Tag Archives: Selfishness

What God Hates Man Loves (and Vices Versus)

Yesterday, I wrote down a couple of short lists I had been thinking about on my drive in to work:

God in His natural state (The Spirit):
Hates
sin, injustice, unrighteousness, selfishness, dishonesty, deception
Loves
grace, justice, righteousness, selflessness, honesty, truth, order

Man in his natural state (The Flesh):
Hates grace, justice, righteousness, selflessness, honesty, truth, order
Loves sin, injustice, unrighteousness, selfishness, dishonesty, deception

In thinking about our “natural” tendencies, it is striking to note the clear opposition between God and man (the Spirit and the flesh).

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17)

I recently got Andrew Gray’s A Door Into Everlasting Life and started reading it just last night.  Written by this Scottish preacher who died at the age of 22, I felt almost as if we were having a conversation as he expounded and expanded upon my thoughts of the day.

It is a very sad, but yet an apparent truth, that there is no creature in the world so merciless and mischievous to itself as man is. For whereas everything naturally desires, or tends to its own preservation, man unweariedly endeavors his own destruction. He becomes his own murderer and executioner, by loving vice, and hating virtue, by forsaking Christ, to follow the world, by poisoning his soul to please his senses, by leaving the safe and pleasant way of holiness, to walk in the dangerous and destructive way of wickedness. Wicked men turn their backs upon God, and are ruled by sin and Satan at their pleasure. Such profane beasts are many. They glory in their shame. Like Sodom, they carried their sin in their foreheads, oathing it, telling of their cheats, how many they have defrauded, and of their whoredoms, how many they have defiled. Alas, they have not so much as one grain of grace in their hearts, nor the least sign of holiness in their lives. Though, by the ministry of the word, they be called upon to be holy, yet the more they are called unto holiness, the further do they run into all sin and wickedness.

Yes, God’s own children make but little progress in holiness. The estate of many is a declining estate. They have lost the savouriness of their spirits, and their delight in communion with God. They are weak in resisting temptations to sin, from the devil, the world, and the flesh. They are often overcome by sensuality, pride, worldliness, envy, etc. Their heart is less watched, their tongue less bridled, and their conversation more vain than formerly. What then more needful, than to have before our eyes such arguments, as are most likely to deter us from sin, to prevail with us to loath and leave all our lusts and transgressions, and to walk humbly and holily before God all our days. May the Lord open our eyes, to see the baseness of sin, and sanctify our hearts, that we may never welcome nor embrace it anymore, but may grow holier every day than the other. So living holily, may we die happily, and after death, reign with God gloriously forever.

In order to realize this, let these following considerations sink into our hearts. We must be holy, because the Lord our God is holy. “You shall be holy—for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). “It is written, Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). God’s holiness is the great ground and cause of our holiness, and the motive of all obedience. “Let them praise Your great and awesome Name, for it is holy” (Psalm 99:3). “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9). We are not bound to be essentially and infinitely holy—as God is holy; yet are we bound to be perfectly holy for our state, as God is holy. You call God Father, and if He is your Father indeed, you will be like Him in holiness. You will both have the same nature for likeness. You read a Holy Bible, serve an holy God, pretend to be led by a Holy Spirit. Oh, what shame and trembling then should cover you, if you be unholy! You pretend to love God, and why are you not an imitator of God? Is it not a known saying, likeness makes love? Likeness is the cause of love, and an effect of it. If you would have God to love you, you must labor to be like Him. If you remain unholy, think with yourself, how can an infinitely holy God delight in such an unholy wretch, in such an unlovely and loathsome soul, in such a vile abominable sinner? How unfit am I for His love and embracements! If unholy, you will not endure the purity and presence of God, nor will God’s purity and presence endure you. (Andrew Gray, A Door Into Everlasting Life)

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Filed under Devotions, Puritan

Joshua Harris on Television

This was written by Joshua Harris back in 2005:

Like to Watch
by Joshua Harris

When the Apostle John wrote “Do not love the world,” he clearly wasn’t anticipating satellite TV, the internet, magazines, computer games — all the things we lump together today as “media.” But he knew this: the human heart does not change. Sin is a timeless, universal constant. Whatever new vehicle of communication man dreams up, sin just hops on board.

The results are obvious. Wherever we look, technology blasts us with the world’s values, attitudes, and false definitions of reality. The popular media lie to us about the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty. They offer counterfeit versions of what a family is supposed to look like, what romance is, what success is all about, and where we should spend our money.

The media never try to reason with us. Instead, they seek a hard-wire connection straight into the emotions. Why offer some lame, tortured argument in favor of immorality when you can simply show slow-motion close-ups of beautiful people bathed in soft lighting and romantic music? Painful consequences of sin? Where?!

The power of today’s all-pervasive media lie in their ability to make evil seem appealing. If anything, John’s warning is even more vital for us than it was for his original readers.

Half a Poison Pill Won’t Kill You

Most of us recognize the danger of exposing ourselves to sinful content, so we tend to set arbitrary limits based on how much we think we can “handle.” When a movie or TV show presents us with mild or infrequent profanity, an occasional adulterous affair, or a limited amount of gratuitous violence, we sort of weigh the danger level. We act as if we each have a “sin threshold” beyond which we dare not go. We might as well ask how much of a poison pill we can swallow before it kills us.

But the greatest danger of the popular media is not a one-time exposure to a particular instance of sin (as serious as that can be). It’s how long-term exposure to worldliness — little chunks of poison pill, day after day, week after week — can deaden our hearts to the ugliness of sin. What God calls the lust of the eyes and the sinful cravings of the heart are typically portrayed by the popular media as natural and harmless. The eventual effect of all those bits of poison pill is to deaden the conscience by trivializing the very things that God’s Word calls the enemies of our souls.

If You Don’t Enjoy the Calorie …

Does anyone really believe that if I disapprove of the sin I’m watching, or roll my eyes and mutter about Hollywood’s wickedness, or fast-forward through the really bad parts, my soul is not affected? Yeah, sure — and if you don’t actually like chocolate cake, eating it won’t add to your waistline.

Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. But the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal 6:7-8)

I’ve looked, and there just don’t seem to be any loopholes in this verse.

Too many of us sow to the flesh every day — watching hours of TV but spending 15 minutes in devotions — and wonder why we don’t reap a harvest of holiness. Let’s look at three ways to make practical changes to our consumption of popular media.

Increasing Our Discernment

To discern is to perceive the true nature of something. Because the popular media so often speak to us through our emotions, we must grow in discernment. Otherwise, when violence comes disguised as justice, when lust masquerades as romance, or when greed and selfishness pose as success, we’re likely to be deceived. Here are some biblical ways to help you discern whether a certain activity glorifies God.

  1. Does it present a temptation to sin? (Rom. 13:14, 2 Tim. 2:22)
  2. Is it beneficial? (1 Cor. 6:12a, 1 Cor. 10:23)
  3. Is it enslaving? (1 Cor. 6:12b)

(Regarding the preceding two items, please note that when Paul writes in First Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me,” he is not establishing a divine mandate for a free-for-all of entertainment indulgence. He is, instead, quoting a false proverb then common among the Corinthians so that he might refute it.)

  1. Does it honor and glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
  2. Does it promote the good of others? (1 Cor. 10:33)
  3. Does it cause anyone to stumble? (1 Cor. 10:32)
  4. Does it arise from a pure motive? (Jer. 17:9)

I’d also recommend you regularly apply the “Susanna Wesley Test.” While away at college, John Wesley wrote to his mother, Susanna, asking for a list of sins he should avoid. Her response is a model of biblical wisdom applied:

Whatever weakens your reason, whatever impairs the tenderness of your conscience, whatever obscures your sense of God, whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, whatever takes away from your relish for spiritual things, that to you is sin, no matter how innocent it is in itself.

After it perceives, discernment acts. Winnowing good from evil, it rejects that which is worthless. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).

So, even after you have made your best biblical judgment about a book, movie, TV show, or something else, don’t revert to the passive mode. If something offends, be willing to turn off the set, stop reading, or leave the theater. Always be ready to refute the false ideas or unbiblical thinking that will nearly always be present to one degree or another. Let’s be people who write in book margins, talk to our televisions, and discuss movies and concerts with one another afterwards to help sharpen our discernment and to increase our ability to critique unbiblical values.

Raising Our Standards

Wherever our standards fall short of Scripture, let’s raise them — but humbly, without flaunting them or holding others to the standard we’ve adopted. At the same time, let’s invite others into this area of our lives, welcoming observations about our media habits, and being willing to discuss and hold each other accountable to standards we have prayerfully set. Let’s focus on our own convictions before God, but let us also love each other enough to challenge and question our choices in this area.

We should always be asking if our standards are high enough. Let’s never assume we have “arrived.”

Changing Our Habits

Many Christians, perhaps most, can imagine making heroic sacrifices for God, yet we resist the small adjustments. “Jesus, I will forsake my home, family, and future, but don’t ask me to give up my favorite TV show!”

Let’s not forget that following Christ carries radical implications for the believer’s lifestyle. If we would honor God in this area, we need to regularly re-evaluate our media habits. Should we watch less television? Go to fewer movies? Spend less time online? It’s easy to relate to TV and movie viewing as if a certain amount of it is some kind of right or necessity. But as believers, our only non-negotiable ought to be obeying and glorifying God — even if that means not seeing the blockbuster movie everyone is talking about, or keeping the TV off on weeknights. As Wayne Wilson has noted,

Theatergoing should not be something we do instead of playing miniature golf. Unlike putting, movies must be approached with extreme caution, as though one were treading into the domain of a deceitful and powerful enemy, for that is the truth of it. Critical faculties must be in full alert. Christians must never randomly patronize the theater. A film’s popularity should make no difference. You should be willing to remain ignorant of the “movie event of the year” if it violates God’s standard. Believe me, he is not impressed by the Academy Awards.1

If necessary, let me urge you to consider changing the setup of your home so that entertainment technology, particularly television, is neither omni-present nor central. Let’s not allow movie and television watching to become our default free-time activities. You may also wish to abstain periodically from different forms of media in order to test their influence on your life and increase your focus on God.

Be very clear on this: the world wants your attention, allegiance, and love. Whether subtly or blatantly, it will never stop seeking to persuade you. It is therefore essential that we, as Christians, engage in the battle for our own hearts and souls. The Apostle John lived in a world without the temptations of modern media, but this issue of the heart remains the same: who or what will you love?

Like to Watch
by Joshua Harris
When the Apostle John wrote “Do not love the world,” he clearly wasn’t anticipating satellite TV, the internet, magazines, computer games — all the things we lump together today as “media.” But he knew this: the human heart does not change. Sin is a timeless, universal constant. Whatever new vehicle of communication man dreams up, sin just hops on board.

The results are obvious. Wherever we look, technology blasts us with the world’s values, attitudes, and false definitions of reality. The popular media lie to us about the nature of goodness, truth, and beauty. They offer counterfeit versions of what a family is supposed to look like, what romance is, what success is all about, and where we should spend our money.

The media never try to reason with us. Instead, they seek a hard-wire connection straight into the emotions. Why offer some lame, tortured argument in favor of immorality when you can simply show slow-motion close-ups of beautiful people bathed in soft lighting and romantic music? Painful consequences of sin? Where?!

The power of today’s all-pervasive media lie in their ability to make evil seem appealing. If anything, John’s warning is even more vital for us than it was for his original readers.

Half a Poison Pill Won’t Kill You

Most of us recognize the danger of exposing ourselves to sinful content, so we tend to set arbitrary limits based on how much we think we can “handle.” When a movie or TV show presents us with mild or infrequent profanity, an occasional adulterous affair, or a limited amount of gratuitous violence, we sort of weigh the danger level. We act as if we each have a “sin threshold” beyond which we dare not go. We might as well ask how much of a poison pill we can swallow before it kills us.

But the greatest danger of the popular media is not a one-time exposure to a particular instance of sin (as serious as that can be). It’s how long-term exposure to worldliness — little chunks of poison pill, day after day, week after week — can deaden our hearts to the ugliness of sin. What God calls the lust of the eyes and the sinful cravings of the heart are typically portrayed by the popular media as natural and harmless. The eventual effect of all those bits of poison pill is to deaden the conscience by trivializing the very things that God’s Word calls the enemies of our souls.

If You Don’t Enjoy the Calorie …

Does anyone really believe that if I disapprove of the sin I’m watching, or roll my eyes and mutter about Hollywood’s wickedness, or fast-forward through the really bad parts, my soul is not affected? Yeah, sure — and if you don’t actually like chocolate cake, eating it won’t add to your waistline.

Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. But the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal 6:7-8)

I’ve looked, and there just don’t seem to be any loopholes in this verse.

Too many of us sow to the flesh every day — watching hours of TV but spending 15 minutes in devotions — and wonder why we don’t reap a harvest of holiness. Let’s look at three ways to make practical changes to our consumption of popular media.

Increasing Our Discernment

To discern is to perceive the true nature of something. Because the popular media so often speak to us through our emotions, we must grow in discernment. Otherwise, when violence comes disguised as justice, when lust masquerades as romance, or when greed and selfishness pose as success, we’re likely to be deceived. Here are some biblical ways to help you discern whether a certain activity glorifies God.

  1. Does it present a temptation to sin? (Rom. 13:14, 2 Tim. 2:22)
  2. Is it beneficial? (1 Cor. 6:12a, 1 Cor. 10:23)
  3. Is it enslaving? (1 Cor. 6:12b)
  4. (Regarding the preceding two items, please note that when Paul writes in First Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me,” he is not establishing a divine mandate for a free-for-all of entertainment indulgence. He is, instead, quoting a false proverb then common among the Corinthians so that he might refute it.)

  5. Does it honor and glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
  6. Does it promote the good of others? (1 Cor. 10:33)
  7. Does it cause anyone to stumble? (1 Cor. 10:32)
  8. Does it arise from a pure motive? (Jer. 17:9)

I’d also recommend you regularly apply the “Susanna Wesley Test.” While away at college, John Wesley wrote to his mother, Susanna, asking for a list of sins he should avoid. Her response is a model of biblical wisdom applied:

Whatever weakens your reason, whatever impairs the tenderness of your conscience, whatever obscures your sense of God, whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, whatever takes away from your relish for spiritual things, that to you is sin, no matter how innocent it is in itself.

After it perceives, discernment acts. Winnowing good from evil, it rejects that which is worthless. “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).

So, even after you have made your best biblical judgment about a book, movie, TV show, or something else, don’t revert to the passive mode. If something offends, be willing to turn off the set, stop reading, or leave the theater. Always be ready to refute the false ideas or unbiblical thinking that will nearly always be present to one degree or another. Let’s be people who write in book margins, talk to our televisions, and discuss movies and concerts with one another afterwards to help sharpen our discernment and to increase our ability to critique unbiblical values.

Raising Our Standards

Wherever our standards fall short of Scripture, let’s raise them — but humbly, without flaunting them or holding others to the standard we’ve adopted. At the same time, let’s invite others into this area of our lives, welcoming observations about our media habits, and being willing to discuss and hold each other accountable to standards we have prayerfully set. Let’s focus on our own convictions before God, but let us also love each other enough to challenge and question our choices in this area.

We should always be asking if our standards are high enough. Let’s never assume we have “arrived.”

Changing Our Habits

Many Christians, perhaps most, can imagine making heroic sacrifices for God, yet we resist the small adjustments. “Jesus, I will forsake my home, family, and future, but don’t ask me to give up my favorite TV show!”

Let’s not forget that following Christ carries radical implications for the believer’s lifestyle. If we would honor God in this area, we need to regularly re-evaluate our media habits. Should we watch less television? Go to fewer movies? Spend less time online? It’s easy to relate to TV and movie viewing as if a certain amount of it is some kind of right or necessity. But as believers, our only non-negotiable ought to be obeying and glorifying God — even if that means not seeing the blockbuster movie everyone is talking about, or keeping the TV off on weeknights. As Wayne Wilson has noted,

Theatergoing should not be something we do instead of playing miniature golf. Unlike putting, movies must be approached with extreme caution, as though one were treading into the domain of a deceitful and powerful enemy, for that is the truth of it. Critical faculties must be in full alert. Christians must never randomly patronize the theater. A film’s popularity should make no difference. You should be willing to remain ignorant of the “movie event of the year” if it violates God’s standard. Believe me, he is not impressed by the Academy Awards.1

If necessary, let me urge you to consider changing the setup of your home so that entertainment technology, particularly television, is neither omni-present nor central. Let’s not allow movie and television watching to become our default free-time activities. You may also wish to abstain periodically from different forms of media in order to test their influence on your life and increase your focus on God.

Be very clear on this: the world wants your attention, allegiance, and love. Whether subtly or blatantly, it will never stop seeking to persuade you. It is therefore essential that we, as Christians, engage in the battle for our own hearts and souls. The Apostle John lived in a world without the temptations of modern media, but this issue of the heart remains the same: who or what will you love?

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Filed under Culture, Television, Worship

Book Review: Shadow of the Cross by Walter Chantry

Who wants to read a book on “denying self”!? Everything in our culture urges us to esteem self. The “world” (as the Apostle John would call it) encourages us to please self, to satisfy self, live for self. When people in our self-bloated culture begin to have that uncomfortable disturbance, discontent with the reality of self… that disquiet in their spirit because they are so saturated with self-this, self-that, self-centeredness, selfishness, what do they do? Do they seek God? Ha! No, they venture on a quest to “find themselves“, as if somehow they lost this crucial aspect of their identity. How completely antithetical to everything the “world” teaches are the words of our Lord:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

“Self” is the most common source of the infection that sickens our soul, and our constant consumption of it, the cause of our condemnation. But the example of Christ, and the teaching of Christ and His apostles is clear. That which has true and lasting value is found not in the self-serving, self-loving nature of our flesh, but in loving and serving to others, submitting to one another in Christ; this is a gift of grace that is only available through the Spirit. But as Chantry writes:

“Often the Bible describes sin as selfishness. Isaiah 53:6: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way’. 2 Timothy 3:1-2 states the obvious in shocking terms: ‘This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves…’ That is the disgusting reality of our generation. Men are making decisions with only one consideration, ‘their own selves’.” (page 11)

Chantry rightly defines the problem, then discusses the ONLY true solution to it, even as the Apostle Paul said to the foolish Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). It is only through the cross of Christ that we may die to self and live for others. Chantry elaborates on the meaning of the cross of Christ, as well as what it means to take up our own cross.

He goes on to discuss the Christian theme of self-denial as with reflections on how it should be practiced in Christian liberty, in marriage, in ministry, and in prayer. Each of these chapters is thoughtful and thought-provoking. The book is not very long and can be read in just one or two sittings. But I would encourage you to read it more than once, and to chew on what Chantry puts forth here. It is no substitute for the direct teachings of Scripture on this important matter, but as a reflection and an aid to meditation, it is extremely helpful and I might say even necessary to combat the over-indulgence of “self” that our society forces on us daily.

Peace & Blessings,
Simple Mann

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Filed under Book Reviews

The Abortion of Sin

In my previous post, The Sin of Abortion, I talked a little bit about the problem of abortion, but also some of the problems that surround it… that it is not the root of the problem with our society, but a fruit of it. After I wrote these posts, I discovered a link to a couple of really good videos on John Piper’s Desiring God site, discussing the election and the importance that, as Christians, we should place on it. I think he presents a very healthy perspective, and it is one I share as I’m sure these posts will attest. How can we deceive ourselves for even a second by placing our hope in man-made systems of law to solve our sin problems, when man could not even abide by God’s system of law as given to Moses? We can no more look to our government to fix the sin problem in our society than we could look to our own selves to fix it before we came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Until and unless the gospel of our Lord creates a new heart in us, we are dead in sins and trespasses. As Paul makes quite clear, no one is made alive in the Law; it has no power to save, only to bring condemnation. In this post, I intend to address the abortion of sin (of which the sin of abortion is just an active member), and the problem with a political approach to that end.

The Abortion of Sin

God gave the law to Moses because the people were rebellious and over and over again, the Israelites collectively (and individually) sought to satisfy the lusts of their flesh and their own sinful natures rather than to submit to God. The Apostle Paul, who was a Pharisee of Pharisees discovered after his revelation of Jesus Christ that the law can only condemn; it has no power to save. The rich young ruler found out the same thing when he asked Jesus Himself what he needed to do to obtain eternal life.

My friends, abortion would not be such a problem if we didn’t live in a society that encouraged us to “live for the moment”, “indulge yourself”, “take what you want”, “jump in with both feet”, etc. Our culture encourages us to look with lust; to take and eat the fruit God has warned us not to eat, to satisfy the desires of the flesh. Our culture–and its multi-headed media–entices us to abandon God, attempts to make a mockery of Him, and peddles the wares of the flesh and the devil to all too eager consumers.

We have an endless stream of messages coming through our televisions, our radios, our computers, our cell phones, and our mailboxes that tell us the most important thing we should concern ourselves with is the satisfaction of our lusts, and that three-letter word “S-E-X” is chief among them. Nothing is peddled with more intensity in our society than the flesh and its pleasures, and marriage, much like God (through the influence of our media) has been chided, derided, and scorned. Marriage in America has lost much of its esteem and has been made into a mockery. Now, given these conditions, is it any wonder that the number of abortions in this country is so high? We have been conditioned to abandon God, any sense of morality, a reverence and esteem for marriage, and even self-control. So long as our lusts are satisfied and we don’t have to delay their gratification, well, that is what our culture has conditioned us to do. Abortion is really just a symptom of an even greater problem with our culture.

Now, consider that for just a moment. Will passing a law making abortion illegal fix the root of the problem? Of course not. Will it cause a mass repentance and revival in the land? I doubt it. Will it do anything to address conditions that lead to its practice? Not likely. My guess is that, just like the majority of the Israelites throughout the history of God’s people recorded in the Bible, the law would not make us any more holy or just, or any less sinful and selfish. Laws were passed and then repealed that prohibited the sale of alcohol; they did little to prevent consumption, and actually led to more crime (law-breaking) as a result. Laws have done nothing to stop people who desire to use drugs from using them. Laws have done little to hinder prostitution. Time and time again, we see that “the law” has no power to overcome “the sin”; it can only show us to be sinners. It does not, however, fix the problem of sin.

I read something recently in one of Vincent Cheung’s freely available commentaries that says much better than I can do some of the problems with the law of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. This is taken from his commentary on The Sermon on the Mount (p. 65):

Now, the Pharisees and the scribes are legalists, in both of the ways explained earlier. That is, they seek to attain a sufficient righteousness by their works. The problem is that God requires a perfect righteousness, which they can never achieve. Also, they do not go about establishing their own righteousness by truly obeying God’s laws; rather, they have constructed an elaborate system of human traditions permitting them to disobey God’s commandments altogether while still giving people the impression of supreme piety.

When interpreting and applying God’s commandments, they find ways to get away with as much as possible, but more than that, they redefine the terms and heap up traditions in such a manner as to do away with having to obey the plain demand of the commandments altogether. This is why Jesus says elsewhere, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9).

In the passages immediately following verse 20, Jesus will give us a number of examples on how God’s commands have been distorted and subverted, and what it really means to obey them. As Stott rightly observes:

What the scribes and the Pharisees were doing, in order to make obedience more readily attainable, was to restrict the commandments and extend permissions of the law. They made the law’s demands less demanding and the law’s permissions more permissive. What Jesus did was to reverse both tendencies. He insisted instead that the full implications of God’s commandments must be accepted without imposing any artificial limits, whereas the limits which God had set to his permissions must also be accepted and not arbitrarily increased. (John Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 79)

Nowadays, many people have the misconception that Jesus condemns the Pharisees and the scribes because they are too meticulous in studying and obeying God’s laws. They think that a strict and precise application of God’s laws constitutes legalism. Precisely the opposite is true. The Pharisees and the scribes – commonly considered legalists – are the ones who relax God’s commandments and teach others to do the same. In contrast, Jesus calls his followers to exhibit a genuine righteousness by truly practicing and teaching God’s laws and their various implications (v. 19). What all this entails is explained in the upcoming sections.

So, what is my point? And what do we do about abortion? What do we do about the sickness in our society?

I wish I knew. I can say that based on the light God has given me through the gauze over my eyes, it does not appear that a legal approach will work for abortion any better than it has throughout all of history in addressing any other sin in any other sinful society. But I do know that God’s grace can effect changes that His law can only suggest. What I mean is that without God’s redeeming grace, we are all powerless to counteract the sinful nature that will otherwise carry us away in direct contradiction to His law. We are powerless to stop it.

One thing that we need to do is remove the cancer of our culture from the church. We cannot be effective agents of His grace when we go the way of Baalam, alternating between proclaiming God’s word and serving our own selfish interests. We can not hold to the things of this world and the things of God, or as Christ said, we cannot “serve both God and mammon”. God’s church should be a mighty helper for His purpose; she should be as the woman described in Proverbs 31, not a limping leper with a blind eye to her sin.

That the church has so little power and ability to effect change in people’s lives that it would seek to do so through government as opposed to the grace of God should bring about a sense of conviction within the Church, causing her to repent and turn again to her first love. That the church is relying on men and man-made legal systems and church leaders are spending more time informing the body about government legislation than the gospel of Christ is a horrible indictment of just how far the inroads of culture have found their way into the pulpit. This is NOT the way of the Master, nor of the Master’s men. It is approaching adultery on the behalf of the church; the bride of Christ needs to stop flirting with governors, senators, and judges and return to the groom who has called her to Himself. Isn’t Jesus good enough? Shouldn’t we look to our provision in Christ to affect the change of heart that “the law” can never accomplish? Isn’t there something tragically ironic about the church attempting to establish “the law” and demand obedience? Am I reading this wrong when Paul said to the Galatians:

Gal 2:15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;

Gal 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

Gal 2:17 “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!

Gal 2:18 “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

Gal 2:19 “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.

Gal 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Gal 2:21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Unless I am mistaken, Paul is chastening those churches he had visited and ministered to because they were turning away from the grace of Christ and instead placing their trust back in the tenants of the Jewish laws. The people that Paul called Judaizers were going in to the churches where Paul had painstakingly preached the gospel, and attempting to convince the believers there that the grace of the gospel was not really sufficient. A greater demand must be met for salvation; they must adhere to the Mosaic law if they were to be saved. And yet these believers were Gentiles; they were not even Jews. Paul took them to task for “so quickly deserting Him” who had called them; for adding to the gospel of grace of Christ some additional work of law as necessary for salvation.

Now, I am not saying that abortion should be legal and protected under the law in the United States. But it is. And despite all the rhetoric from any politician to the contrary, it will remain so because this country is full of sin and selfishness. It is not full of Christians. Despite what the checkbox on the questionnaires might say, the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians in America are far more like the masses that turned away from Him in John 6:66 than the few who remained in John 6:67. The vast majority of people who call themselves Christian in this country will abandon Him the moment their profession prohibits them from their heart’s true desires, which unless He has done a real work in them are rooted and selfishness and sin.

Abortion is evil. And just like the vast majority of people in this country will call themselves Christians, so will the vast majority agree with this statement. It is evil and detestable in the sight of the Lord. It is murder. It is wrong. But it is only one of ten commandments that this selfish, sinful people break every day despite all the laws in effect under the United States justice system. And while it sounds great to trust in the law for protection, the law can only affect a change in behavior and not a change in heart. Christ and Christ alone can affect a lasting change in heart that will have profound effects on our behavior. As long as we continue to focus on the outside of the cup, the inside will remain full of filth. The allure of politics and of legislative efforts to curb sins that stem from our selfish, wicked hearts will never address the heart of sin like the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I think it is time for many of us who claim His name to repent, to turn away from the world and its worldly systems, and to once again make the power of the gospel of grace more important in our battle against sin than the legal systems of men.

I think many of us have a problem just “sitting back and doing nothing” as sin seems to overtake the world, and that is why political involvement poses such a great temptation to us. It seems better than just accepting the world on its terms, and I am sad to say that for most evangelicals it is much easier than going out and sharing the gospel with a lost world. But as “painful” and “hopeless” as it might seem at times to put your hope in the power of God instead of the systems of man-made governments, it is the only way any soul have ever come to repent, to turn from sin and trust Christ. Think of the prophets, of Moses, and more importantly our Savior Himself. Think of the Pharaohs, the Pharisees, the Roman Empire, and the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation. And think of men like John Hus, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and John Calvin. Reflect on our roots, and those who have walked these roads long before we did. And as you consider the history of sin and salvation, ask yourself honestly if there is any real hope in a political or legal solution to sin.

As evangelists, preachers, teachers, and disciples of the gospel, I think it is time to return to our roots. May we abandon our hope in governments, in courts, in senators, and the leaders in the world. Let us remember that God is in sovereign control of all and that everything He does, He does for the purpose of His glory. Let us remember that when we see and revile the sin of this world, that He has allowed it and that He causes ALL things to work together for good to those who love God, and who are called according to His purpose. Let us remember that no man has come to power if not by His hand. Let us not to lose our hope in His eternal promise because of a temporary change in power in our government! Let us remember that even the wicked Pharoah was appointed by God for the purpose to which he was called; that is, the purpose of His glory. No sin ever beset a man, good or bad, throughout the entire redemptive history that has been laid out for us in His Holy Word that did not serve that same purpose. Let us trust in Him, above all else, that His will and His purpose is being accomplished just the way He has foreseen and foreordained, and not be troubled or anxious for anything. And let us be faithful ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ, even (and most especially) in the most troubling of times. And my friends, we here in America, do not have it that bad.

There are men and women who give their lives for the gospel every day in places that most of us would never dream of going. Many (if not most) of us will not even give twenty minutes of our time to someone across the street that we know needs to hear it. We are much more comfortable trying to accomplish His purpose through political means than Biblical ones. We are much more comfortable condemning the sins of people we’ve never met in a public forum, than we are confronting people we know intimately in a private one. This is not the way of the Master. This is not the method or the manner or the message that we have been given. Again, I say, let us return to our roots. Let us return to Christ. And let us find our satisfaction in Him, full and complete.

Peace & Blessings,
Simple Mann

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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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Pledge Allegiance?

I read another post on a blog site earlier this week that had to do with displaying the American flag in our churches, and it really got me to thinking about where we find our identity and where we place our allegiance. Granted this is a long rant, and will probably rub some people the wrong way. But for me it is a matter of conviction, and a question of where we place our values and find our identities.

I am no great theologian, but I have thought for several years now that it is simply wrong to “pledge” my allegiance to any but God. Our government–like any government–is made up of people, and as a result, it is imperfect and fallible. It is not my God, should not be worshiped or put above God, although I deeply appreciate those who serve our nation under the guidance of our Lord, just as I am thankful for the people who give of themselves in service to the Church. I am also thankful to live in a country like the United States where we may freely worship. It is unfortunate, though, that here in America, a country where we have some of the greatest freedom in the world to worship God openly and without fear, we are so spiritually tepid and lethargic that most of us do not even do that well. There are many other places in the world today where people who love and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ do so under the threat of death, yet they worship fervently and appreciatively for what He has done. Here, we suffer little more than mild discomfort or criticism, yet most self-professing Christians shy away from publicly proclaiming Christ for fear of a little bit of ridicule. Yet, we will all put our hands over our heart and pledge our allegiance to a FLAG, and do so proudly whenever there is an opportunity so that we may show off our patriotic spirit. Why is this?

I would venture to say that your average homeless person appreciates a half-eaten hamburger from McDonalds, rescued from a garbage can, more than a millionaire who eats a $100 meal at his favorite five star restaurant. When conditions are hard and food is scarce, how much more are even meager scraps of food appreciated? We have every opportunity to serve and worship God here, yet most of us–perhaps because of the luxury we enjoy, fail to make the most of the opportunities God has afforded us. We squander them. Instead of loving God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind (and loving our neighbors as ourselves), we fill our lives with trivial things that distract us from our sole purpose in life, which is to glorify God. We have TVs, cell phones, computers, cameras, DVD players (many of us in our cars even), game systems, and countless other gadgets that all work to isolate us from others and even more so from God. And while verbally, we may pledge our allegiance to a flag, what we really pledge our allegiance to is a lifestyle… a lifestyle of flesh consumption and soul corruption, and then we announce to the world how proud we are to be so “blessed”. But blessed are the meek, Jesus said. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, and blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness. James borrows from the Old Testament and tells us, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

To “pledge your allegiance” to a flag seems to me to directly violate the first two commandments so blatantly that I am almost amazed so few Christians take to task this daily ritual in our schools when it seems to stand in direct contradiction to the commandments of God’s word. It is interesting that an atheist will take his case all the way to the Supreme Court because the words “under God” happen to be in the rote script our kids rehearse daily, yet few Christians take offense that our children are basically taught to place the flag and their country OVER God (despite what the words might say). There is no question that the motive behind this “pledge” is a sense of “patriotism” (i.e. to honor and fellowship with the United States government) and not religion (to honor and fellowship with God). In fact, the “under God” portion of the pledge was not actually added until much later on after it was originally written.

And not only does this practice of reciting the pledge daily seem to violate the first two commandments that have everything to do with revering and honoring God, they also stand in direct contrast to Peter’s message to the early church and the first Christians. This is what the rock whom Christ used to found His early church had to say:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”

And this is the word which was preached to you.

(1 Peter 1:13-25)

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
(1 Peter 2:9-11)

God does not care where you live or where you have your citizenship. If He did, He would not have chosen Nazareth over Jerusalem when He came incarnate. The Lord is sovereign, and will put you wherever He wills, but your identity in Christ is not to be found in the world or the kingdoms of men, but in the Kingdom of God.

Now, I believe that pride is the first shade of selfishness, and selfishness is the root of all sin. In the verse “The love of money is the root of all evil”, it is selfishness that is at the root. All of the Ten Commandments were given to combat the innate selfishness that resides within us as a result of the Fall. The first four pertain to selfishness in our relationship with God; the last six pertain to different aspect of selfishness in our relationships with others. “Selfishness”, simply put, is elevating and esteeming our own self-nature above God, which was the path of descent for Lucifer mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. It seems to me that we, here in America, live in a culture that values and encourages this type of pride and selfishness above all else. A quick read through Galatians 5:19-21, where Paul discusses the deeds of the flesh, should serve as a painful reckoning as to the “state of the nation” and the real values held by our culture. Indeed, the things Paul underscores as the “deeds of the flesh” are actually marketed (in a more subversive manner) in all of the media and literature most of us are exposed to daily:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

“Proud to be an American”

How many evangelical Christians have sung along with this popular song… and sung along proudly. But Paul rightly said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Most of us who have sung that song so loudly and proudly have probably never stopped to wonder, “Why are we proud to be an American?” Am I better than someone who was born in Cuba, Nigeria, Portugal, or Peru? Should I feel a great sense of pride that I was born and live in one of the wealthiest and most self-glorifying and self-oriented nations in the world? Should I be proud that I am one of small percentage of the world’s population that can enjoy all of the “modern conveniences” the rest of the world’s population has to do without? Or that I can work “hard” in an air-conditioned building for eight to ten hours a day, drive my comfortable air-conditioned car home everyday, eat whatever I want with my wife and kids in our comfortable air-conditioned home, and never have to look at or concern myself with the sick or the poor? Should I be proud that I even have the time and resources to work on a website in my “spare time”, as if my vain thoughts are so important I should place them here where anyone can read them? Oh, foolish pride… dare I pledge my allegiance to thee? Or like Paul, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

I am curious as to what comments you might have, so please feel free to leave them.

Peace & Blessings.

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Christianity Today – Sin and the City

I’ve recently been reading from several books whose themes have sort of converged into a single point of light, laser-like in focus. I am reading about the doctrines of sin in the second book of James Montgomery Boice’s “Foundations of the Christian Faith”, having completed the chapters on the law and the commandments, and man’s sin. A couple of months ago I was reading through John Owens’ work on Sin and Temptation, and more recently Jeremiah Burroughs’ “The Evil of Evil”, although I only read the first couple of chapters. The subject has also come up in some blogs I’ve read recently, and what I am coming to understand is this. All sin is rooted in selfishness, and selfishness is the key to all sin. It was with Lucifer when he rebelled against God (as described by Isaiah); it was with Satan AND with Adam and with Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was with David when he chose to lay with Uriah’s wife, brought him back from the war to lay with her, and then again when he arranged for Joab to have him killed. It was with Peter when he rebuked Jesus for speaking plainly of God’s plan for salvation with His disciples, and again when Peter vowed that he would never abandon or forsake his master even if all others fell away. Pride is a shade of selfishness, but the root of sin is and has always been selfishness—the elevation of oneself above the Most High.

Last night, I read a post that was a response to a movie review by the Christianity Today for the recent release, “Sex and the City” on the blog site, Boundless Line. The reviewer for Christianity Today actually gave the movie higher marks than the overtly Christian “Prince Caspian” that was also recently released. Today on the radio, I heard Todd Friel on Way of the Master speaking about this, and he was (in his typical style) extremely indignant about it. There are several active Christian bloggers out there who have responded to this, who share his feelings. I suppose you could say that I am in their camp.

But what exactly is the problem here? I think it is sad to say that the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians would probably (at least silently) agree with the reviewer. Many people who call themselves Christian (some of whom even attend church fairly regularly) enjoy watching shows and movies like Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, the myriad reality-tv shows that exploit and exhort “common tendencies” (aka cultural values) like sex and promiscuity, arrogance, avarice, selfishness, and sin. I recently read a poem entitled “The Devil’s Vision” written by an anonymous author (circa 1950). I think it was an excellent summary of the influence of this device on the minds of the people, whether they do or don’t consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ. I quote the first of this three part work here in full:

The devil once said to his demons below,
“Our work is progressing entirely too slow.
The holiness people stand in our way
Since they do not believe in the show or the play.

They teach that the carnival, circus and dance,
The tavern and honky-tonk with game of chance,
Drinking and smoking, these things are wrong;
That Christians don’t mess with the ungodly throng;

They are quick to condemn everything that we do
To cause unbelievers to be not a few.
They claim that these things are all of the devil;
That Christian folks live on a much higher level.

Now, fellows, their theology, while perfectly true
Is blocking the work we are trying to do.
We will have to get busy and figure a plan
That will change their standards as fast as we can.

Now I have a vision of just what we can do,
Hearken, I’ll tell this deception to you;
Then find ye a wise, but degenerate man
Whom I can use to help work out this plan.

There’s nothing so real as the things that you see;
The eyes and the mind and the heart will agree;
So what can be better than an object to view?
I say it will work and convince not a few.

The home is the place for this sinful device,
The people deceived will think it quite nice.
The world will possess it; most Christians can’t tell
That it’s all of the devil and plotted in Hell!

We’ll sell them with pictures of the latest news
And while they’re still watching, we’ll advertise booze.
At first it will shock them; they’ll seem in a daze,
But soon they’ll be hardened and continue to gaze.

We’ll give them some gospel that isn’t too strong
And a few sacred songs to string them along.
They’ll take in the ads with the latest of fashions
And soon watch the shows that will stir evil passions.

Murder and love-making scenes they’ll behold
Till their poor wretched souls will be utterly cold.
The old family alter which once held such charm
Will soon lose its place without much alarm.

Praying in secret will also be lost
As they look at the screen without counting the cost.
The compromise preachers, who don’t take their stand,
Will embrace this new vision and think it is grand.

They’ll help fool the people and cause them to sin
By seeking this evil and taking it in.
Influence is great this you can see;
Just look at my fall and you’ll have to agree.

It won’t take too long, my demons, to tell
That the vision of Satan will populate Hell!
Divorce will increase; sex crimes will abound;
Much innocent blood will be spilled on the ground.

The home will be damned in short order I say,
When this vision of mine comes in to stay.
Get busy, my cohorts, and put this thing out;
We’ll see if the church can continue to shout.

The holiness people who stand in our way
Will soon hush their crying against show and play.
We’ll cover the earth with this devil vision
Then we’ll camouflage it with the name television.

The people will think they are getting a treat
Till the Antichrist comes and takes over his seat.
He’ll rule the world while the viewers behold
The face of the beast to whom they were sold.

We’ll win through deception, this cannot fail;
Though some holiness preachers against it will rail.”

Anonymous (circa 1950)

It’s amazing to think that this was written in or around 1950, when television (by today’s standards anyway) was relatively modest and innocent. Whoever wrote this was obviously quite prophetic. I think it is safe to say that television has wielded more influence than any other single “technological advance” throughout history. It has had a severely detrimental and desensitizing effect on us, to the point that sin and disobedience is both acceptable and tolerable. And that is all the worse for the believer, whose life should be a testament to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But His power and His influence are greatly diminished by the power of the culture and the devilish devices that drive it. We are a selfish and sinful society, yet we consider ourselves “good”. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I think the there is no more fitting summary of the state of the church in America than this: “Christianity Today prefers Sex and the City to Biblical values and influences.”

Where have we gone wrong? From reading the review, it is clear that the reviewer likes the characters and the story, and the plots and subplots (and the nudity and the sexuality). The vast majority of the church is drawn much more powerfully to the culture that we live in, than the church we should be living for. Our eyes dart to Christ occasionally; oh yes, we acknowledge him now and then, but what they are drawn to, what they long for are the things of the world, the desires of the flesh… the bait on the hook of the Evil One, who draws away from having any real and substantial influence for Christ in this world. We do not live like aliens here. We are as comfortable as can be, yet still complain for all our comforts that what we have is not enough. We are collectively, fat, selfish, lazy, and stupid.

Fat and selfish – we feed our appetites as if we are the most important person in the world. Who is called to fast these days? Who can tolerate this injustice to the flesh? Whether we are feeding our mouths with food or beverage, our eyes and ears with music and media, our minds with dross, our senses with lust, or our hearts with sin… we are a people who consume—who take and take and take, and hate to give. We will treat ourselves to a $50 meal downtown and frown on the homeless person who asks for a dollar on the way back to our car.

Lazy – Though some may say that work hard and put in many hours for the money they make, who is it that they serve in this effort? Lazy for the Lord, the one whom we should truly serve. Work for Him is just too uncomfortable. We can put in 50, 60, 70 hour weeks—so that we have enough to spend on our own passions, but even those who go to church and “give” the Lord and hour or two of their time on Sunday mornings—how much time do they give Him fulfilling the work that He has called His people to, to share His gospel message with sinners in need of a savior and to care for the weak, the sick, and the oppressed?

Stupid – Although we ought to know better, or at least the difference between right and wrong from God’s perspective… and although we say we believe the Bible is God’s word and should be the place we turn for guidance in our lives, most of us live lives that mimic so closely those of the unsaved or “fallen away” ones, that it would be hard to tell for the vast majority of Christ-claimers that they have ever read a single chapter of God’s word or had enough sense to understand it correctly that they may live it out in obedience to Him in their own lives!

We feast ourselves at the table of the world when we should be fasting and taking much better fruit not from the table of worldly feasts, but from the Living Vine we have been called to abide in. Woe to us who have made a bedfellow of this world and a stranger of Christ, who lay claim His name and dishonor Him twice. “Christianity Today”. Indeed. This is the state that we are in. It is sad and sorrowful, but the truth of the matter is that by and large Christianity Today has much more in common with “Sex and the City” than with the traditional Christian values and influences that once separated the Church from the Culture. May God help us abandon the sinful sensuality we have all too comfortably embraced and begin to live again as strangers in a strange land—as aliens again. Let today’s scripture reading be the entire second chapter of Peter’s first epistle. Take heed, fellow believers, and choose carefully what you believe.

1Pe 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander,

1Pe 2:2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,

1Pe 2:3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

1Pe 2:4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,

1Pe 2:5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1Pe 2:6 For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

1Pe 2:7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,

1Pe 2:8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.

1Pe 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

1Pe 2:10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

1Pe 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

1Pe 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

1Pe 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,

1Pe 2:14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

1Pe 2:15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

1Pe 2:16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.

1Pe 2:17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

1Pe 2:18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.

1Pe 2:19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.

1Pe 2:20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

1Pe 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,

1Pe 2:22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH;

1Pe 2:23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;

1Pe 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

1Pe 2:25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

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