The Kingdom Logic of Ridiculous Generosity

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The generosity of God’s people, both to alleviate the poverty of the poor near and to invite the blessings of God upon those who are generous toward the poor is still in play today as it was under Moses. So rather than making poverty the government’s responsibility, or always thinking that “the church” should do something about poverty, each of us must be the church. We—you and I—should be generous where we can and with whom we can. We must give freely, responsibly and strategically to help anyone within our power to help. And as we become the conduit of kingdom generosity, we will never run out of resources to give.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 15:7-10

If there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.

God has a plan for the poor, and it will work. Really! The plan will seem illogical to most, but such is the upside-down logic of the Kingdom of God. What is the logic? The generosity of God’s people. The alleviation of poverty in the big, wide world starts with generosity toward the world near you.

It is really too bad that that poverty in our day has become such a political and sociological football. The problem of the poor would be dealt with quite effectively if we would simply adopt how God told the ancient Israelites to treat the poor among them. Rather, in America, one side says that poverty is the fault of the poor, that they just need to buck up and be responsible, that giving a hand out only perpetuates their poor ways. This “people must be responsible for their own lives” approach however, can be very hard-hearted toward something that is near to God’s heart.

Then on the other philosophical side, many say that the wealthy must be taxed at higher rates so that the government can provide more programs, more handouts, more entitlements to alleviate poverty in America. In much of that “it’s the rich’s fault and the government’s responsibility” approach, we are very likely to be guilty of hurting with our helping. Furthermore, it leads to an attitude that responsibility to help the needy is someone else’s: the government, the rich, the church’s, “they”.

Under the Old Testament law, it was very clear that God did not want any poor to be among the Israelites as they settled into their Promised Land: “There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.” (Deuteronomy 15:4) Poverty would stand as an affront to the God who desired to bless all of his people.

Furthermore, when fellow Israelites fell into poverty, God said that it was the responsibility of their neighbors to help lift them out. They were to freely loan them money, at a reasonable interest rate, and then be willing to forgive the loan at the end of the pre-established seventh year of debt elimination—even if the loan was made toward the conclusion of those seven years:

At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived….  Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2,9)

As the Israelites took this posture toward the poor among them, and there would be poor among them (“if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you”, Deuteronomy 15:7), God promised that they would live under his enormous blessings, both in their economy and in their world impact:

You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 6 The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you. (Deuteronomy 15:5-6)

Now of course, there were significant differences with ancient Israel and where we find ourselves today. Israel was a theocracy, we are not. They didn’t have easy credit and rampant materialism like we do. Most people didn’t foolishly misspend their way into the poorhouse. The poor were not typically addicted to alcohol or drugs or suffer from mental disorder like we find in a significant portion of the homeless today. They didn’t just tolerate laziness and dependence on government subsidies like we do, they had ways of dealing with chronically irresponsible people. So yes, there are differences that would make dealing with poverty more challenging in our complex society than it was for Israel.

However, the generosity of God’s people, both to alleviate the poor near to you and to invite the blessings of God upon you is still in play. So rather than making poverty the government’s responsibility, or always thinking that “the church” should do something about it, be the church. Be generous where you can and with whom you can. Give freely, responsibly and strategically to help anyone within your power to help. If each of us take it upon ourselves to eliminate the poverty of another, we can make a dent in the larger problem of the poor in the world today.

Become a conduit of kingdom generosity and you will never run out of resources to give.

Going Deeper With God: Who is within your power to help? Today, be generous toward them in whatever way you are able. God will bless you for it.

Tattoos, Piercings, Purple Mohawks and Living On The Edge

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When our motive for doing anything because it is cool by the world standards, perhaps the case could be made that we are bowing to man-made idols. When God goes to such great lengths to pull his people out of their heathen culture in order to make them into his own holy nation, a people that stand out in the world as distinctly belonging to him and disinctly different than the world, why would they then revert back to worldly ways? Why walk as close to the edge of worldliness without stepping over into it instead of pressing into the core of holiness unto the Lord. Why not press into the center of God’s will, which looks more like Jesus and less like the world?

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 14:1-2 (Living Bible)

Since you are the people of God, never cut yourselves as the heathen do when they worship their idols nor shave the front halves of your heads for funerals. You belong exclusively to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you to be his own possession, more so than any other nation on the face of the earth.

To be forthcoming, I have never had neither purple hair nor a Mohawk. I don’t have any piercings. And I have never seriously entertained the notion of a tattoo—although if I were ever brave enough to get one, I would consider the iconic “Mother” tat embedded within a sailor’s anchor. (You probably have to be of a certain age to appreciate that!)

I don’t have any of those, and don’t really want to, but just to be clear, neither do I have anything per se against quirky hair, body piercings and tattoos that rival Michelangelo’s work. Some people can pull it off; I would look like a doofus. I know plenty of amazing people who have some or all of the above, whose Christian character and kingdom impact is without question.

So what’s the point? I simply want to get you to think about the verses I selected where God prohibits the Israelites from either getting a body piercing or their hair cut in some kind of weird style. Similarly in Leviticus 19:28, God told his people never to get tattoos or engage in cutting: ‘You shall not cut yourselves nor put tattoo marks upon yourselves in connection with funeral rites; I am the Lord.” Now it would be fair protest that this prohibition is only in the context of funerals, but I believe the clear sense here is that if God didn’t like it under those circumstances, he probably didn’t approve of it under normal conditions. You can disagree with me on that, but that is how I see it.

Obviously, many believers don’t see it as I do. In today’s world, a growing number them do all of the above—attention getting hairdos, very obvious tattoos, cutting and more piecings that you can shake a stick at. But I don’t think that is the main point here; it is not so much the activity that we should focus on, it is the motive: “As the heathen do.”

When our motive for doing anything is because it is cool by the world standards, perhaps the case could be made that we are bowing to man-made idols. When God went to such great lengths to pull his people out of their heathen culture in order to make them into his own holy nation, a people that would stand out in the world as distinctly belonging to him and distinctly different than the world, why would they then revert back to worldly ways? Why would they take on patterns and behaviors of the sin-filled culture from which they had been rescued? Why would they admire the latest style or trend or hip factor from the nations that were hostile to God? Why go along to get along? Why walk as close to the edge of worldliness without stepping over into it instead of pressing into the core of holiness unto the Lord.

That, I believe, is the main thing here—what we ought to consider as we seek a relevant application from this passage. Why live on the edge of sin? Why not press into the center of God’s will? Now let me also quickly add that if you are a believer who already has one of the things mentioned above, don’t sweat it. God starts with where you are and then moves you down the road to Christlikeness. Just make sure in the journey forward from today your motive is to be more and more like Jesus.

Now for old school Christians who tend to look in disdain on a younger generation that expresses itself with piercings, tattoos and purply-spiked hair, how about what we do to keep up with the Joneses? What about needing to drive the latest car we can’t afford or having more square footage in our house than a Roman legion required or getting the latest $800 iPhone when the one we have is barely six months old? Do we do exactly what we accuse the young and restless of doing? Is there really all that much difference?

Again, my point in this devotional take on Deuteronomy 14 is simply to get us to consider where we may be flirting with culture rather than striving for greater Christlikeness. The next time you see someone sporting some sort of body art that you don’t appreciate, take a good, long look at your own motives. Perhaps in that moment the Holy Spirit is calling you to a closer walk with Jesus.

That is God’s goal for you, by the way: that you would look more and more like Jesus while looking less and less like the world.

Going Deeper With God: Here is a hard but good prayer to offer to your Lord today: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Proof of Love: What You Do For Orphans, Widows and Immigrants

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The proof of your wholehearted love for God (or fear, service, or followership) is in the pudding of how you actually live your life. God himself says that this is not just a theological calling of fear/obey/love/serve for your private worship, this is a relational calling that is for your public life. For love of God is to be fleshed out among those people you know, and even the ones you don’t know. It is to be exemplified especially among those the community would tend to marginalize—the least of these, as Jesus would call them. The gracious and merciful love that God extended to you is to be extended in the same way through you to the most vulnerable—orphans, widows and immigrants!

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 16-20

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? … Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him.

It’s actually quite uncomplicated. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get it; actually, it is so simple even a caveman could figure it out. In fact, God himself spelled it out in very plain language. What am I talking about? Following him.

Simple—not easy—but simple. Do this and you will prosper. Do this and you will be satisfied. Do this and you will be safe and secure. Do this and you will live.

It is not easy because there is an unholy trinity that opposes it at every spit second and in ever square inch of your existence—the world, the devil and the flesh. Whatever is tainted by sin will stand in rebellion against what God demands. That is why you and I struggle with it. The evil one craftily lures us away from it, our culture deceive us into thinking it offers something far better and more satisfying, and our own desires entertain deceitful thoughts of finding success, satisfaction and significance in our own way instead of God’s. Following God is simple, but for those reasons, not easy.

Yet, again, it is quite simple. God says do this and you will bring glory to me and I will release goodness to you. Fear me, obey me, love me, serve me, and follow my laws—do this wholeheartedly and I will release my full goodness to you. By the way, any one of those—fear, obedience, love, service, and following—define the other. In other words, if you want to know what fear is, it is obeying, loving, serving and following God wholeheartedly. What is love? It is fearing, obeying, serving and following God wholeheartedly. You get the point!

But wait, there’s more. The proof of your wholehearted love for God (or fear, service, or followership) is in the pudding of how you actually live your life. God goes on to say that this is not just a theological calling of fear/obey/love/serve for your private worship, this is a relational calling that is for your public life. For love of God is to be fleshed out among those people you know, and even the ones you don’t know. It is to be exemplified especially among those the community would tend to marginalize—the least of these, as Jesus would call them. The gracious and merciful love that God extended to you is to be extended in the same way through you to the most vulnerable—orphans, widows and immigrants:

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

So at this point a really tough question needs to be asked of you: What are you doing for orphans, widows and immigrants? Not “what do you think” (and even there, some of us need to really think through our theology on this in light of current political philosophy on education, welfare and immigration), but what are you actually doing to defend, embrace, feed and clothe the orphans, widows and immigrants among you? Defend, embrace, feed and clothe—God’s commands, not mine.

Why should you care about that? Well, that is what God has graciously and mercifully done for you—defend, embrace, feed and clothe—so you better get with it and somehow involve yourself in the very same actions toward the least of these! Seriously, the proof of your fear of the Lord, obedience to his Word, love for God, service unto him and discipleship is in the pudding of how you treat, or don’t treat, orphans, widows and immigrants.

Don’t like what I am saying? Don’t get upset with me—take it up with God. Or go do something about it. (If you need ideas, check this out: http://petrosnetwork.org ) As John Bunyan said,

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

Going Deeper With God: Read and reflect deeply and personally on these verses: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

The Death Penalty and God’s Mercy

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin. But praise the Lord, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer our capital punishment. He took the punishment that fit our crime.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 24:17-22

Anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death. Anyone who kills another person’s animal must pay for it in full—a live animal for the animal that was killed. Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind. Whoever kills an animal must pay for it in full, but whoever kills another person must be put to death. This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.

Perhaps Leviticus 24 would be an appropriate time for me to do a devotional on the death penalty—although you might consider the juxtaposition of “death penalty” and “devotional” a bit of an oxymoron—but that is not what I think this section of scripture is primarily about. More on that in a moment.

But let me just say that any believer who holds a high view of Scripture (which every believer should, by the way) who offers a glib argument either for or against capital punishment probably needs to carefully and empathetically read, re-read and prayerfully reflect on the seriousness of this account. Mostly, Leviticus is didactic—God is instructing his people on how to live in holiness. This chapter, however, includes one of the few narratives in Leviticus—it tells a real story of a real human situation. And while I won’t get into it here, grasping the context of this drama is necessary to reaching any conclusions about the death penalty from Leviticus 24.

The death penalty, whether you are for it or against it—involves real human tragedy and is connected to human suffering at its most painful. Someone did something so heinous to another human being that it required death at the hands of the state. And someone was victimized so terribly that it will forever mark his or her life. And two families were forced into a trauma they didn’t ask for and for which they cannot simply “take an aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.” This will be with them forever. And in this case, the witnesses to the crime actually had to lay hands on the guilty party’s head—there was no anonymous tip line here—and representatives of the witnessing community had to actually throw the stones that crushed the man’s skull. This was tragic as well as gruesome.

The death penalty might be easy to debate academically, but the reality of taking another person’s life as punishment, rightly or wrongly, will turn the stomach of any person with normal human empathy. Not that I am recommending this, but if you don’t believe me, watch one of the many videos that are now a part of our online living that shows a Middle Eastern stoning for adultery or some other crime. But I want to give you fair warning: it is not pretty and it will turn your stomach in a way that will affect you for a long time.

And one more thing about this chapter as it relates to any death penalty argument: God commanded it! This was not just a human construct; it originated with the Almighty. There is no getting around that. Something so egregious to a holy God took place that the Lord himself issued the death warrant.

Now, does that amount to God’s tacit approval for capital punishment in today’s society? Maybe—he did order it, after all. But maybe not, because we don’t execute every punishment that God ordered against sin in Old Testament in our current culture. We don’t stone adulterers today, nor do we execute those who blaspheme their parents, do we? My point is, using this chapter to argue a pro death penalty position will be fraught with inconsistencies. So take care.

Let me offer this broader insight into what is going on here by quoting from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

The stoning of the blasphemer is taken as the occasion for the summation of the principles of justice. Here again the principle of lex talionis or retaliation is stated as a form of justice. The principle similarly appears in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21. Christ quoted the law in Matthew 5:38-42 and seems to have opposed it, though he was actually not contradicting the OT but was denouncing the Pharisaic use of these verses to justify personal revenge. It is another question whether this law was taken literally or is an emphatic statement of the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. If a man killed a beast, his own beast was not killed (Leviticus 24:21). There is no example in the OT of a judge exacting literally an eye for an eye. The usual penalties of Hebrew law were capital punishment for a limited number of serious offenses and fines and restitution for the remainder. There were no prisons in the early days, and none is mentioned in the Pentateuchal legislation. Apparently we have here an emphatic legal idiom meaning that the punishment must be commensurate with the offense.

The larger point to this tragic human story is that God cares deeply about justice—both in his spiritual family and in the family of mankind. This law established here, referred to as lex talionis, is foundational to the principle of justice that govern our civilized world, and that is simply this: the penalty must fit the crime. If there is too much or if there is too little by way of punishment, the state, which is God’s instrument of justice (see Romans 6:3-5) is guilty of a grave miscarriage of justice.

So here is where the devotional gets wrung out of a death penalty discussion: God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin, don’t we? But praise the Lord, in the greatest act of loving kindness and mercy ever seen, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer the capital punishment you and I justly deserved.

That truly is the mercy and grace and the indescribable love of a just God at its most stunning! Jesus paid a debt he did not owe for a debt we could not pay. And I don’t say this lightly, but for that, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

Going Deeper With God: Offer up a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God that he commuted your death sentences.

Sexually Distinct

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whether you are single or married, when you follow purity, abstinence, and yes, even Christ-likeness in your sexuality, you become a compelling witness before a lost world of a loving God’s promise to bless his people’s obedience with abundance.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 18:1-6

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. I am the Lord your God. So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. You must obey all my regulations and be careful to obey my decrees, for I am the Lord your God.  If you obey my decrees and my regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord. You must never have sexual relations with a close relative, for I am the Lord.

Like the title of today’s devotional? I thought that would get your attention. But basically, that is what God is saying to the Israelites in this chapter: I want you to be sexually pure, unlike the nation from which you came (“where you used to live”), and the nations where you are headed (“where I am taking you”). Do not be like them (“You must not imitate their way of life”). Do not adapt their anything-goes approach to sexual fulfillment nor get enticed into their sexual lifestyles (“You must never have sexual relations with…”), it is a deathtrap—literally (“If you obey…you will find life”).

The chapter then lists out specifically the kinds of sexual practices that were verboten. Now they didn’t need God to spell that out for them—they knew! We know too. We know, instinctively, what is right and what is wrong in terms of sexual activity. The Israelites did as well. Yet people are people, in any age, and they will shoot back with, “Yeah, but what about this? Is this okay? Can I do such and such?” Why do we do that? Because we are guilty of searching for the outer banks of morality so we can push as close to edge of permissibility as possible without pushing on past it. The problem with that type of mentality is that when we push to the limit of pre-sinfulness, it is practically a given that we will become, sooner or later, pro-sin.

Proverbs 6:27 rhetorically asks, “Can a man scoop a flame into his lap and not have his clothes catch on fire?” No. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

So in this case, God says, “I’m going to pre-empt your foolish questions and tell you exactly what kinds of sexual relationships and practices you are not to commit.” And boy does he! He spells out in living color the boundaries that we are not to cross, no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.

As you read though Leviticus 18, you come away with a clear list of sexual “thou shalt not’s”. But what are the “thou shalts” of God-honoring sexuality? I have been told that when U.S. treasury agents are trained to spot counterfeit money, they don’t spend their time looking at phony bills. They become so familiar with the real deal that it becomes easy to spot the fake. In the case of human sexuality, I think perhaps it’s is just as critical for us to study the real deal of God’s design and become so familiar with it that we don’t need to dwell on the “is this okay, is that not okay?” approach to morality.

And I think I can put this very succinctly: the sexuality that God blesses is between a man and a woman living as husband and wife within the loving/serving/honoring bonds of marriage. Now read deliberately and think clear about every single word in that statement: man, woman, husband, wife, within, loving, serving, bonds, marriage.

Our culture will call that outdated, restrictive, counterproductive to pleasure, ignorant and hateful toward certain groups. That is too bad, because the designer of human sexuality says it’s the only way to a blessable life.

Now that is what culture will say—and we should never be surprised that they would label us a weird and dangerous for holding to those views. But the major theme of this chapter is that as believers, God wants us to be different from the culture around us, and even in our sexuality, he wants us to stand out as belonging to him.

Have you ever thought of sexuality that way? Whether you are single or married, when you follow purity, abstinence, and yes, even Christ-likeness in your sexuality, you become a compelling witness before a lost world of a loving God’s promise to bless his people with the abundant life.

In your sexuality, God wants you to stand out for your moral purity. So don’t blend in and he will bless you!

Going Deeper With God: Take some time to very carefully and deliberately meditate on the statement: the sexuality that God blesses is between a man and a woman living as husband and wife within the loving/serving/honoring bonds of marriage.

Unintentional Sin Is Still Sin

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

To downgrade sin, or to do away with it entirely, is to show contempt for the God who is holy. When we reduce the sinfulness of sin, we do away with the need for a Savior—which is the whole point of the Bible. Yet there is a growing number of Christians today who do just that. What an affront to the doctrine of salvation, and to the cross of Christ.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 5:17-19

Suppose you sin by violating one of the Lord’s commands. Even if you are unaware of what you have done, you are guilty and will be punished for your sin. For a guilt offering, you must bring to the priest your own ram with no defects, or you may buy one of equal value. Through this process the priest will purify you from your unintentional sin, making you right with the Lord, and you will be forgiven. This is a guilt offering, for you have been guilty of an offense against the Lord.

“Even if you are unaware of what you have done, you are guilty and will be punished for your sin.” Wow—that’s harsh. But yes, sin is sin, no matter the good intentions or unawareness of the sinner. Sin is a very big deal to a holy God, and even though as modern readers we live at a time where the offensiveness of certain types of sin have been downgraded, if not done away with altogether, we would do well to remember that God has not changed his mind one iota regarding the matter.

Dr. Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist and found of the Menninger Clinic, wrote a book called Whatever Happened to Sin, in which he tells us that the word “sin” has practically disappeared from our vocabulary. And yet, the sense of guilt remains in our hearts and minds. Likewise, the outcome of sin is plainly evident in the world—both near and far. Yes, sin is still sin, even if sophisticated man says it doesn’t.

Pride is still sin. So is inappropriate anger. Cheating, too. Mistreating the poor, contempt, lying, unbiblical divorce, selfishness, gluttony, abortion, homosexuality, heterosexual lust in the heart, pornography, disrespect for authority, laziness, stinginess—you get the picture. Or, if you don’t, here is how pastor-theologian John Piper puts it:

What is sin?
It is the glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin.

We could fill page after page of a very long book with the ways, big and small, obvious and subtle, willful and intentional, that human beings violate the law of God. Sin is missing the mark, whether it is by miles or inches, and it is an offense to God, who to be true to his just and righteous character, must either punish it or find a means to forgive it.

To downgrade or to do away with sin is show contempt for the Creator and the cross of Christ. When we reduce the sinfulness of sin, we do away with the need for a Savior—which is the whole point of the Bible. Yet there is a growing number of Christians today doing just that. Far too many have been lured into a false gospel that believes, apparently as he evolves into a better, kinder deity, that God now grades on the curve, that if the person’s heart was right, or if they just didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong, that God will give special consideration when grading their final.

In reality, that is a theology of works—that we are saved by our own goodness and not by grace through faith and not of works. In other words, if a person is morally good enough, or if they were ignorant of their sinfulness, God will take their goodness and their ignorance into account. After all, how could God assign good and unwitting people to punishment, not to mention, perish the thought, eternal damnation?

What an affront to the most basic tenet of the Bible: that salvation is by grace through faith, and not by works—sola fide, justification by faith alone. The fact that even sin for which we are unware brings guilt before God and must be punished is a clear reminder of that. Obviously, all sin was a big deal to a holy God, and if his people were to live in holiness, they would need a way to deal with the sins they committed along the way.

Between Leviticus 5-7 God shows his people how to deal with their sin and guilt through a series of sin offerings. And while we may be tempted to pass over these sin offerings since we no longer live under this system—thankfully—yet there are several eternal realities that this section of Scripture teaches us. Let me offer three:

  1. God is utterly holy, and sin is a violation of his holiness—always!
  2. Man is thoroughly sinful, and therefore deserving of judgment. The fact that sin may be unintentional and unknown and still render the sinner guilty before a holy God reminds us that there is none righteous, not even on our best day. We tend to think that God judges sin based on our motives, but this clearly shows that even the littlest sin drops our standing before him. Fallen man was born with a sin nature, and since it won’t be eradicated this side of heaven, it must be atoned for—some how in some way.
  3. Forgiveness is always available. Atonement for sin is made through God’s path to forgiveness. God, in his grace and mercy, made it possible for his people to have the guilt of their sin removed so they could live in right standing before him. Of course, we now know in light of the New Testament revelation that the Old Testament system of sacrifice was a temporary placeholder until the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ was made, but it was still a beautiful picture of a God who longed to forgive, not punish, the guilt of his people. But they had to do it his way.

We still do—do it God’s way, that is! And God still longs to forgive—that is just who God is. But we block the flow of the forgiveness of the forgiving God when we join the growing trend of those removing the sinfulness of sin. We need to remember that whenever sin is removed by any other means than through repentant faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have just removed the whole purpose for the Incarnation: that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost by giving his life as the ransom for their sin.

Going Deeper With God: Have you found yourself making excuses for sin—either yours or another’s? That in itself is sin, and a very serious one at that. Repent, and ask God to give you a heart that is hyper-sensitive to sin. Far from being a bad thing, that is a very healthy way to live and the path to Divine blessing.

God’s Open Letter to America

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Social justice, the refugee crises, protests, lawlessness, government gridlock, racism, mounting national anger and imminent cultural decline—no matter what political system you side with, most of us are worried about our nation. And with good cause: many of us believe we are watching the self-immolation of America. No matter who are you or what you believe, please take a moment, with both open mind and tender heart, to read Exodus 23. As you do, let God’s word convict you of your guilt as a lawbreaker—his immutable, universal law, that is. And may that lead you to repentance. If enough of us do that, we can save America.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 23:1-9

Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Having been through the most divisive, mean-spirited political season in my memory, and with the after effects of that bruising contest continuing to pound our nation with racial disharmony, hatred, name-calling, government gridlock, lawsuits, violent protests, destroyed friendships, national anxiety and general nastiness, many of us are seriously worried about the stability of America and our nation’s longevity as the last best hope of the world. We are in trouble, and only we can fix it, with God’s help. We must create a movement internally that will call a stop to our national cannibalism and return us to the common ground that has made us the envy of the world, imperfect as we have been, for hundreds of years.

The blame for our mess is not to be laid at any one person’s feet—not at President Trump, or Obama, or Bush or Clinton. The blame is not one political party or another—it is not the Republicans or the Democrats. It is not the media’s fault. Secularists or academicians are not to blame. Nor is it right wing nut jobs, shrill Christians or blue hairs from the Tea Party. The problem isn’t leftists, socialists, open borderists or anarchists.

The fault is ours. We have met the enemy—and he is us. Let me be clear: you and I are to blame.

If you don’t believe me, read Exodus 23. God gets up in our grill in this chapter and shows us issue after issue where we have not just gone off the rails; we have annihilated his holy law and have deeply offended his righteous character. In very unmistakable language, he turns into an equal opportunity offender and goes after us on issue after issue:

  • Dishonesty, dissembling, fake news, and flat out lying: “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.” (Exodus 23:1)
  • Pandering for popular appeal, blind loyalty to a political leader, media bias and pushing a false narrative for political power: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.” (Exodus 23:2-3)
  • Nastiness, the politics of personal destruction, name calling, and argumentum ad hominem: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.” (Exodus 23:4-5)
  • Social justice, inequality, racism, profiling, judicial activism and a legal system that is biased in favor of the wealthy: “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.” (Exodus 23:6-8)
  • Immigration reform, open borders, religious discrimination and the mounting refugee crisis: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Did God leave anything out? I don’t think so. There is no cultural issue currently dividing us that God’s Word hasn’t already addressed. And when you look at what he has declared with an open mind and a tender heart, you realize that we are all guilty before a holy God who sees through our sophisticated philosophies and convoluted arguments with utter moral clarity. And he stands ready to judge us, or help us, depending on the heart response that we offer him.

Choose your issue: social justice, the refugee crises, identity politics, the death of truth in favor or moral relativism, protests in the streets, lawlessness, national anger, cultural decline, neighbor hating neighbor over the election—no matter what political system you side with, no matter what life philosophy you choose to live by, most of us are worried about our nation. And with good cause: many of us believe we are watching the self-immolation of America. No matter who you are or what you believe, with an open mind and tender heart, take to heart what God has said as you read Exodus 23. As you do, give God the right to convict you of your guilt as a lawbreaker—his immutable, universal moral law.

And make no mistake: you are a lawbreaker. So am I. If not the letter of the law, we have murdered the spirit of the law in our hearts and minds. And may your acknowledgement of guilt lead you to repentance.

What can we do to save America? It might sound simplistic, but I believe it starts with personal confession and repentance. Then comes obedience to God’s law, not man’s opinion or political preferences or cultural philosophies. And when we follow God’s way, he makes some wonderful promises of what life will be like as he leads us into a time of peace and prosperity—which you can read about in Exodus 23:20-33. Among other blessings, our repentance and obedience will be met with his provision of peace: “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

If enough of us do that—repent and obey—we can save America. We really can!

Going Deeper With God: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!