As Far As the East Is From the West

Those of us who call ourselves disciples of Christ sometimes need more humility. We need to be reminded again and again that the position we have in the Kingdom of God is not something we have earned. Rather, we have been extended an undeserved mercy.

All too often, we forget that He brought us out of the pit, out of utter spiritual darkness. That truth should create within us an enduring gratitude.

In my own experience, I can say that I hit bottom spiritually at one point, and that God nevertheless never gave up on me and brought me back into His family. When I realized the reality of His forgiveness, I was almost stunned; I referred to Him as “The God of the Second Chance.”

No matter what we have done in our past, if we come to Him in genuine repentance and look to the Cross, He wipes away all the sin and shame. One of my favorite passages is found in I Corinthians 6 where the apostle Paul provides a list of sinfulness that excludes people from the Kingdom—yet he doesn’t end there.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

I’m eternally grateful that the list is followed by that declaration of total spiritual renewal.

The dominion of hell wants us to wallow in our past sins, of course, bringing up the memories of the sins that now bring revulsion. The satanic hope is to paralyze us with remorse so that we are unproductive for the Lord. The enemy of our souls seeks to weigh us down with the enormity of our past sins.

We cannot allow that to happen. We need to have the words of Psalm 103 in our hearts and even say them out loud whenever necessary:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

If you are plagued by the memory of distant sins, come back to the truth of those words. The east and the west never meet; they go on in opposite directions forever. In the same way, your former sinful life is precisely the opposite of the new life you now have in Christ. We are to move forward for Him in confidence that He truly loves us and our sins are removed, never to be brought to mind again.

As the prophet Isaiah tells us, speaking for God,

I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

If God Himself has blotted out the memory of our sins from His own mind, so should we.

Why Sin Is So Sinful

I’m contemplating the nature of sin this morning. It’s not that sin is suddenly abounding in the world in a way it never has before. Sin is sin; it’s always been the problem ever since the Garden.

But when I think about the nature of sin, the complete and utter selfishness of every sinful thought and action is what comes to the forefront in my contemplation. Self-centeredness—the absurd perspective that places what we want above what God desires for us—is the height of stupidity.

We take all the potential blessings God has given us—our ability to reason, to feel, to choose—and we twist and distort those potential blessings into something horrid and destructive.

C. S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm, follows this line of reasoning as well, except that he puts it in much clearer terms than I can ever hope to do:

The only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is a distortion of an energy breathed into us—an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions.

We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.

We take what is meant for our good and turn it into an abomination. Nearly every sin I can think of is the abuse and misuse of of what a loving God has given us.

That’s what makes sin so sinful.

If not for the amazing mercy extended to us through the Cross, we would be without hope. Why should God care so much for us? We don’t deserve His love. It truly is unfathomable.

Yet I accept it with an eternal gratitude, and I now want my life, and all the gifts God has bestowed, to be a testament to His love. May we all have that response.

Man’s Anger & God’s Righteousness

James 1:20—For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

That Scripture came to mind this morning as I reflect on the state of our nation and the political developments in recent years.

Proverbs 29Anger over sin is not a sin in itself, but whenever anger becomes the driving force for what one does, we go off the rails spiritually.

There are legitimate reasons for anger:

  • Over 57 million babies aborted since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973;
  • The ongoing destruction of Biblical morality in the area of sexual relations and marriage;
  • The assault on religious liberty, particularly for conservative Christians;
  • The trend toward the government as the solution for all problems;
  • The arrogance and increasing corruption of political leaders;
  • The overthrowing of the rule of law in general.

Those are the ones that come readily to mind, but there are others.

How has the Christian community responded? Some have taken a bold stand against this cultural and political devolution; others have caved to the spirit of the age and have tailored their “Christianity” to fit the new trends.

Politically, starting in 2009, a movement arose—and many in the movement were Christians—that sought to reverse some of these trends. Anger helped begin that movement, but it also was focused on a return to basics, both spiritually and constitutionally.

DSC00018For that reason, I was pleased to participate in it. It was given a name: the Tea Party. I have spoken to a number of such groups since their inception, and have done my best to help this movement stay on track by pointing to the principles we need to follow.

What I’m about to say is not an indictment of the movement as a whole because I know enough sincere, honest people who are part of it. However, what I’ve witnessed over time is a tendency to allow anger over what is occurring in the nation to overwhelm the more positive aspects of the movement.

Whenever we let anger dictate our responses, we lose. When we drift away from concentrating on the positive message of restoration and humility before God, seeking His mercy, we lose.

Instead, we latch onto a charismatic figure who only fans the flames of the anger we naturally feel. We overlook his character, his past, and even the things he says that are completely inconsistent with what we claim are our principles.

In the heat of our anger, we lose our souls.

I am just sad this morning. I am now a political outsider. I often feel like one of those lonely voices in the wilderness. It’s not a comfortable place to be.

Yet I am willing to be what God has called me to be. I am willing to continue to speak and write what I believe to be true. And because I also believe that God is a God of mercy as well as discipline and judgment, I continue to hope for the best.

LamentationsIn the face of God’s judgment over His people Israel in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah stated this in the book of Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I have hope in Him.”

That’s the only safe place for our hope to reside: in Him. There is no political savior. We will survive the results of this coming election only because there is hope in Him.

Lay aside the anger as your primary motivation. Look to Him instead.

James 1:20—For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

The Republican Obituary

I toyed with the idea this morning of writing nothing but Scripture passages. I will get to those, but I have to say a few words as well.

The Republican voters (and for the sake of brevity, I’ll just assume most were Republicans) have decided that a man who rejects nearly every line in past Republican platforms will be their nominee for president.

Republican voters have concluded that morality, integrity, the rule of law, and the Constitution must be discarded in their headlong dash into an angry reaction against all politicians, even someone like Ted Cruz who has fought the good fight for Biblical and constitutional principles all his life.

In doing so, they have brought this nation to the brink of near-total collapse. No matter who wins in the fall, Republican or Democrat, Christian values will be subjected to even greater governmental suppression. No matter how Trump fares in the general election, the very fact of his nomination is a dismal indication that whatever honor and principle remained in the Republican party is now in the past.

This photoshop going around this morning may be accurate:

Republican Tombstone

Resurrection of the Republican party depends on whether it comes to its senses once this debacle is over. Until then, while I will vote for good Republicans down the ticket, I will not associate myself with the man at the top of the ticket. I am now publicly declaring my political independence from the Republican party.

I’ve always said to Republican groups when I’ve spoken to them that I am first a Christian, second a constitutionalist, and third a Republican—and that I will remain a Republican only as long as the party remains true to my first two identities.

The voices have already begun: but if you don’t vote for Trump, that’s a vote for Hillary. I reject that argument, but I won’t address it today. There will be plenty of time in the coming days to explain why I cannot, in good conscience, support Donald Trump.

For now, I’ve been directed, I trust this is by God, to certain Scriptures that, to me, describe our current situation. In II Thessalonians, chapter 2, in the context of what will occur in the endtimes, the apostle Paul explains that many will be willingly deceived, and he ends with these words:

For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

I honestly believe that many have been deceived by Trump. I don’t think this verse applies to Trump specifically, so don’t misunderstand my point. But there is a principle here that does apply. When people are so willing to believe a lie, God allows them to follow their own evil hearts into destruction.

The bigger problem, of course, is that the rest of us are dragged down with them into the consequences of their foolishness.

We’re also admonished in the third chapter of II Timothy,

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers . . . ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these.

I look at that list and see the man who is now the presumptive nominee for the Republicans. His lifestyle is pretty much drawn from this description. And you are telling me I am supposed to vote for him? I will instead take the instruction of that final sentence: avoid such men as these.

Finally, I go to Romans, chapter 1, where in a passage the deals directly with the sin of homosexuality (yes, I said sin, so I might expect some societal blowback for that), Paul then goes on to say,

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; . . . strife, deceit, malice . . . insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil . . . without understanding, untrustworthy. . . . And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Are we really at that point in our society? It’s no cliché to say that we need to pray now more than ever. Our only hope is to cry out for God’s mercy. Consequences will come first, but we hold out for mercy in the end if enough people awaken to the truth and realize we are on the path to destruction.

This hasn’t been a very uplifting post today. There are times for messages of warning and judgment. This is one of those times.

Lewis: Justice & Mercy

C. S. Lewis 11Is it really merciful not to carry out justice? Is the concept of justice too harsh? Should a Christian believe in punishment for crimes?

C. S. Lewis thought through this issue in an essay he published in 1949 called “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” If we go by feelings, we may think we are being humane in forgiving without real punishment. Lewis disagrees.

The essential act of mercy was to pardon; and pardon in its very essence involves the recognition of guilt and ill-desert in the recipient. If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned. How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or a club foot?

Lewis begins with the common-sense acknowledgement that a man is accountable for his actions. No one is accountable for a mere physical deformity; that’s not a moral issue. But there is a real right and wrong for which our choices determine our guilt or innocence. Humanitarians instead wish to treat any “bad” choice as merely a disease for which one is unaccountable. Lewis will not have that.

But the Humanitarian theory want simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. This means that you start being “kind” to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindnesses which no one but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. You have overshot the mark.

Justice-MercyThat may seem counterintuitive to some, but what Lewis is saying is that offering “mercy” to people who never have come to grips with the injustice they have committed is no mercy at all; people need to answer for their sinful actions. That’s the only possible path toward redemption. They will only understand genuine mercy if they first feel the hammer of justice. The Law leads to the Gospel.

Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety.

Humanitarian mercy is a fake mercy, and dangerous because it tries to pass for the real thing. For mercy to have its full impact, justice must come first.

Charleston’s Testimony to the Power of the Gospel

What has occurred in the aftermath of the unconscionable murders in Charleston is a testament to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The attitude of forgiveness in the hearts of family members who lost loved ones is a remarkable witness to how God’s love can erase bitterness.

That’s on a personal level, of course. Justice still needs to be meted out to the murderer. One can forgive while simultaneously seeking a just punishment for what he has done. God is a God of both mercy and justice—both need to be seen in this situation.

The other tremendous positive message coming out of Charleston is how the community has bonded together to show that racial harmony is achievable. This is no Ferguson or Baltimore. Again, this is another glowing testimony to how God can bridge any divide.

Charleston Cross

As for the victims of this horrendous act, if they were committed Christians, as their attendance at a midweek Bible study would indicate, they have received exactly what Jesus has promised to all of His followers: eternal life.

Blessed

May none succeed in exploiting this tragedy for political purposes. Instead, let’s rejoice that, even in the midst of such a tragedy, God can be honored.

Lewis: Modern Man & the Sense of Sin

C. S. Lewis 11C. S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” essay exposes one of the biggest obstacles we face in transmitting the Gospel message: the unwillingness of people to acknowledge they are guilty of anything and are in need of a savior. What Lewis says in this essay has become even more conspicuous in our day.

He writes of what he learned when he spoke to Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) audiences during WWII. One of the first things he learned was that they were skeptical of anything historical. They knew about “the pseudo-scientific picture of the ‘Cave-man'” and had some “picture of ‘the Present.'” But between these, there was nothing. I can affirm that the current generation of students is somewhat similar to this, except they perhaps have no knowledge of the ancient as well. They kind of know what happened during their own lifetimes, and that is all.

Then we come to his discussion of the awareness of sin, or rather the lack of awareness:

The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. . . . The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers . . . a sense of guilt. . . . Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

HumilityThis is a great deception, of course, and one we actively cultivate. I believe everyone does realize the problem, but we do our best to convince ourselves that we are, nevertheless, acceptable to God regardless of our shortcomings. We love to use words like “shortcomings” and “mistakes” rather than “sin.” They sound much less accusatory.

Even though we are the ones who are to be condemned for our rebellion, we use all manner of twisted logic to make God the one who should be ashamed of Himself. As Lewis notes,

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man in on the Bench and God in the Dock.

What hubris. What obnoxious vanity. What utter illusions we create. What we really need to do is humble ourselves before the Lord of all, devastated by the knowledge of our supreme selfishness, and earnestly plead for His mercy. For some reason, He loves us anyway and pours out that mercy on the most undeserving. He is not a God who should be in the dock, rebuffing our accusations. We should be eternally grateful He is willing to listen to us at all.