Sweet Poison

Read: Proverbs 5:5
(The Message)

The seductive woman is dancing down the primrose path to Death; she’s headed straight for Hell and taking you with her.

“Sex, sex, sex!” Have you noticed how our culture worships sexual gratification—sexual fulfillment achieved with anyone, any time and in any way you want?  My guess is that any alien who landed on Planet Earth to research our species would have to conclude one thing just from the 372 million pornographic pages available on the Internet (according to Rita Cosby, MSNBC): Sex is god of the human race.

Proverbs warns us repeatedly that when we ignore God’s promise to fully satisfy our sexual desires through a loving, life-long and faithful relationship with the person to whom we are married, we will end up elevating the world’s promise of sensual satisfaction to god-like status—at our own peril. You see, money, power, fame, relationships, possessions and sex—especially sex—are what C.S. Lewis referred to as the “sweet poison of the false infinite.” These are what we might call substitute sacreds—the surrogates we desperately use to fill the emptiness of our dissatisfied lives. In reality, however, no substitute sacred ever fulfills what it so brazenly promises. Only the one true Sacred can do that!

St. Augustine said, “Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God…All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.”

God longs for us to come to him with our needy souls so he can graciously and abundantly and unendingly satisfy our deepest longings and most powerful passions—in his way and in his time. As Augustine said, God has created us for himself, and we will only find satisfaction when we find our satisfaction in him. Again, that includes our sexual needs fulfilled according to God’s design.

Annie Dillard tells of an experiment in which entomologists enticed male butterflies with a painted cardboard replica larger and more enticing than the females of their species. These male butterflies would repeatedly and eagerly mount the colorful cardboard cutout to mate with it, while nearby, the real, living female butterfly enticingly opened and closed her wings in vain.

Friend, the real, living God is near, longing to cover you in the shadow of his wings, where he will provide for you soul-satisfaction in every dimension of your being—even the sexual.  Why settle for a substitute sacred when the real Divine awaits!

In reality, sin is our attempt to fill a void that only God can fill.

Your Assignment, Should You Choose To Accept It:

Make a conscious effort today to identify all the substitute sacreds along your path.  My guess is that you’ll probably lose count before the day is out, since there will be so many.  Each time you are enticed with money, sex or power, stop and give thanks to God that he has instead given you eternal wealth, true satisfaction, and spiritual authority—far more gratifying than the sweet poison of these false infinites.

Ground Rules For Knowing God

Read I Corinthians

“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know
him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish
preaching to save those who believe.”
(I Corinthians 1:21)

Food For Thought… God, the creator of all that is, is knowable. He has made it so that we can know him—not just about him, but know him—deeply, intimately, and personally. We can know who he is, what he is like, what he likes, what he wants from us, and what his plans are.

The question is, how do we get to know God? Paul indicates in this verse that getting intimately acquainted with the Creator of the universe will not happen through human wisdom alone—what we might refer to as the pursuit of knowledge or research or reason or intellect. God has set the rules for getting to know him and he has declared that the avenue to knowledge is by way of faith.

That’s an infinitely critical point, by the way, since in the last several hundred years, man has elevated reason over revelation as the way to enlightenment. This has been especially true in western societies where we are willing to put faith only in that which can be demonstrated empirically. In our world, reason is king and faith is optional.

But for the Christian, everything starts with God. Reason is based on sensory data—what a person can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. Reason is not bad; don’t misunderstand what Paul is saying. I think Paul would quickly point out that reason is God-given, and that God expects us to exercise it. It is not antithetical to faith, but while reason can lead to knowledge or an acknowledgment of God, only revelation can lead to a knowledge of who God truly is—the God of the Scriptures who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Revelation is based on something other, something more. Revelation is based on the truth that God took the initiative to make himself knowable, that he has revealed himself to us through his Word and by his Son. Now reason and revelation will not contradict each other, because both are from God. But reason alone will not suffice.

The brilliant Thomas Aquinas, who live in the 13th century and is arguably the preeminent theologian of the church in the last thousand years, if not longer, said it this way: “In order that men might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it is necessary for divine truth to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God himself who cannot lie.”

Someone can observe the universe (sensory data) and discern (reason) that God exists. They can also reason that he is orderly and intelligent, and discover several other attributes of this deity. But they would have no certain knowledge that he is good, loving, and purposeful. Likewise, this person can practice certain moral virtues apart from a faith-based relationship with God, but they cannot practice authentic faith, they will not have the hope of eternity, and they will never know and practice divine love.

A couple hundred years before Thomas, St. Anselm argued that faith is the precondition of knowledge: “I believe in order that I may understand.” (credo ut intelligam). In other words, knowledge cannot lead to faith. It might get you close, but it won’t get you there. Faith is a gift from God, and when faith is experienced, true knowledge flows. Any knowledge gained outside of faith will be incomplete and untrustworthy.

What he was saying was eloquently stated in the 4th century by another pillar of the Christian faith, St. Augustine. Augustine taught that, “faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” Faith first, then knowledge flows.

All of that is simply to say that God is the creator of all that exists. He is knowable—by his design. He furthermore, has set the rules for getting to know him. Although he has granted the gift of reason that man uses for amazing purposes, reason alone, or call it what you will—observation, research, knowledge, intellect—will never lead to a relationship with God. It may lead to knowing about God, but never truly knowing God. That requires faith. And faith comes only as the result of God’s initiative to reveal himself—to make himself knowable. Responding to his revelation is the faith that is required to unlock knowledge, a saving knowledge, of the Almighty.

So what does that have to do with what you are facing in your life today? Plenty! This God who has taken the initiative to reveal himself and who is discernable and knowable through the exercise of your faith, is a personal God—he wants to be involved in the daily details of your life—and a loving God—will wants to take care of you and favor you and pour out his love on you.

Perhaps you don’t see evidence of that right at this moment, but let me challenge you to believe what you don’t see, exercise faith in this loving God, and the reward will be that you will see, sooner or later, what you believe.

Prayer… Gracious Father, I believe. Help any unbelief I may have. I don’t see everything I’d like to see, but I believe. Now I pray that you would reveal yourself in my life today in tangible ways. Reveal to me your love, your care, and your favor. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, the revealed Word, I pray. Amen.

One More Thing… “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it. The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know at all.” –Blaise Pascal

What Really Matters

Read Romans 14

“The Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or
what we drink, but of living a life of goodness,
and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
(Romans 14:17)

Food For Thought… So much of what Christians get uptight about, particularly as it relates to how others are living out their faith, really doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of how the Kingdom of God is to be fleshed out. It just doesn’t matter if some believers drink wine or play cards or put a dollar down on the lottery, or go to movies or dance socially, or you name it. It doesn’t matter if some Christians run around, jump up and down and wave flags when they worship, or go to church on Friday night rather than Sunday morning, or give their offerings online rather than in the plate, or whatever, whatever…

That’s what Paul is really teaching here in Romans 14. Certain of the Roman Christians in Paul’s day were getting uptight with other believers, because they weren’t living out their faith the way these Roman church members were. In that day, the issue had to do with certain foods that some believers felt were inappropriate to eat. The big deal about meat was that before it had been purchased, it had likely been sacrificed to an idol prior to its arrival at the market. That was a concern to the non-meat eating believers, because they believed that to now eat that meat was to give tacit worship to idols.

Another issue had to do with what day they believed was the correct day to gather for worship. Some thought that Saturday, the Sabbath, was the correct day, while others preferred Sunday worship service. And as people chose sides over these issues, hard feelings and disharmony was the result in the church.

So Paul says, “look gang, what foods you eat or don’t eat and what day you choose to worship just doesn’t matter in the bigger picture of what the Kingdom of God is all about. You are free to do what you want so long as your bottom line motivation in life is to bring honor to the Lord.” Notice these words,

“For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it is to honor the Lord. And if we die, it is to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:7-8)

That is a great rule of life to live by. If your motive is to bring honor to the Lord, then nothing else really matters. Do what you want, eat what you want, drink what you want, worship when you want and in the way you want—as long as your sole purpose is to glorify the Lord. That’s why Paul went on to remind these believers, “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of meat or drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Now Paul gives a couple of caveats to this principle. One, if you cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble by deliberately doing certain things that offend their conscience, then you’ve missed the point. You are not glorifying God. You are unnecessarily creating disharmony, and harmony in the family of God is a big deal, a very big deal, to the Lord. And two, if you take advantage of this liberty in Christ to do something that your own conscience tells you not to do, then you have crossed over into sin. So be careful in the exercise of your Christian freedom.

Here is what really matters in our Christian faith: Just do everything to honor God.

Do that and you will be okay. As St. Augustine said, “Just love God, and then do what you want.”

Prayer… Lord, thank you for the amazing freedom you have given me to enjoy life. Since you have blessed me with such a gift—the gift of Christian liberty—I want to dedicate it back to you in the form of a life lived to glorify you, even in the minute details. I want that to be the rule of my life—to glorify you in all things. May that be the one and only thing that matters.

One more thing… “To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” —St. Augustine

Give Me Chastity—Just Not Yet

Read Romans 6

“Use your every part of your body as an instrument
to do what is right for the glory of God.”
(Romans 6:13)

Food For Thought… A six-year-old little girl burst through the door one afternoon, excited to tell her mother what she had learned in school that day. “Mommy, guess what I learned today?” she blurted.

“What honey” her mother replied. “What did you learn?”

Pointing to her head, the girl began to describe her first official lesson in human anatomy, “Mommy, I learned about my parts. I learned that this is my head, and it’s where my brains are.” Then she held out her hands and her looked down at her feet, “these are my hands and my feet, and they help me to do things and to go places.” Then she touched her chest and said, “here is my chest, and inside it is my heart. And it keeps me alive.” Finally, she put her hands on her tummy, and exclaimed, “and mommy, these are my bowels, and my bowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.”

She got most of her parts right, anyway. And that’s what Paul is calling us to do, to get our parts right by offering them every day in every way for the glory of God.

But do you? Is your brain an instrument to do what is right? Are the things that you allow your mind to dwell on the kind of things that will bring glory to God? If your thought life were to be played out in living color on the big screen, what kind of rating would it be given: P? PG? How about R? What? Really…you’d have to give it an X? What about the kind of things you allow to come into your thinking? Are those things—the TV shows you watch, the places you go on the Internet, the books you read—do they count as instruments of righteousness?

What about the things your hands do, or the places your feet take you? Would Jesus be comfortable doing those things and going to those places? What about your heart—have you closely guarded it, since it is the wellspring of life? And your “vowels,” I mean, your bowels—what about what you take into your body? It is the temple of the Holy Spirit, after all. How are you treating the temple, the dwelling place of God? Are you treating the ol’ bod more like a temple, or a sewage treatment plant?

Paul’s point in Romans 6 is that we have been freed from the slavery of sin in order to live in the freedom of slavery unto the glory of God. We are to be instruments of praise and righteousness with every fiber of our existence: “When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)

Have you consecrated every part of your body as an instrument of righteousness to the glory of God, or are there some parts that are still doing their own thing? Far too many of us are like Augustine, who once prayed, “Oh Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Dedication and consecration are an either or thing: You are, or you aren’t. God wants you to be totally dedicated to him, fully consecrated in mind, body, heart and energies. And he deserves it, particularly in the light of his saving grace.

You have been saved by grace—God’s unmerited favor. You have been freed from the slavery of sin; you are no longer under the threat of death—all because of God’s rich and undeserved mercy. You have been given the free gift of eternal life—all at Christ’s expense. Even the faith to believe was supplied by God. Don’t you think God deserves you, in response, to give “your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of him”? Since God has graciously done all that, the least you can do is exert your will and consecrate your whole life as an instrument of praise.

C.S. Lewis said, “The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.” St. Augustine finally got it; he surrendered his desire’s will to God, fully dedicating his wandering will to the glory of God. Having experienced that spirit-renovation, Augustine made this observation: “Will is to grace as the horse is to the rider.”

God has given you his grace. Now mount up and get going! Use your whole body—every part—as an instrument to do what is right to the glory of God.

Prayer… Oh Lord, give me chastity and continence of mind, heart, soul and body—now!

One more thing… “Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so the surrender to an implicit and unquestionable obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.” —Andrew Murray