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The World, The Christ, and Us – Part 3

The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life…

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJV)

15Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NASB)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NKJV)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.  (1 John 2:15-17 ASV)

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world— 16 the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17 HCSB)

15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17 KJV)

15Love not ye the world, nor the things in the world; if any one doth love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,  16because all that [is] in the world — the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the ostentation of the life — is not of the Father, but of the world,  17and the world doth pass away, and the desire of it, and he who is doing the will of God, he doth remain — to the age. (1 John 2:15-17 YLT)

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the des ires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

It is interesting to note, also, that what the Apostle is doing in this warning passage is not just referring to the world, but to all three of the cords that bind our souls for destruction: the flesh, the world, and the devil.  The lust of the flesh obviously refers to the flesh.  The lust of the eyes refers to the desire to obtain and find pleasure in the things of this world.  And the “ostentation” or vain-glory of life is that Satanic influence to exalt and glory in ourselves, rather than to be humbled to the dust by the glory of our magnificent Creator.

Consider what our Lord Himself says in the gospels.  In the gospel of Matthew, we read his words:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  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.  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 5:28-30)

In the gospel of Mark, we hear something very similar:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” (Mark 9:43,45,47-48).

In the passage from Matthew, Jesus starts with the heart and the sinful intent.  He then goes on to say it is better to cut off your hand or tear out your eye if they cause you to sin.  Of course, it is not the hand and the eye that cause the sin; they are the just the medium for its consumption.  It is the heart (or mind or affections) that control the members of the body.  The addition of the foot in the gospel of Mark is interesting, since this suggests the way we walk as well as that which we stand upon.  The Greek word “peripateo” means “to live” or “to walk”.  For a practical example of how our “walk” is basically the same as the life that is lived out of our heart, see Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.

Considering these warning passages in the gospels, there seems to be many parallels in John’s epistle.  I do not think that Jesus, the great physician meant for people to literally maim and mutilate themselves.  I do think He intended to underscore the severity of dealing with our sin.  The hands that so often feed the flesh the desires of its appetites; the eyes full of desire, seeking their satisfaction in whatever delights them; and the feet–the way we walk and what it is we are standing on.  They are both saying the same things different ways.  Seeking sensual pleasures, earthly treasures, and self-glorification will separate you from God eternally.  They are antithetical to the will of God.  Their end is hell and hopelessness.  If we are pursuing such ends, we MUST REPENT and turn again… for “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26)

It should also be noted that the fruit of the hand and the eye grows from the root of heart.  A rotten heart may produce bad fruit (the works or use of the hands and eyes), but they do not make the root bad.  It is not the fruit that corrupts the root, but the fruit stems forth from what is in the root.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6:43)

And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?  Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:16-20)

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:34-35)

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The Sin of Abortion

When it comes to the topic of abortion, the thing that no one really wants to confront directly is that for there to be a dramatic change in the sin of abortion, there must be a dramatic change that affects the abortion of sin itself. I will state clearly and publicly that I am no proponent of this evil act, but I will not allow myself to be manipulated by the world–which politics is most certainly a system of the world, and any who have failed to see that have failed to see clearly. I think it is rather unfortunate that so many professing Christians–many of whom have denounced so many other worldly influences that take us away from our focus on God, such as movies and television, newspapers, magazines, catalogs, and even video games–will allow themselves to get carried away by the lure of politics. In my lifetime, the bait of abortion has been set on the hook of politics to lure many Christians away from their first love, diverting them away from the Great Commission of sharing the gospel, endeavoring instead in a humanitarian effort that, as much as I hate to admit is destined to fail. The focus for many well-meaning Christians has shifted from saving those sinners who need to be born again to those who have yet to be born at all, and while it is a noble and virtuous position to take, it is one that will never succeed through political means.

I read somewhere that 4,000 fetuses are aborted every single day in this country. That is an outrageous travesty. That means that 11,688,000 occurred (or will have occurred) under the leadership of the Conservative, confessing Christian George W. Bush. No substantial changes in legislation have occurred, not even when he had both houses of Congress, a fairly agreeable Supreme Court, and the support of an entire nation behind him after 9/11. Why? Because the real truth of the matter is that no matter who is in the White House, abortion isn’t going away.  But why? Because we are a selfish, sinful people. We’re sinners.

Something most people do not want to talk about when it comes to this topic of abortion, is abortion at a personal level. Do you know anyone who’s had an abortion? I do. I know a few, and truth be told, I probably know more than I think I do. What do I mean? I mean, the people that I know had one, I know intimately enough to know about. I’m sure our churches and possibly even our families, and the families of our closest friends are littered with people who live with the guilt of one, although we may never even know it. Are they horrible, damnable people who deserve nothing more than the fires of hell? Absolutely. But so am I. And so are you, friend. We all are.

I know people who were once alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, adulterers, Satanists, God-mockers, and some who were just plain vile and vicious, selfish and sinful. I know some people still are, and many will stay that way. But I also know some whom God has chosen and whom God has changed. I consider myself blessed to be one. Sinners all, and I will say as Paul, myself a chief among them. All too many (dare I even say every SINGLE one) of us who call on the name of Christ as Savior today have made decisions in the past for which we are ashamed, done things motivated by sin and selfishness and all the power of Satan upon us. All of us deserve His righteous judgment and the full fury of His wrath. Yet God in His great mercy took pity on us. This is the gospel ~ that we may be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ! Not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done.

We won’t be saved because we voted Republican or voted Democrat (or chose not to vote at all). We won’t be saved because we had a baby instead of an abortion. Indeed, I am sad to say I know (and love) people who have had lots of babies and unless God does a work in their lives, they are destined for hell. I don’t like to say that, but it’s true.

When it comes down to it, abortion is a matter of the law, and we know well enough that no one is saved by the law. I don’t like it, either, am not here to defend it, but I have come to understand that some things like abortion, adultery, and pornography will not go away simply because a segment of the population is publicly offended by them. They won’t go away because for all of our public offense, enough people still commit themselves to them privately that their presence will persist. Until our Lord comes to establish His Kingdom in all His glory, we will live in this fallen world and suffer its sin. And why? Because it is full of sinners who love their sin–just as we ourselves once did and even today rely completely on the power of His Spirit to overcome. And lest I forget myself, Lord, help me to not pray like the Pharisee, thanking you I am not like that poor sinner who stands over there beating his breast and pleading for mercy, for I am that poor sinner, crying out, “Have mercy on me, A SINNER!”

I cannot count the number of emails I’ve received over the last couple of months that have sought through all sorts of persuasion, often relying on fear, deception, and half-truths to convince me that Barack Obama is evil, that he’s a Muslim, the anti-Christ, an abortion-lover, or some such other wicked thing. Truth be told, I don’t think that he is any of those things. And neither is John McCain. You know what they are? Sinners. Just like the people who keep sending me the emails. Sinners. Just like you and me.

But let us return to this topic of abortion. Yes, it is a sin. Thou shalt not commit murder. It’s the sixth commandment. It is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. As I already said, though, how many people do we really know that might have had one at some point in their life? And are they outside the bounds of Christ? That does not make it right, and one would hope that our brothers and sisters in the church are not still having them. And I’m sure we’d all agree, it is a great and polarizing topic to discuss. We can all get together and hate this sin collectively.

But what of adultery? Is this not the very next commandment given by God–and how often has this one been violated WITHIN the very walls of the church!? Yet, do we say that this is less abominable in the eyes of our Holy God? That some sins are more forgivable? Does not adultery destroy just as many (if not more) families in our culture–and especially in our church–as abortion? Yet who makes this a platform position–to do away with any and all forms of adultery–including and starting with pornography!? No one. Now why is that? Because it has become an acceptable sin in the eyes of man? In the eyes of God, though, is the one worse than the other or are they equally abominable? In fact, did God Himself not punish David for his adulterous sin with Bathsheba by committing an abortion on the child she bore him in their sin? That was the judgment that the prophet Nathan pronounced in 2 Samuel 12. This by no means justifies the act of abortion, for the actions of God are always just. God does not violate His own law because sin is not in Him, and unto Him alone should be the power to grant and take away life. But I think it is a point worth considering in light of this discussion.  Abortion was the judgment God visited upon David for his adultery with Bathsheba.  Is it possible that abortion is the judgment God is visiting on us for our adultery, too?

The truth about this heinous practice is that it is NOT a cause, but an effect. It is not the source of our sickness, but a symptom. It bears witness to our selfish, sinful natures, but is the fruit and not the root of them.

(To be continued…)

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The Garden of the Heart

This is something I wrote last night to share with my children this weekend. At age five and seven, my two young sons will probably not comprehend everything that I have said here, but my daughter who is twelve should be able to grasp most of it. And anyway, I plan on sharing this with them several times so they get the point. I thought I would post it here with the hopes that it may benefit someone else, too.

This is the story about a garden. Well, it’s about two, really.  A literal and a metaphorical one. The first is a little fenced in patch of land near our house where my grandfather used to grow squash, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, melons, onions, and other fruit and vegetables. My grandfather passed away several years ago, and for the last three or four years of his life, he was not able to tend it. To look at it now, you would never know it was once a garden at all. Because we have pictures of my grandpa in his garden (when it really looked like a garden), I thought this would make a good illustration for my kids to understand the nature of our hearts—the nature of sin, and our need for the Savior.

I’ve sprinkled questions throughout to invite them to think and interact with the illustration. I pray that it will point them to Jesus and allow Him to minister to their hearts; without His Spirit involved, there’s not much I can do besides talk. I would like ask that you please add your prayers to mine that, as a father, I can effectively communicate the gospel to my children… that they would recognize the sin that indwells their own hearts, as well as their own need for Christ, for repentance and faith.

Here is the story I am going to share with my kids as we sit inside the overgrown weed-patch that once fed a family.

The Garden of the Heart

This is the garden that your great grandfather used to tend. I can show you pictures when this garden had fruit and vegetables growing out of the soil—tomato bushes, melons, onions, carrots, and other good things to eat. It was not overgrown with weeds, but was tilled, properly seeded, watered and looked after. The seeds that your Great Grandfather planted were cared for, watered, and protected until they grew into shoots—which are small plants that would grow larger and larger until they began to bear fruit (or vegetables depending on the seeds he planted) that could actually be eaten and that provided nourishment for the body.

Which of the plants that you see growing in this garden today would you like to go and harvest something to eat from?

What you see here now is what the earth will produce naturally here without the constant care and maintenance of the gardener. There isn’t anything growing in this garden now that you want to eat, is there? There isn’t anything in here that looks like it would provide any sort of nourishment for our body at all.

Now, what I want you to understand is that our hearts are like this garden. Left to our own devices, what will grow up in them is just like what you see here in this garden. Without someone tending the garden, planting good seeds, pulling up the weeds that grow naturally, watering the plants as they grow and watching out for pests that would come and destroy the plants before they can produce fruit—well, not much good will grow in them. We will produce nothing nourishing for the body.

Our hearts will naturally produce every kind of thorn and thistle, poisonous berry, nettle, spur, and weed you can imagine. They grow of their own accord and choke out the plants that require tenderness—ones that actually produce fruit. If I told you that from this day forward, all that you could eat is what you could find in this little garden, how long do you think you could live?

Now suppose I told you that you could plant some seeds and tend the garden, so that it would produce some things like potatoes and carrots, some grapes and strawberries, and even some watermelons. If I told you that you could plant seed and tend the garden, but didn’t give you any seed or any tools to tend your garden with, do you think you could produce enough in a harvest to feed our family? Why not?

So what if I give you all the tools you need to till the ground and plant the seed, to pull up weeds, and water your plants, but I don’t give you any seed to plant. How do you think things will go in your garden?

Well, now, suppose I went ahead and gave you some seed to plant. What are some fruits or vegetables you would like to grow in this garden that you could eat and share with others? What would you like to grow?

Okay, so let’s say I give you all the seed you need, but I make you give me all the tools back, so you have to do everything from pulling up weeds to shoveling, to digging into the earth and planting seed using your bare hands. No gloves, either. How do you think that will go?

All right, to give you a truer picture of what our hearts are like without Christ, let’s pretend there’s no seed for you to plant, there’s no tools for you to use, and both your hands are tied behind your back. Do you think you can produce enough food for a harvest in the garden of your heart to feed your family? How long do you think you can make it that way before you die?

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? You’re going to need some help, right? If you have no seed, no tools, and even if you did you wouldn’t be able to use them anyway, then you’re going to need some help, right? Because there’s not a whole lot you can do with your hands tied up behind your back—and since you have no food to eat, well you’re probably already dead. But if you have even a single breath of life, you’d better call out for somebody to come and help you out. Now, if we are talking about the garden of our heart, who do we need to call out to?

If we are completely bound and unable to help ourselves, unable to pull out the nasty weeds and thorny plants that have grown up inside our hearts, what can we do? Who can help us? What can He do?

When our hearts are overgrown with sin and selfishness, so thick that even if we had good seed to plant, it wouldn’t take root, we need to go to the Cross where our Savior died. He died to make Atonement for our sins. In other words, He died because by the power of His death and resurrection, He has the power to bring what is dead in us to life. Our hearts, which are dead in sin—spiritually dead to God—can be made alive in Christ. He has the power to pull up all the foul and wicked weeds that have grown up inside the garden of our heart, so that He can put His own seed there, to nurture and to grow and to care for. 2 Corinthian 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

The prophet Ezekiel, speaking the word of God said, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus said, “”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

For this garden to be “born again” (and to really be a garden by the proper meaning of that term) everything that is in here that is not a garden plant must die. Every plant that does not produce fruit or vegetables that has roots and is growing in this space must be pulled up and put to death… destroyed.

Jesus, speaking to His disciples, used similar words to teach to His disciples (all of whom, except for Judas Iscariot, were already chosen by God to believe in Him and who trusted Jesus as their Lord), “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6)

There are many other references in scripture that describe this process, but the point to understand is this: We have neither the will, nor the ability to take the wild and wooly, weedy, overgrown mess that is our heart, and do anything ourselves to “fix” it, to make it into a garden that produces a harvest. Unless God works in us, to clear out the old brush and brambles that grew there, nothing new will grow. Unless God plants the seed and tends the garden, and unless the Spirit of Christ produces the fruit within us, there will be no harvest. Nothing nourishing will be produced within the garden of our heart to nourish the body.

And what is the fruit that God grows in the garden of our hearts when He is at work within us? The apostle Paul writes to the churches in Galatia that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The apostle Peter complements what Paul shared to the churches in Galatia, stating in his own words, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

It is quite clear from these passages what is meant by the fruit God intends to grow in His faithful. But what of the body He intends to feed with this harvest? Just as the fruit that enters the stomach shares its nutrients not just with the stomach, but the entire body, so fruit that is grown for a harvest in a garden is never meant solely for one person’s enjoyment, but to nourish many other members. It is to be shared.

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:29-30)

Perhaps the most descriptive analogy in the entire Bible is given by the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

1 Cor 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…

1Cor 12:14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
1Cor 12:15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
1Cor 12:16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
1Cor 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
1Cor 12:18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
1Cor 12:19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?
1Cor 12:20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
1Cor 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
1Cor 12:22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
1Cor 12:23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,
1Cor 12:24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,
1Cor 12:25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
1Cor 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

So now that you know the garden, the process, the fruit, the Gardener, and the body, do you have any questions?

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