’s not just wacky worship.  You hear stories of incest, inappropriate sexuality, and people suing one another in court. There are stories that some of them might be saying that your central teaching is being denied.  Resurrection is impossible, they say.  There are factions in the church.  You love these people, but you have to admit, they’re a mess.

You know you need to write them a letter.  Well, better yet, you know you need to visit, but a letter will get there quicker.  So you get a scribe and begin.

But you stall, not sure what to say.  These people are dealing with intense pressures.  They live in a town where the pressure to conform is great.  They number maybe 25-50 in a town of half a million or so. It’s a very religious town, with multiple temples, but it is an ungodly place, where the religion is basically sexual expression.  No wonder this church is struggling.  Following Jesus is so different from their culture, especially in the area of sexuality.  How can you help them without just saying “Stop it, you idiots?”

What would you say?  How would you start your letter to actually get their attention, so they would take you seriously?

That’s our task this Sunday.  We start a series studying Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth.  It was a tough place to be a new church, but the descriptions of Corinth are eerily similar to American culture in our day.  With all the twerking, sexting, porn at our fingertips, and just plain old regular TV, it is hard to be a faithful follower of Jesus in our day.  Especially in the area of sexuality.  As a father of teenagers I think about what to tell them, how to lead them.  I want them to be pure, but I admit I hardly know what to say sometimes.  “Just be pure!”  I just want them to get it, to buy into it, to see the emptiness of our hyper-sexualized culture easily.  But it isn’t easy.   It is deceptively difficult.  I don’t have it all figured out, but I see Paul begin his letter to the Corinthian church is a very thought-provoking way.  We’ll take a look at his intro 1 Cor 1:1-3 to see how he starts his letter to a very troubled church.